Bobby Heyer died last month at the age of 24. Bobby was an altar server at our parish for several years. Many knew him for his kind face, easy smile and sunny spirit. But he was a haunted soul. He was in and out of psychiatric hospitals, and spent the last several months of his life in a coma, following an opioid overdose. His mother, Maureen, is a fixture in our parish. She suffers from Cerebral Palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. Until COVID struck, she was a regular at our 1 p.m. Mass every Sunday. She’s been away since the lockdown began.
But this morning, she came back to our church for the first time in months, for her son’s memorial Mass.
I want to begin by expressing my condolences to Maureen, to Siobhan, to all of Bobby’s family and friends who are here today. This has been hard for so many of us. It is a grace, at least, to be together to pray for him and pray with him.
A few days ago, I spoke with Maureen about what we were planning for today, and I asked her if there was anything special she wanted me to mention about Bobby. And she told me something I didn’t know: she said he had a very deep and sincere devotion to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower.
It’s important to remember that, as a flower, Thérèse was hardly a wallflower — and maybe that was part of what attracted Bobby to her. She was spirited, courageous, dramatic, even rebellious. She had the audacity to throw herself at the feet of the pope during a visit to Rome when she was 15, begging him to let her join the cloister. In his wisdom, he left it in the hands of the Carmelites — but how could they say no to someone like that?
But she was also known for her simplicity, her fervor, her quiet strength, her deep love for Jesus. It was a love that only deepened — even as she dealt with illness and disease. She struggled with so much during her life. She battled anxiety and scrupulosity and wrestled with atheism. In her final years, she lived with and fought the scourge of her time, tuberculosis. She once told one of the sisters that she would have committed suicide if it were not for her faith.
In 1895, a seminarian named Maurice Belliere wrote to the convent where she lived in Lisieux. Maurice himself was filled with doubt and uncertainty about his vocation. He asked the mother superior if there was a sister who could pray for him. The mother superior passed his letter along to Thérèse.
Across the next two years, she wrote him just 10 letters — but they are extraordinary. They are words of encouragement and hope. More than anything, they are the letters of a dear friend, reaching out to uplift and support another searching soul.
Just weeks before she died, Thérèse wrote Maurice to tell him her life was coming to an end. She was just 24 years old. Maurice was overwhelmed with grief. To try and comfort him, Thérèse found the strength to write him one last letter.
She addressed her words to Maurice Belliere. But this morning, I think, she offers them to Bobby and, in some ways, to all of us.
“My poor, dear little brother,” she wrote. “How I wish I could make you realize the tenderness of Jesus’ heart…As I read your letter of the fourteenth, my heart thrilled tenderly. More than ever I realized the degree to which your love is sister to mine, since it is called to go up to God by the elevator of love, not to climb the rough stairway of fear. I am certain that I shall aid you better when I am free of my mortal envelope, and soon you will be saying with St. Augustine ‘Love is the weight that draws me.’”
She enclosed a photograph of herself, taken just a few days before, and added:
“If my photograph does not smile at you, my soul will never cease to smile on you when it is close by you. Dear little brother, be assured that for eternity I shall be your true little sister.”
I think of that phrase:
“Love is the weight that draws me.”
Love is what has drawn us here this morning, as well.
The epistle we heard a few moments ago, from St. Paul, tells us everything we need to know about love. We usually hear it at weddings. Paul was writing to the people of Corinth about the best way to love one another as friends, neighbors, family — and yes, as husband and wife.
But I think those words this morning speak of another love, God’s love for each of us. He loves us in our frailty and weakness, our suffering and struggles.
He loves us, too, in our grief.
His love is patient. It is kind. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
It is a love that never fails.
This morning, we pray that Bobby understands those words in a way we can only imagine. We pray for him. And we ask him to pray for us.
Bobby, I think, was more than a son, or a brother, or a friend.
He was also a soldier. He fought enemies most of us could never see.
There are so many other soldiers like him on the battlefield this day — warriors whose names we may never know. They are fighting addiction and fear, loneliness and illness. They are battling life. Many bear the wounds of battle.
Yet they fight on.
This morning, please: remember them. Let that be Bobby’s legacy, that these other soldiers are not forgotten. Pray for them. Pray that they may find help and healing and hope.
May Bobby know the embrace of God’s infinite mercy, in a place where he can gaze forever at the understanding, tender face of his friend Thérèse.
And this morning, may we all know the nearness of God’s love for every one of us — the love that never fails.
From Bobby’s prayer card:
O little St. Therese of the Child Jesus. Please pick for me a rose from the heavenly garden and send it to me as a message of love. O Little Flower of Jesus, ask God to grant the favors I now place with confidence in your hands (mention your request). St. Therese, help me to always believe as you did, in God’s great love for me, so that I may imitate your “Little Way ” each and every day, Amen