A legendary lector in my parish, Greg Stein, died unexpectedly this week. This is the homily I preached for his funeral Saturday.
I want to begin by expressing to Greg’s family and friends the prayers and sympathy of so many of us here at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs.
He really was a part of our parish family. We feel this loss very deeply.
I first knew Greg many years ago when I came to the parish and started as a lector. We were the only two Gregs on the lector list. Sometimes, we were scheduled together. That made for an interesting conversation in the sacristy, deciding who would do what. It was like a bad Abbott and Costello routine.
At some point over the years, I started referring to him as “Greg the Great.” Because he was. He was in a class all his own.
“Greg the Great” was more than a reader or lector. Father Passenant has called him the “voice of Holy Week.”
Every year, Greg helped bring alive the story of Christ’s suffering and death with clarity, compassion and — above all — love.
Love for the words he read.
Love for the liturgy and for the faith that animated his life.
Love for Christ, the suffering servant whose passion he retold year after year.
It is hard to imagine Holy Week in this parish without him.
A few days ago, I found this reflection in a Catholic newspaper, describing the ministry of lector and why it matters:
“At every gathering, we celebrate our basic common memory – the memory of God’s covenant with Israel, the coming of the Christ, and the memory of the first disciples. We are not dealing with just ‘readings’ taken from ancient texts, but something much more significant. It is a performance of our recollection of who we are, who we should be, and of what is our hope.
Greg helped us remember “what is our hope.”
When he read at Mass, he was never flashy or dramatic. That wasn’t his way. He let the words speak for themselves — and in the process, he made the words his own.
He was the beloved disciple John, taking us moment by moment through the last hours of Christ’s life.
He was the prophet Isaiah, describing the suffering servant, “pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins.”
He was the apostle Paul, reminding the people of Corinth that “Love never fails.”
How I wish Greg was here to say those words today.
How we need to remember that this morning:
Love never fails.
His great vocation, of course, wasn’t as a reader, but as a teacher. Maybe that’s why he proclaimed the scripture so well. He knew how to tell us what we needed to hear — and we understood in our hearts what we needed to remember, and what would be on the final exam.
If you visit his Facebook page, you see a man who was not just an academic or a scholar or a reader. You see a world traveler — posing before mountains and rivers and glaciers, usually wearing a sweatshirt from his beloved Iowa State.
You also see a man who had a lifelong commitment to his fraternity, Phi Kappa Theta. One of his fraternity brothers wrote to Father Passenant this week and described Greg as “a consummate gentleman, kind and caring.”
I don’t know anyone in our parish family who would disagree.
He was a man who cherished all that God created — whether it was a mountain, an opera, a friend, or a phrase in the Psalms.
I said a moment ago that he was the “Voice of Holy Week.” I think he may also have been our most important homegrown evangelist.
I was thinking this week of all the people over the years who came to this church during that sacred time, and for so many their first encounter with God’s word was from Greg.
I thought of all the women and men preparing for Baptism at Easter who sat in these pews and heard that voice remind them of God’s love and mercy and hope.
Two weeks ago, on an ordinary Sunday in Ordinary Time, he stood here in this pulpit to read for the last time.
He read these words from St. Paul:
We are always courageous,
although we know that while we are at home in the body
we are away from the Lord,
for we walk by faith, not by sight.
Yet we are courageous,
And we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.
Therefore, we aspire to please him,
whether we are at home or away.
I can’t begin to imagine what those words meant to him two weeks ago.
But I know what they mean to all of us today.
They call us to be courageous, as Greg was courageous — to walk by faith, to know that our greatest calling, our life’s true journey, is “to go home to the Lord…to aspire to please him.”
I think Greg understood that. He lived that.
And now his journey is complete. He is home. He waits for us — and sees at last a hope fulfilled.
By God’s grace, this morning he sees what he helped all of us to imagine, what so many of us hope for.
Our prayer is that Greg stands before the suffering servant today and sees him at last face to face. But he is not alone. He stands among a great cloud of witnesses: writers and apostles, prophets and poets, the ones who first put into words the story of our salvation, the story that Greg proclaimed again and again.
He was their instrument. He continued what they began.
It’s tempting at moments like this to think that a great voice has been silenced.
But really, it hasn’t. I believe that it goes on — but with a different congregation, in a different place.
Trusting in God’s mercy, our hearts full of confidence and hope, we pray this morning that Greg’s voice is ringing out with so many others.
We pray that the “Hosannas” and “Alleluias” he proclaimed in this church are echoing now in Paradise.
We pray that one day we will hear that voice again, when we see one another at last, in a place of light and joy and perfect love.
And we will acclaim again what we Catholics always say after the lector finishes reading — what we said every time after Greg spoke.
“Thanks be to God.”
God bless you and keep you, Greg the Great.