Bishop Homily, Obituary for Fr. Maurice Peterson

by Msgr. Robert Siler

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Living the Beatitudes

Funeral Mass for Father Maurie Peterson, Diocese of Yakima
Lamentations 3: 17-26; 2 Corinthians 5:1, 6-10; Matthew 5:1-12a
Most Reverend Joseph J. Tyson, Bishop of Yakima

Peace be with you! We hear these beatitudes from the Gospel of St. Matthew often. It is one of the suggested Gospels for funeral with priests and religious. Why? Perhaps because both learned scholars and simple believers see in these beatitudes preached by Jesus the core of how we live the Gospel.

From Aristotle through St. Augustine right up to St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest thinkers considered “happiness” to be the key moral question. This “happiness” does not necessarily align to the famous “Happy” music video by Pharrell Williams. Rather, the happiness envisioned by Jesus is one of living a virtuous life.

What does this virtuous life look like? St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas looked back to the famous Aristotle. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle wanted to leave his son Nicomachus a sense of how a virtuous life leads to happiness. The virtuous life outlined by Aristotle does not align neatly to the preaching of Jesus per se.

But starting with Aristotle and running through the preaching of Jesus to the writings of the saints we get an understanding so counterintuitive to the way we live today. True happiness comes, not from what we get, but what we give. Happiness comes not by getting more but by giving more. And as Jesus so sharply notes, this is a lasting and enduring happiness that not even poverty, not even sorrow, not even hunger, not even war, not even injustice and not even persecution can ever take away from us.

The happy life, the beatific life, proclaimed by Jesus is so lasting and so enduring that nothing or no one can ever steal it away from us who follow Jesus. Our capacity of follow the contours of Jesus words where the poor in spirit see the kingdom of God, where those who mourn are comforted, where those who are meek inherit the land, where those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are satisfied, where the merciful are also the recipient of mercy, where peacemakers and not warmakers receive the title Son of God, where the persecuted inherit heaven and stand in the company of the prophets and saints – our capacity to live the virtuous life uplifted by Jesus opens up for us happiness in this world that no one can take away, and happiness in the world to come where we have been formed and shaped to see God.

When I arrived in the Diocese of Yakima, Father Maurie Peterson had already been away from a regular parish assignment for some years. He found joy in the people he served while in parish work. And he found frustration and hardship as well. We all do. I only had one substantial conversation with him. It was here in Ellensburg, his hometown, when we had the annual priest picnic. He normally didn’t come. Although he never left priestly ministry, he was not much for bishops or institutions. But he wanted to meet me. And we did talk. I went away from our brief exchange knowing he was a searcher, knowing that he sought after the virtuous life, the beatific life, and that he was on his own path doing this search in his own human way given his gifts and his limitations. While he had no desire to return to regular parish work, he always had a desire to see God in the regular people with whom he associated right up until the onset of his frontal lobe dementia. He was one of kind. A child of God. A priest of the Church. His own way. Right up to the end.

I want to thank all of you involved in care for Father Maurie Peterson – the many medical professionals who tended to his needs and the many parishioners that kept the bonds of connection with him here in Ellensburg over these many years. He desired to live the virtuous life. And in his infirmity, he gave you a pathway to the virtuous life too.

Although he was a bit withdrawn, I find it interesting that he would prepare salads and side dishes for funeral receptions of parishioners here in Ellensburg. He may not have attended the funeral, but he wanted to give a bit of himself in nourishment to their families and friends. This funeral is one where he won’t have to send over a side dish or salad!

So, thanks to Father Maurie Peterson and thanks to all of you. In summarizing the beatitudes, St. Augustine noted, “Peace is present where faith gleams, hope is strengthened, and charity is kindled.” Faith. Hope. Love. Thanks Father Maurie Peterson for the love you were able to give as a priest for the Diocese of Yakima. And thanks to all of you for showing your love in his infirmities. Taken together may we savor the beatitude of Jesus Father Maurie Peterson desired for all of us.

Peace be with you.