By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
WELLAND – Dalton Jacques, who wore number 17 on his hockey jersey, returned on Tuesday to the church where he was baptized, for his funeral Mass.
There was no roar of the crowd – one of the trappings of the hockey arena, the venue that was like a second home for the popular, much-loved 15-year-old. Dalton died Friday, March 11 after a “long and very courageous battle” with cancer, as was written in his obituary notice. He had a type of bone cancer, one like that which took the life of Canadian hero, Terry Fox.
In the absence of the roar, there was gentle, playful hockey humour. It was stickhandled deftly into the service by the celebrant, Rev. James Mulligan, who added his humour to a well-crafted homily that was otherwise rich in faith, spirituality and family love:
“Our prayer, too, is to ask God to forgive Dalton any of his faults. I don’t know what they were … but he was a hockey player! And a defenceman at that! How many of those slashing and hooking penalties were just accidental! And Dalton was a Pittsburgh fan … it could have been much worse – he could have been a Canadiens fan! Thank God he was not a Leafs fan – he was suffering enough with his cancer!”
Sports even played a part in one of the readings from scripture, readings chosen by Mulligan and Dalton’s mom and dad, Debbie and Norm, when they met on Monday to plan the funeral. The reading was from Paul’s second letter to Timothy, written shortly before Paul’s death, metaphors about boxing and a foot race: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith….”
The church was filled to capacity with several hundred people: family, friends of family, teammates of Dalton, friends of Dalton, students from Notre Dame, faculty from Notre Dame and others. Clad in Welland Tigers hockey jerseys and holding candles, friends from the hockey team formed an honour guard at the church as the casket was brought in and again as it departed.
Mulligan said one of the purposes of a funeral liturgy was to offer up various prayers.
For Dalton’s funeral, one of them was: “Our prayer is to knock on heaven’s door that God will receive Dalton with divine warmth … and with a heavenly smile as massive as Dalton’s everyday human smile.”
The entrance hymn for the funeral Mass, The Prayer of St. Francis, helped set the mood: “Make me a channel of your peace. Where there’s despair in life let me bring hope. Where there is darkness only light, And where there’s sadness ever joy.” And the Gospel reading was one that offered consolation and comfort: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give to rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 28-30).
Mulligan noted Dalton’s parents carried a heavy burden, more than anyone else’s. At this time, “we come to Jesus, looking for comfort, looking for rest for our souls, looking for meaning.” And we find that comfort, that rest and that meaning in Dalton’s brief life, he said with gentleness.
Here are some selected excerpts from Mulligan’s homily:
“We are here to pray in thanksgiving for Dalton’s days of time…for his too short a time with us … and to pray in thanksgiving for the amazing team of nurses and doctors at McMaster Children’s Hospital who journeyed with Dalton … and in thanksgiving for the extraordinary support Dalton, and Norm and Debbie have received from the Welland community these last 22 months and the encouragement he received from the brotherhood made up of his teammates on the Welland Tigers.”;
“When one looks back over his 15 years it is clear that Dalton’s vocation was to reflect for us…to be a channel of God’s love for us. It was in these last 22 months that Dalton really was a channel of God’s love for us. Dalton lived what the Lord asked of us as the prophet Micah declares – to do justice/to love kindness/and to walk humbly with his God.”;
“And as we see in the Gospels that Jesus worked hard in prayer to understand his Father’s will … what the Father wanted of him … so Dalton Jacques prayed, and prayed hard and often. His ‘Rosary’ these weeks was a symbol of his faith … of his great need of Gods’s grace, the need for strength to continue his journey.”;
“His 22-month sickness created for so many here and for the Welland community and for his friends and teammates the need to express our love in prayer. His suffering created in every person who experienced it new depths of love in their own hearts. Dalton – we can say – created love in everyone who knew him and knew of his sickness.”;
“For a 15-year-old, his courage and his bravery were superhuman, the Holy Spirit had to be with him. His patience was remarkable … a clean sign of the presence of the Spirit in this young life.”;
“…There was a special Dalton Jacques project that needed to be done. And a large part of that Dalton Jacques project was to love and be loved; he was created to make all of us better lovers. That was Dalton’s vocation that he was faithful to – right up to his last breath. Indeed, he really did fight the good fight; he finished the race; and he kept the faith.”