At the time of death, the tangibility is felt first in mourning . . . Mourning is real and honest. Indeed we mourn our loss of Russell Kirk.
But other threads are woven into the fabric of loss. Our sense of loss should be convertible into equal measures of gratitude to the Lord for what had been given us. Here loss and gratitude sober one another to sense the presence of God’s benevolence . . . even in death . . . God who lets nothing good be lost forever.
And Russell knew what is hidden from millions. Both love and creditable accomplishment demand discipline. His were, among others, the disciplines of scholarship and writing; and the self-denial his work required, indeed, that he required of himself. And discipline is impossible without the help of God. Knowing that was one more alienation from the age. Another discipline.
No one will again live Russell’s life. But the Lord allows us to extrapolate from his life, for powerful encouragement, his gift to bespeak the truth in good weather and foul; and to know we are called not just to service but to nobility and fraternity in life. That encouragement is a true Christian communion among human beings and dear friends.
With that in mind, we should know why we are here: To invoke, in his behalf, one of Christ’s most extraordinary gifts—Christ’s license to us to affect the state of our beloved in the next world, through prayer. Amazing! And we do it now. To commend him to God in that great act of religion by which we release to God, the beloved, because and precisely because, the Lord has asked us to. To pray for ourselves, not that we shall remember Russell, hardly a question here, but that, with the grace of God, our perception of this fine gentleman and lover of truth will be refracted into our souls and flourish there.
It is a dreary cliché that says someone will live on in our memories. We live on in the Communion of Saints, real persons in a real world. And the Communion of Saints offers what no memory can. It offers life with Christ; but also a communication of virtue. The disciplines that made Russell a singular gentleman and a guardian of truth, were, through our esteem and affection for him, etched into our consciences. They cannot be erased. We have seen the profit and splendor of honorable dedication in a life. Such education in virtue is a gift of the Communion of Saints.
Nor do we fail to enjoy the lesson of modesty known to the Ancients and underscored in Christian life. Modesty has its own wisdom, knowing that the standards of perfection and the imperative to personal integrity are never diminished by our private failure. The imperishable good, transcendental or personal, stands untouched by our stumbling. It is a great consolation.
So the Communion of Saints does not hang on hagiography; it is, in God’s goodness, the tangible grace of beloved personal successes in goodness, communicated sweetly and mysteriously, half generation to half generation, by the models we have loved.
Russell Kirk, in nomine Domini, cared for his flock. May we do the same.
Msgr. Clark was a founding member of the board of The Educational Reviewer. This is an excerpt from a sermon he delivered on June 16, 1994 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.