James McDonough • March 5, 2011

I turn to you in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation. (Psalm 32)

And so now we send you off to continue the work so well begun. May God bless you with happiness and success in this world, and eternal joy in the next.
Return to us often – in sorrow, in joy – and we will be here ready to greet you with open arms. Know that we love you, and we always will.
Go now in peace our noble sons of St. Sebastian. Shalom

With these words, I concluded my remarks at Commencement in 2005, when James and so many of you sat in these front pews, resplendent in graduation regalia: white pants, red ties, blue blazers festooned with red carnations, and smiles that lit up the world.

Return to us you have; into our open arms you have arrived – this time in sorrow.

Jim and Peggy’s son, our brother, James, has passed away, and we are so very sorry that it is so. As the extended McDonough family, the St. Sebastian’s family, and all blessed to have known and therefore loved James mourn our loss, we pray that James rests in heaven and that you, Jim and Peggy, and all of us will be comforted by our Lord’s peace, the peace that surpasses all human understanding.

I offer this formula for life given to me by a heroic friend:

I can’t.
God can.
So I’ll let Him.

And to this formula I add these three words sentences from sacred scripture:

God is love.
Love never fails.
Be not afraid.

We are so terribly sad that James McDonough did not have enough years in his life, but so unspeakably glad that he had so very much life in his years. Our beloved, ebullient, highly spirited, multi-talented, exquisitely sensitive, sharp dressing, crazily hilarious, kind and giving son, brother, nephew, cousin, soul mate, friend, and true Arrow forever didn’t get cheated in life. No, he lived life to the full all right, and he did his absolute best to make sure that everyone else did, too – and do we ever love him for it!

What a fabulous pictorial display at the wake! So many photos arrested me, but these two in particular: The first is actually in the program, so you have a visual aid. It’s one of a very, very young James dressed from head to foot – save the Mickey Mouse belt buckle – as a Red Sox manager. He’s leaning against the dugout wall with his legs crossed and his little tongue sticking out in letter “U” formation, as he gazes off into the distance, striking the nonchalant pose of a wizened old baseball lifer who has seen it all. I wondered then and I wonder now what magical thoughts were dancing in that beautiful little head and what powerful feelings stirred in that young old soul.

The other image is one of James on what has to be a Palm Springs golf course. He’s captured in finished swing perfection following the flight of his ball tracing its arc toward the beautiful mountains in the distance.

Here’s a snapshot in words of summer’s day in James’s idyllic youth: at sunrise, with golf bag strapped across his back, he pedals his bike to Wollaston, enjoys breakfast at the club – on his parents’ tab, of course –, practices putting, plays 18 holes, pauses for lunch, plays tennis, swims, gets in a 9 hole round, and rides home as the sun sets in the west. If that’s getting cheated in life, may we all be so shortchanged!

James had a preternatural penchant for building a community around himself wherever he went – Milton, Dexter, Wollaston, St. Sebastian’s, Rhode Island, Rollins, seemingly every great golf course in the country, and this Church in this moment. James’s dynamic presence declares itself, demands our attention, draws us in, and we never depart disappointed.

We always had the sense that he could talk to anyone anytime about anything. And it has ever been thus, prompting his 5th grade teacher to remark: James doesn’t come to school to learn. He comes to socialize. But, of course, he did both, and so do we.

Perhaps it’s because he’s an only child with such unconditionally loving, truly beautiful parents that he enjoyed such a high comfort level with adults. He saunters into the Wollaston dining room and notices a senior member of the club huddled in private conversation with a client. No problem. James pulls up a chair, listens attentively to opinions on utilities, equities, and stock options, picks his moment, interjects himself into the discourse, offers more than a few keen insights and witty remarks, then moves on to the next table or to the next match. What kind of kid behaves that way? James does, and we love him for it.

The cynosure of Wollaston, he accomplished many an impressive feat: holes in one, eagles, double eagles – he once played 9 holes using only a 5 iron and finished one over par.

And ever the fashion maven, he often wore wild clothes on the golf course – pink pants, white belt, pastel shirt – and he got away with such flamboyance because he played so competitively well. As his teammates will tell you, he may have been a lighthearted jokester outside the lines, but when it came time to play: Watch out! James would much rather take on a better player – even though he might ultimately lose to him – than pick up an easy win over a less worthy opponent. He always came to play, and he battled to the end. Significantly, he birdied the final two holes in the last ISL tournament of his career.

When learning to drive, he had a lot of trouble with reverse, banging into more than a few parked cars. His parents think it’s because reverse was a foreign concept to James. He never looked back because he was always so passionate about looking ahead – to the next golf match or to the next gathering of cherished friends, or to whatever else lay just around the bend, promising to unfold itself in glory.

The best was always yet to come with James and so it is that we send him home to God

I’m told by one of his long time friends that James’s approach changed when he arrived at St. Sebastian’s. His quick-witted nature, which had seemed a defense mechanism, blossomed and engaged only joyfully, never maliciously. When you were lucky enough to sit with him at his Ward Hall lunch table, where he always claimed center stage, you laughed for more than a few seconds and you smiled forever.

Lord, let me be a channel of your goodness to everyone I meet today. 

This daily prayer of Peggy’s translated itself into her son’s way of life, as this anecdote from November, 2003 attests. When James and his St. Sebastian’s classmates were on their Junior Year excursion to our nation’s capital, they took a nighttime tour of the monuments on the eve of Veteran’s Day. Our young Arrows were walking and talking and joking, when one of his classmates noted a sudden change in James’s facial expression. He followed as James walked away from the group and over to a lonely veteran at the Viet Nam Memorial Monument, and he listened as James respectfully, solemnly shook the man’s hand and said: “Thank you very much, sir. You’re a hero.”

What a kind, sensitive, noble nature. What a pure, pure heart.

John O’Donohue writes: To experience beauty is to have your life enlarged. James’s classmates grew a lot that night. Thanks to the beauty and truth of our James, we’re all bigger, better men and women, and we are so very grateful for the gifts.

Jim and Peggy, we shall never tire of thanking you for loving your son so well and for sharing him with us. From the very beginning, you accepted him as a gift from God, a gift to be nurtured, supported, treasured, loved beyond measure. That you have more than honored your end of the bargain is a powerfully beautiful, self-evident truth. The very definition of selfless, giving parents, you listened to your son. You attuned yourselves to the rhythms of his ways – no matter how wild and crazy they were from time to time. You listened to him and you held him until you knew his heart by heart. You fed his passion.

And so it came to be that you discovered and secured St. Sebastian’s School for him. In his senior year, you visited my office and asked if James could be granted a leave to live in the south so he could work on his golf game. Your pure love and eternal devotion were not to be denied.

This wish granted, I have since learned, gave you the privilege of wedging James, your two golden retrievers, mounds of luggage, and yourselves into your car, which you pointed south, so that Peggy and James and the two dogs could cram themselves into a motel room for an extended period of time, while James kept up with his classes by correspondence at night and received excellent golf instructional and competitive opportunities by day.

Towards the end of the 2005 St. Sebastian’s Yearbook, you will find an entire page devoted to James courtesy of his wonderful parents. Of the 15 photos featured, by far my favorite is the one of a very young James dressed as Superman. Wide stance, hands on his hips, arms akimbo, in the classic Superman pose, the red and blue outfit emblazoned with the iconic “S” on the chest and sporting a red cape Peggy had made for him and wearing red rubber boots that he liked so much that he matched them with every one of the many costumes he wore for a long, long time afterward – even through the warm summer months. Beneath the montage of photos is this prophetic message from Jim and Peggy:

And I quote:

We are so fortunate to have had these years with you, James, and with the St. Sebastian’s family. Congratulations and best of luck to you and your classmates, and May God bless you all as your journeys continue.

Close quote.

In mock earnestness, James recently asked his mother: Which sounds better: 12 semesters or six years in college? His route may not have been traditional, and why should it have been. James didn’t follow traditions; he created them.

This past New Year’s Eve, when several of you attended a formal ball in Boston, James went with the James Bond look, sporting a white dinner jacket. According to a friend’s date, James had more product in his hair that night than she had in hers. What a piece of work was James!

Despite the lighthearted jokes and endearing self-deprecation, the truth is that at age 24 an Economics major in his last semester of college at Rollins in Florida, James’s journey was continuing beautifully. He was well on his way to a brilliant career in golf and in life.

St. John of the Cross proclaims that in the twilight of our lives all that will matter is how we have loved. By this measure, by any measure: What a success is the life of James McDonough!

We love James so very much. It’s hard to imagine any person loving another more than Jim and Peggy and the rest of us love our James – yet our faith teaches that God loves him and each one of us even more – far, far more than we could ever imagine.

We must remember that we always and forever have the two most powerful forces in the universe open to us: God and His people through whom He works.

May we ever open our hearts to God in Whom we live and move and have our being, to His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: the way and the truth and the life, and to the power of The Holy Spirit at work in our weakness.

And may we close our arms around one another, living the truth shared so oft this day and always by our outstanding Chaplain, Father John Arens:

Grief shared is divided and joy shared is multiplied.

I have heard it said, and I believe it to be true that death ends a life, not a relationship and that death is not the final period on the sentence; it’s only a comma.

James hasn’t really left us. He’s just riding on ahead, and I prefer to see him in my mind’s eye on his bike, pumping his legs in perfect harmony with his golf bag strapped across his back.

We saw James on earth. We feel him now, though he’s ahead of us. We’ll see him again – if we live our lives the way we should. Let us savor the memory of what we have had, the connections that we have, and the hope for the Glory of heaven, our true home to which we are all called.

For we are a resurrection people, and Alleluia is our song.

I close with a prayer attributed to Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.

We give them back to You, O Lord
who first gave them to us;
yet as You did not lose them
in the giving,
so we do not lose them
by their return…..
For what is yours is ours also,
if we belong to You.

Love is undying, and life is unending and the
boundary of this mortal life
is but a horizon,
and the horizon is nothing save
the limit of our sight.

Lift us up, strong Son of God,
that we may see further.
Cleanse our eyes that we
may see more clearly….

And while You prepare the place for us,
prepare us also for that happy place
that we may be with You,
and with those we love forevermore.

William L. Burke III