Joshua Eric Casteel
All Saints Catholic Church
8 September 2012
–This is the culmination of Joshua Casteel’s earthly journey, right now as we have gathered for his Funeral Mass. It is here that we all are plunged into the mystery of our Savior’s death and resurrection as we mourn the death of a man so young, search for its meaning and seek some sense of hope and peace. Josh’s journey with cancer has been long and arduous, a true cross he bore admirably and you with him. You stood at the foot of his cross and offered prayers, support and words of encouragement. Sometimes, you served as a Simon of Cyrene, helping him to carry the cross and assisting his Mother Krisiti and family to bear the weight of his illness. In various ways, virtually or in person, you have been there and we have all lived his illness together.
–And, how are you right now? While it has been a while since Josh’s death, I’m willing to assert that you have experienced a variety of emotions which range from numbness and sadness, anger and disappointment to that pit in your stomach that says you don’t know what to feel. Your minds have been in motion which has assisted you in ways to help Christi and her family, but yet, sometimes you don’t know what to think and don’t quite have the words to adequately say what you are thinking and feeling. The questions have come to mind: “Why did a bright and talented man die so young?” Or, “First Rick and now Josh. Why?”
–This is who we are as we come to mourn, pray, comfort one another and seek inspiration that offers hope and peace. Our hearts turn to Josh’s family and friends, especially his dear and devoted Mother, Kristi, who like the Blessed Virgin Mary, buries her son today; to his sisters Rebekah and Naomi and their spouses; to Grandmother, Betty, Josh’s nieces and nephews, extended family members and friends, we offer you our profound sympathies and earnest prayers as you mourn Josh’s death. As a faith community we hope to be the hands, heart and voice of Christ to bring you consolation and peace.
II. Not Why, but the Ultimate Meaning in Life.
–“The just man,” the Book of Wisdom says, “though he die early shall be at rest.” Yet, even so, we seek understanding, a word to help us fathom the death of a thirty-two-year-old man that included the desire to cross the threshold of seminary to study for the priesthood. We will be hard pressed and likely dissatisfied were we to press hard to find the “why” of his death. As Josh was a thinker and, as he oftentimes did, surprise us with the unexpected direction of his thought, I wish to gently steer us from the question of “Why?” to ask “How does one find ultimate meaning or purpose in life?” If we seek the answer to what I pose, the “why” comes more gently.
–This won’t be a lecture in philosophy or theology, although I have had plenty of lively discussions with Josh incorporating both disciplines. The latest was about the divine nature of Christ according to the Greek and Latin Fathers of the Church. Talk with me after Mass if you want to know how it went. Rather, I shall speak by means of witnessing to you. The principal witness, of course, shall be Josh himself.
Does the Ultimate Purpose Come through Profound Talent and Accomplishments?
–What brings ultimate meaning and purpose to life? We could point to the vast interests, studies and accomplishments of Josh’s thirty-two years, which is a curriculum vitae of a man who lived thrice his age. He was a writer, musician, scholar, actor, teacher, sensitive, compassionate family man who genuinely cared for people and loved the world as God did. His life resembled that of a Renaissance Man as he delved into life with purpose and a voracious appetite to learn and create. Great thinkers exhibit a growth and development of thought, and as this happens, the course of their lives change. We saw this as Josh changed from a West Point cadet, then a prison interrogator to a conscientious objector and a promoter of peace and non-violence. He worked for peace through such organizations as Iraq Veterans Against the War, Catholic Peace Fellowship and Pax Christi. As a member of the Catholic faithful, he spoke to and with his Church, at the Vatican itself, to promote peace and justice, even when some of Her minor leaders may have disagreed with him. His pursuit of peace took him throughout the world like to the Royal Court Theatre in London to perform a monologue from his play, Returns, or to various institutes of higher learning to speak and interact with those communities. Josh was featured in the documentaries, “Soldiers of Conscience,” and “Iraq for Sale,” to speak of his conversion, to inform the consciences of others and to work for peace. His bibliography included the Lenten reflections he wrote for Pax Christi and the contributions he made to various high school and college curricula and much more. He sought to make the world a better place as a man of faith acting for peace and justice. All of this in itself speaks eloquently about finding ultimate meaning and purpose in life.
Is Meaning and Purpose in Life Found through Faith?
–Yet, these matters of his life of which I have spoken contribute to finding ultimate meaning and purpose in life, but they are not the end. There is a poignant scene in “Soldiers of Conscience” where Josh describes an interrogation he had with a man who was a sworn Jihadist. The man was at peace with his own beliefs and content to remain in Abu Ghraib Prison for the rest of his life if that was to be. He was the enemy who would have killed Josh were he given the chance. In this context, the man challenged Josh to follow Jesus with as much conviction and intent as the man was following the Jihadist ways. “Do you have the same kind of peace as I have?” the man asked. “Will you turn the other cheek and love your enemies as Jesus did?” the interrogation by the prisoner continued. This was the time Josh said his conscience crystallized, and he became aware of the contradiction between what he was doing as a soldier and what he believed as a follower of Christ. God works powerfully in paradoxical ways, like through an enemy to a believer, which in this case caused the scales to drop from Josh’s eyes to allow him to see the world through the eyes of Christ. Jesus didn’t seek vengeance, but was the one who took on violence by dying a violent death on the cross to open the final era of forgiveness and peace. It is Christ who preached the Beatitudes and calls us all to a beatitudinal life, a life blessed that comes when we live not by pride, avarice, greed or violence, but through an acknowledgement of our poverty before God and a singleness of heart dedicated to God that moves us to be peacemakers.
V. Ultimate Meaning and Purpose Is Found in the Cross of Christ.
–Is this the discovery of the ultimate meaning and purpose in life? Yes, but we have one more vital step. St. Paul said that Christ made peace through the blood of his cross. As Josh was a peacemaker, he was plunged into Christ’s own death and resurrection. Josh was to participate in it through his cancer. There was suffering involved, but in imitation and follower of Christ. Josh saw his cross as a participation in that of Christ’s, as his earthly body weakened, his soul was safe and his suffering redemptive. Josh suffered for the Iraqi people whose lives and livelihoods were profoundly affected by the wars and burn pits. “I suffer for them,” he said. Stage IV lung cancer became a way that Christ continued his work of redemption through Josh, his earthen vessel. The words of St. Paul to the Galatians echo powerfully in this, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live in faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2: 20). Our lives can be so intimately bound to Christ that we suffer and die with him for the purpose of being the instrument of peace through which Christ saves others. This was Josh’s priesthood, an intimate knowledge of Christ and his holy sacrifice we commemorate and re-present at every Mass. To be crucified with Christ was Josh’s ultimate purpose and the glory Christ worked through him. Paraphrasing St. Paul, to the world this is folly, but for those being saved, it is the power of God (1 Cor 1: 18). Through his cross, Christ draws all people unto himself. You and countless others are and have been drawn through Josh’s instrumentality. Is this not that which brings and expresses ultimate meaning in life, to be drawn to and saved by Christ?
–Remember, brothers and sisters, that whenever there is a cross, the resurrection is to come. Our Savior said that those who die with him will rise to new and everlasting life. The love of God that took Christ to the cross even more gloriously destroyed death when he rose from the dead. Nothing, not even death, can conquer the love and mercy of God. This is our faith and that which Josh embraced in his life. This is our hope, that those who die in Christ will rise with him to new and everlasting life. This is the life well lived and that which brings eternal union with God in heaven, the ultimate meaning and purpose in life. As Josh died with Christ, may he rise with him to eternity. Take comfort in this, my dear brothers and sisters, to find peace and hope.