The Catholic University of America

Funeral for Monsignor Robert Paul Mohan
Homily by Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl, S.T.D., Archbishop of Washington and CUA Chancellor
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Jan. 31, 2007

On Friday, January 26, Monsignor Robert Paul Mohan heard that call that he knew, as do all of us, would eventually come. After 86 years of life as we know and experience it, he was called to the fullness of life in the Lord. While he knew the call would come, he, like all of us, did not know exactly when.

As if to provide all of us one more learning opportunity for a message that he had so well taught and lived, Monsignor Mohan specifically selected the readings for his funeral including the words of Jesus recorded by Saint Luke.

In this Gospel, we are reminded of the Lord's injunction to his disciples that we must be prepared because the Son of Man will come at an hour we do not expect.

Monsignor Mohan lived in the faith-filled awareness that at the end of this life we move from this world to a far fuller, richer, better one where the Son of Man awaits us. And as we look back over his life, we see that it was a series of calls and free, loving responses on his part.

God's call led the young Robert Mohan from Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, to Saint Charles College in Catonsville, and later to philosophy and theology studies at Theological College at The Catholic University of America in Washington. The call was to priesthood and as a member of the Society of Saint Sulpice.

All of us who knew Robert Mohan recognize that he fully and completely identified himself in response to that call as a priest. In whatever situation, circumstance, ministry or service he was always clearly a priest.

Following his ordination, he earned a doctorate in philosophy at Catholic University in 1947 and later went on to become a faculty member of the School of Philosophy in 1950. He was already into his second decade on the CUA faculty when I first met him as a young philosophy student arriving, as he once did, at the door of Theological College and onto the campus of Catholic University to begin the studies in philosophy.

What struck me and so many others was how he combined his ministry as a priest with his role as a formator of future priests and a professor of philosophy. He was, for so many, the exemplary priest teacher.

Perhaps one reason why so many members of the university family are here today is in testimony not only to his service to the university, but the manner in which he carried out his ministry with academic excellence and priestly devotion.

At his ordination, Robert Mohan, in response to the Gospel, left all to do what Jesus called him and every priest to do. He was to be a fisher of men. He was to bring people to Christ and to build up that Body of Christ by his pastoral leadership, sacramental ministry and teaching ability.

For many priests, the office of teaching takes the form of the proclamation of the Gospel, the annunciation of the teaching of the Church and the caring guidance offered to people in the light of the wisdom of God. This was true also of Father Robert Paul Mohan, but he did much more.

His call was to academia. While he certainly experienced parish life and the demands of the pulpit on weekends, his response to the ordination mandate to teach took the form of his engagement of students in the seminary, in the classroom and in a range of campus settings or here at this National Shrine.

At Theological College in another era, when the auxiliary building known as the Casa still stood, Father Mohan presided with that group of somewhat precocious young seminarians known as third year Basselians. He earned their respect not only in academic discussions but on the tennis courts. He also had a word of gentle, encouraging support for those who were, at times, overwhelmed by the challenges of Sulpician formation, Catholic University education and a dose of homesickness. I remember once he explained to our class that we should not be intimidated by the challenges of life in Washington, the experiences on campus and the demands of seminary formation. He reminded us that he came from a small town, Wilkes Barre, where the neighborhood in which he lived was so small that when you turned on your electric razor, the trolley stopped.

He made a point of helping so many students realize that deep within them was everything they would need, with the help of God's grace, to face the challenges of their new experience and all that life can offer.

He took pride in his former students, but he never quite relinquished the special role of teacher in the teacher-student relationship, even years after we had all graduated. His words were always encouraging and intended to keep us mindful of the truly bigger picture -- our service to the Lord, his kingdom in our midst and that someday the Lord would return even if we know not the day or hour.

In the second reading today from the First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, we are reminded of the deep faith of the Church that just as Jesus died and rose, so too will we. God through Jesus brings to new life those who believe in him. The basis of our hope in the life to come is our faith - our trust in Jesus' word.

As is carved in stone over the entrance to the east transept of this great basilica, that Monsignor Mohan must have seen thousands of times, is the reminder that "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen." (Heb 11:1).

As a teacher of the faith, Monsignor Mohan was a witness to the truth of God's revelation to us. The light has come into the world. We are children of the light and we are to walk in the light. The light, who is also life, came in its fullness in the person of Jesus Christ. As a teacher of philosophy and a member of the faculty of this university, he took great satisfaction in helping that light shine in our lives as both the light of reason and the illumination of faith.

The lecture notes of Monsignor Mohan on the subject of the compatibility of reason and faith are beautifully and magisterially reflected in the encyclical of Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio. Yet for Monsignor Mohan, his reflections were not so much a lecture as an attempt to share a vision of reality, an opening onto the world of truth.

The world today so desperately needs to hear again and again that the God of creation and the God of revelation are one. This truth, the fruit of reason and the gift of faith, shows that reason and faith are not only compatible, but intended to nurture one another. Monsignor Mohan used his classes to form generations of young thinking, reasoning, believing, committed believers. His students were comfortable with both the conclusions of philosophy and the commitments of faith.

All of us have our favorite Father Mohan stories. Most of them somewhat humorous, all of them affectionate.

Some of the mental snapshots I have of Monsignor Mohan could easily be shared by most of us in this basilica. I think of scenes such as the opening Mass for the university academic year followed by the picnic on the grounds of the campus. Monsignor Mohan quietly sat on a bench where he was quickly surrounded by a number of students who, I think, saw him as a wise and caring grandfather figure.

He was so present on this campus and in this basilica. He attended the opening Mass for the archdiocesan schools in September and made a point of coming back to the sacristy to comment on my homily. He seemed to take particular delight in simply being present on campus whenever there were events that engaged the students.

He was a gentleman. Urbane and challenging are adjectives that come readily to mind in speaking of Robert Paul Mohan. He set elevated standards, he expected all, beginning with himself, to reach the bar that he set so very high.

His presence on this campus was a living sign of what helps to mark this university as Catholic. Always the priest, faithfully the teacher and generously everyone's friend.

What drove Robert Paul Mohan was the call he heard, nurtured and saw fulfilled as a priest and the call throughout his life that someday he would be asked to stand before the Lord, the great teacher, the font of all truth.

He accepted fully what was so well presented in the Book of Wisdom, "The souls of the just are in the hand of God."

After his resurrection, Jesus charged Peter and every priest after him, "Feed my sheep." Father, professor, doctor, monsignor, Robert Paul Mohan walked in the light of faith, believed in the resurrection and felt called to share that simple message "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again" in the rarified setting of academia. He did it well because what he taught was not only what he understood but what he deeply believed. Hence today his Gospel choice is a reminder to all of us. Christ will come again for each of us. That we know, that we believe, of that we are certain. The only thing we do not fully grasp is when.

On Friday, Monsignor Mohan heard, once again, for the last time, God's call. It was the same Lord who called him into life, who called him to priesthood, who called him to a life in academia and who now called him to the experience of all truth, all justice, all light, all love. And for this priest, teacher, mentor and friend, we join together our prayer:

Eternal rest grant to him O Lord and may the perpetual light shine upon him.