Homily for the funeral of George E. “Skip” Prosser

Father Jude DeAngelo, OFM Conv.
Catholic Campus Minister
Wake Forest University

Nancy, Mark, Scott, Cindy, and Mrs. Prosser, my brothers and sisters in Christ and all people of good will: Peace be with you.

At the end of this Mass of Christian Burial, you will hear speakers far more eloquent than I speak to the life of Skip Prosser — his achievements, his influence, his friendship and his giftedness as a coach and as a man. And rightly so. There will be and should be the opportunity to celebrate Coach’s life.

However, at this moment in the Church’s ancient and sacred liturgy and worship, we as God’s people — after hearing the Word of God, try to give voice to our feelings of loss, our thoughts about an uncertain future without Skip’s physical presence, our emotions of pain and sorrow and our confusion about God’s providential role in our lives.

We struggle in Faith to understand this shocking mystery called death and specifically the death of a man we know and love and respect.

We allow these ancient prayers — spoken by countless men and women for 2,000 years — to become our prayers — carrying us beyond this particular moment. We beg God to let us glimpse in hope “the bright promise of immortality”. We ask how can we wrap that hope around our brokenness and affirm that “though our earthly dwelling lies in death” we long to believe for ourselves and especially this day for our brother, Skip, that “life is merely changed and not ended.”

But before we can hang on to that “sure and certain hope” we struggle with the human heart in all that feels. We take comfort in the message of the inspired writer who reminds us that “more torturous than all else is this heart of ours — who can understand it.” In our grief we beg to hear that the God of Life and Love, understands what we feel.

As Christians we have the audacity to pray from what we feel first. As Christians trying to make sense of this moment we can even feel anger at trite answers to this mystery which we were thrown into last Thursday. God allows us to rebel against statements which minimize the hurt and the pain of our loss; statements such as, “this is God’s active will” or “it was just Skip’s time.”

As men and women of faith trying to make sense of the senseless we can reject these trite answers and we can feel and we are allowed to say, “No, it was not Skip’s time. Death is not a part of God’s active will — for again from the hand of the sacred writer we read, “God wishes the death of no one.” The human heart cries out to say it is not fair to lose someone whom we love and respect.

As student-athletes you can feel and pray to the Author of all life, it was not Coach’s time to leave us. “Coach Prosser promised us that he would hone our athletic skills, teach us how to win, learn from our losses and guide us beyond collegiate basketball into manhood.”

As assistant coaches and colleagues you can say, no — it was not Skip’s time to leave this world. “We have a new season, new recruits, and a renewed drive to build a successful program together here at Wake Forest.”

As a Wake Forest student/fan, it is ok to feel that Coach Prosser’s death was not supposed to happen last Thursday. “This is the man who took the time to thank us for our support for our team; and, he convinced over 4,000 of us fashion-conscious undergraduates that wearing a black and gold tie-dye t-shirt was and is a rite of passage into the Wake Forest family.”

And, please permit me to say that …

As members of the Prosser family you can pray from the brokenness of this moment and say: “no, we do not believe that a son, a brother, a Dad and husband’s death happened last Thursday because it was his time.” You can tell God that this is not how life is supposed to unfold. A son is supposed to outlive his parents; children are supposed to be at a Mother’s passing — not the other way around.

Adult sons are not supposed to lose their Dad in the prime of his life or theirs. Fathers are supposed to live as the psalmist records “to see their children’s children happy on the face of the earth.” Adult sons are supposed to be able to call up their father one day and say, “I heard your words coming out of my mouth today.” And a husband and wife are supposed to grow old together. They are supposed to have time to plan a private life after a very public career dedicated to countless students.

At this moment we know that God wants us to pray for all that our hearts experience. He is not only big enough to take what we feel; but, in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, God makes it all holy in this sacred moment.

Some might ask, “How can we be so certain that God accepts everything we are going through and that His Son transforms these feelings tonight in this prayer of the Eucharist?” Because Our Lord — in the very Gospel just proclaimed tonight by Father Michael — says to us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

We know that Christ bears all our shock, anger, grief and sorrow because in St John’s Gospel chapter 11, we see that Jesus took to His heart the rebuke of Martha and Mary, who both sharply said to Him at the death of Lazarus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would never have died.” St. John reports further that the spirit of Jesus was so moved by His love for Lazarus and by the grief of Martha and Mary that He wept. The Son of God, the Lord and Giver of life wept at the death of His friend. And He whom we worship tonight weeps again with us at the death of our brother and His brother, Skip Prosser.

We know that the Alpha and Omega of our Faith, as He hung between heaven and earth in the everlasting sign of our redemption, not only revealed the hunger of His Divine Father for reconciliation with all His children but, Jesus as He conquered sin and death from the Altar of the Cross, looked down into the eyes of His own Mother, Mary, and felt the pain of every mother who loses a child; indeed, in the eyes of His own Mother, Jesus saw the pain of every human being — parent, child sister, brother, friend — every human being who risks loving in this world and our Savior transforms our mortal anguish of loss and death into the reality of His eternal love.

It is that eternal love which we as believers hold on to in spite of death. It is that eternal love which we as Catholic Christians celebrate at every Eucharist. It is what Skip Prosser held in Faith as journeyed through this life. It is what he shared in at Xavier University and at St. Leo’s Church here in Winston-Salem. It is the power of Christ’s life, death and resurrection celebrated at the Masses in Davis Chapel that Skip came to on Sunday nights and during the week. It is this living, breathing Eucharistic Faith which Skip Prosser witnessed to by His vocation as father, as son and as husband. It is the hope for our own salvation which carries us beyond our own human frailties and sins and our brokenness and affirms again and again with St. Paul that “nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ.” And in Christ Jesus our Lord nothing will ever keep us separated from our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep before His return in glory.

Permit me my brothers and my sisters to speak for a few moments to our Wake Forest students. For some of you, the death of Coach Prosser is the first time you have ever experienced the death of someone you know, love and respect. And sometimes — not always — but sometimes younger adults wonder how do we handle this thing we do not understand? There are so many poor choices that people can make but, I ask you simply to pray honestly from the heart — what you feel. Over the days and months and years ahead, share the wonderful memories and stories of Coach Prosser. And you can follow the example of the men and women of our Wake Forest Family. In the midst of pain and loss, Nancy Prosser’s concern has not only been for her immediate family but it has been for the former and present players and coaches and their families. It has been for the many colleagues and friends and the many people who just came to pay their respects and offer words of comfort. Indeed, the entire Prosser family ministered to many people over these days and especially yesterday. They stood for hours to welcome others into their lives and grief.

My dear students, take to heart the example of President and Mrs. Hatch, Mr. and Mrs. Wellman, Chaplain Tim Auman and Chaplain Becky Hartzog, the men and women of the athletic department, the public relations and security departments, student health and counseling — all of whom have as an important part of their professional careers the responsibility to promote our university. And yet person for person, these men and women — many of whom are grieving deeply themselves put their professional goals and personal loss aside for days now, just to ensure that Nancy, and Skip’s sons, his sister and his Mother, his team and his coaches have everything they need. These men and women, many of whom have not slept since last Thursday, have set an outstanding example for all of us to emulate. Their unselfish service, their desire to protect the Prosser’s privacy, their attention to detail, their respect and cooperation with Father Brian and St. Leo and Holy Family parish communities has set an unparalleled example of what it means to be a member of the Wake Forest Family. Follow their example — give to others without counting the cost.

Finally my brothers and sisters, I share with you one of God’s little gifts to me. The hardest part for preacher is to know when to sit down. As I’ve prayed over several days for the grace to break open God’s word, I’ve prayed especially for a conclusion to this homily and God heard that prayer.

You see today in our Catholic Tradition the Church celebrates the Feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus — that is the Jesuits. And the Jesuits founded and continue to staff Xavier University, where Skip’s Catholic Faith was strengthened and nourished before he came to our outstanding university founded in the Baptist/Christian Tradition. I know that while Coach Prosser worked at Xavier, he told me he was influenced deeply by the Jesuits and I would wager that those men shared with him one of the finest prayers that sum up the desire of every Christian soul. Indeed, I truly believe these words apply in a special way to the life of Coach Prosser, who knew that his most important vocation and witness to Christ was to be a humble son of God. Maybe this prayer written by St. Ignatius will help each of us to desire to live more fully our vocations to be children of God. It is the Prayer for Generosity.

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve You as You deserve;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek the rest;
to labor and not ask for reward, except to know
that I am doing Your holy will. Amen
Eternal Rest grant unto Skip, O Lord
And let Your perpetual light shine upon him.
May Skip’s soul and all the souls of the faithfully
Departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen

Categories: Athletics, For Alumni, For Parents