By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
CONCEPTION JUNCTION — It was a simple and elegant funeral in a simple and elegant place for a simple and elegant man.
But Deacon Martin Goedken, 74, might have said it was too much.
Three priests concelebrating? His pastor at St. Columba, Benedictine Father Allan Stetz, would have been enough.
But the Vicar General of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Father Charles Rowe? And Abbot Gregory Polan of Benedictine Conception Abbey?
Plus more priests, including many from the Abbey? And all those brother deacons, including Deacon Dan Powers, CEO of Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph?
And the church. Still dressed in all its Christmas finery, celebrating again the birth of the Savior. Shouldn’t that be the focus of the day, Deacon Goedken might say?
And those people. Filling up the church, on such a cold January day, then braving the weather to form a long procession to St. Columba Cemetery. The Knights of Columbus in full finery. The American Legion, giving him military honors earned by the U.S. Army veteran.
Well sorry, Deacon Goedken. You earned it. That’s what true disciples get. As fitting a sendoff as humanly possible to the eternal reward, promised by the Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Deacon Goedken loved the poor and served the poor,” Deacon Powers said. “His passing is a loss to all who knew him.”
It was not that he served the poor, it was also the way he served, said Elaine Ingle, a Catholic Charities board member from St. Joseph.
“He was such a loving man with such a loving spirit that radiated to all who knew him or met him,” Ingle said. “The entire area of Northwest Missouri owes much to Martin’s leadership.”
Father Rowe said that Deacon Goedken was the very personification of the special call of “Deacon.”
“A deacon is the summit of Christian discipleship and the foundation of all ministry,” he said.
“All disciples are called to service. All ministry in the church is ordained to serve,” Father Rowe said. “Our friend Martin understood these truths very well. He lived them.”
Deacon Martin Goedken was both a man of the land, a farmer, and a man of business. He was vice-president of St. Francis Hospital in Maryville before accepting the leadership of Catholic Charities for the diocese’s northwest counties.
“He was the kindest, most humble, most gentle man I have ever known, and he got it done,” said Deacon Mike Lewis, ordained in 1980 just two years after Deacon Goedken’s ordination in 1978.
“The poor have lost a true friend,” Deacon Lewis said.
He gave quietly, without fanfare. And though he gave, he always looked to give more.
For years, Deacon Martin and Lisa, his wife since 1973, would gather tons of produce fresh picked from their land to give to the poor. In at least one year when the crops were especially good, he and Lisa gave away five tons of it.
Benedictine Father Benedict Neenan said that Deacon Goedken probably wouldn’t want that known. He gave not for his own sake, but for the sake of those who were hungry.
The Benedictine priests would love to take credit for instilling that ability to see Christ and to bring Christ to every person. But it was the other way around.
“He was that way before he came to us,” Father Neenan said. “He taught us a lot about humility and self-effacement.”
Still, it was an elegant funeral.
Simple music, piano and organ played by Jane Walter, with two vocalists, Judy Henggeler and soloist Maggie Thomas leading the congregation that filled the church with simple, familiar songs: “Amazing Grace,” “The Servant Song,” “Shepherd of Souls, in Love Come Feed Us,” “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow” and Thomas uniting heaven and earth with her solo of Schubert’s “Ave Maria.”
His chosen readings were not for him, but for the poor.
Wisdom 3:1-9: “The souls of the just are in the hand of the God, and no torment shall touch them. . . Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with his elect.”
1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”
John 6: 51-59: “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
Jesus was always with Deacon Martin Goedken, and Deacon Martin Goedken with him, said Benedictine Father Xavier Nacke in this homily.
In fact, Deacon Goedken lived his life like the celebration of Mass — in sacrificial offering to God.
“Dare I say that the sacrificial offering we observe here is also present in the proven life of Martin,” Father Xavier said.
“The offering before us is the life of Jesus which was lived out in very concrete and practical ways in the life of Martin,” he said.
“This does not mean I am canonizing him,” Father Nacke said. “But I am suggesting that we not miss the valuable witness that is his life for us as disciples of Jesus. For it was a life of faith and charity, conviction and commitment, humble service and genuine kindness.”
It should make a difference to those who knew Deacon Martin Goedken as a true disciple, one who opened himself fully to the gift of Jesus.
“Something in us will have changed because of Martin’s witness, even a little bit, to make us more sacrificial,” Father Nacke said.
“If we are more like Martin, if we are more self-giving, then we will receive the life of Jesus,” he said.
“For Martin, Jesus was all he needed. From that fountain of goodness, we now know abundant blessings for which we give thanks to Martin,” Father Nacke said.