Below are the homily, eulogy, program and
of the funeral Mass for Zachary.
Homily at the Mass of Christian Burial for:
ZACHARY JOHN MISLEH
June 19, 2017
I think that some of you are wondering about the Gospel (Matthew 3:1, 3-6) that I just read. You probably have never heard it at a funeral. It seems to have nothing to do with death and eternal life. But this gospel connects the mystery of coincidences in life.
According to Scripture, John the Baptist was born 6 months before Jesus. So we celebrate his birth on June 24. Zach also was born on June 24. As you listened to the gospel describe John: clothing of camel hair…food was locusts and wild honey…and if you have seen statutes or paintings of him, he is very tall with long bushy hair. Now who would you think could have the role of John in a play?
+John was a mystic, a seeker of the divine. Of all the words that I could think of to describe Zach, a mystic like John the Baptist was the one that seemed to encapsulate Zach. The mystery of coincidences in life!
+John appeared in the wilderness; he went into the desert to be alone. Zach too went in nature to be alone. In solitude, a mystic became more aware, just aware.
An awareness of, an intuitive perception of, and understanding of everything, of something, and yes, even of nothing.
+John lived not for himself but as Scripture tells us for another, Jesus. Zach lived not for himself but for others. You who are here today are a testimony to this. Mystics, with their intuitive perception, feel the pain and sadness of life. On a Esperanza trip to Mexico, he knelt in silence before the border wall that holds back people: the poor, the undocumented. On Christmas Eve for the last number of years, he has slept out doors to be one and feel with the homeless on Christmas.
+John served others in preaching and baptizing. Zach was a servant. His work at Little Friends for Peace, serving youth. He once told MJ Parks, WHATEVER YOU NEED I AM THERE. In your thoughts today, you can remember how he served you in friendship, how he reached out to you and others. You are the witnesses.
+John was a bridge builder between the Jewish Testament and the Christian Testament. Bridge builder among people. That is how someone described Zach. Whether at Christian Montessori School, DeMatha High School, or on the trips to Mexico to build homes for the homeless, his openness to others, his willingness to reach out was the bridge. He saw bridges not walls among people. And we cannot forget sometimes it was not words, but his smile. His smile that conveyed “yes” to you.
+John was a seeker, seeking the divine in the Messiah Jesus. Zach, too, was a true seeker of the mystery of who and what the divine is, the mystery of how we as humans believe in such a mystery. So profound for a person in his youth. His sister Anna described their walks in Central Park and his discussing and trying to understand the mystery of the divine and faith. Most of us just accept it; Zach sought it.
Finally, like +John, Zach died young, unexpectedly and tragically.
No two mystics are the same as none of us are the same. Each has his own way of being, his own gifts, and, yes, his own journey of life.
Zachary saw the fullness of life and not only its mysteries. He could enjoy the smallest things: just hanging out and talking with a friend; he could enjoy the Marx Brothers with his grandfather; he could see so much joy in another person. Thus even when he had his final visit to his pediatrician at age 18 he giggled and laughed with the same doctor who made him do so throughout his young life. He even had some vanity…hoping that his hair would be full like his mother’s rather than the lack thereof of his father’s!
Music is often one of the muses of a mystic. Music is both solitude and expression. It certainly was for Zach. His guitar. And his thousands and thousands of songs in his collection.
Each mystic is unique in his/her own way. The word that sums up Zach as a mystic is COMPASSION. COM – PASSION. The root of which is to feel with, suffer with, be with. This was Zach. Feeling with nature. Suffering with the homeless and the less fortunate. Being with his friends and caring for people.
Zach was compassion in its fullest sense. Perhaps a story his family told me sums it up best:
He went to a camp while in Montessori school. A man taught them about treading lightly on the earth and seeing the world with wide-angle vision. When Zach came home, he started walking the neighbor barefoot and trending lightly to feel the breathing earth. As he walked he practiced wide-angle vision so that he not only saw what was in front of him, but also surrounding him. He wanted to be completely aware. He wanted to be part of all. This is compassion…to be with, aware, and feel all that is, all that surrounds you.
Today, we honor and remember this amazing short life. It is not for us to know why his life ended. Mystics are never fully understood. What we do is appreciate and give thanks that he treaded lightly across this earth and in our lives. And in faith we know that his wide-angle vision now sees the whole wonder and mystery of the divine.
Rev. Dan Ward, OSB
19 June 2017
Zachary John Misleh
June 24, 1997 to June 13, 2017
Mass of Christian Burial, June 19, 2017
Reflections from the Misleh Family
We wish to thank all of you for coming today. This is just incredible.
I know you're not supposed to swear in church but dammit Zachary: I can think of at least a half-dozen, far less dramatic ways to get out of mowing the lawn.
How do we make sense of what happened last Tuesday?
First, we must acknowledge the disease. The suffering that was deeper than any of us knew. The torment we can’t even imagine was strong enough to blind him to any future but sadness. But now he is at peace and in God’s loving hands.
In the days and months ahead, we will naturally say, “This is the year Zach would be graduating from college,” or “He would have been 21 or 30 or 50 today.” But the far more important thing to do will be to remember what he left us in his short 20 years. We should be asking, “How can I live my life more like Zach.” Each of us gathered here today were heading down one path and on Tuesday, we were suddenly shoved in a different direction and we are left with confused choices about where we head next. Our family believes that Zach’s own life can help us find the path again.
So instead of looking forward to Zach’s graduation from St. John’s in 2020, let’s look back at the enthusiasm and energy he had for his high school alma mater, DeMatha, where he was chosen to give the welcoming address at his graduation which he delivered flawlessly in front of two-thousand people; an address that could not have made his teachers, his classmates, and his family prouder.
Let’s take a moment to learn some lessons about how to be a student and a classmate at St. John’s University, at DeMatha, at St. Ambrose, at Christian Family Montessori and with homeschool friends. A sampling:
On Wednesday, his DeMatha teachers and classmates paid tribute. To a person, they talked about Zach’s larger than life presence—which was certainly magnified by his six foot, five-inch frame—his ready smile, his encouraging words and his leadership. Once during a section on Frederick Douglass, his English teacher, Mr. Clark said to the boys that slaves who were caught learning to read and write were subject to a lashing. When he asked them, “Which one of you would show up at class tomorrow if you knew you may get 39 lashes?” there was several seconds of silence before someone said, “Zach would.”
During his year at St. John’s, he carried himself in much the same way as he did at DeMatha: becoming a leader, making instant friends, becoming a magnet to which everyone is drawn, diving deeply into subjects from Arabic to English to Theology and still finding time for weekly service to the poor and forgotten with his fellow Ozanam Scholars in New York City.
Can we head into the future recommitted to an openness to learning all we can, to exploring far and wide, and to allowing that to reshape who we want to be?
Instead of thinking about the children he might have had, let’s remember him as a child and as a lover of children.
The other night a friend asked, “when did he start learning music.” Susie replied: “before he could talk.” When he was two, he would, with incomprehensible words, sing the “Gloria” he heard at mass…in perfect pitch. His gift for music, as we all know, had almost no bounds.
At around the age of three, when a new friend approached who he was unsure of, he would pretend to be asleep, complete with little snores, rather than hurt his feelings and say he didn’t want to play at the moment.
After a few summers learning how to be a little friend for peace he graduated to becoming a counselor and a leader and, in every subsequent summer, helping grade-schoolers understand how to resolve conflicts by owning feelings and using words instead of threats or physical harm. He taught the young ones to be gentle and loving and kind. This was not hard for someone who lived such qualities daily.
Are we willing to let Zach’s example of mentoring children, keeping them safe, and helping them to feel loved and uniquely gifted change our approach with our own children and all the vulnerable young ones in need of our love and our mentoring?
Instead of wondering who he might have chosen for a life-long partner, let’s take a moment to remember how he quickly—and with such gusto—he was to celebrate the weddings of others.
In the past 10 years, there have been weddings on both sides of the family and always joyful occasions. But in recent years, we noticed that as soon as we gathered in the reception hall, the suit jacket quickly found a chair, the tie became a headband and everyone noticed the big, not-so-great dancer, ripping up the floor from the first song to the last and partnering with aunts, uncles and dozens of cousins, from those he could hold in his arms to those who were old enough to get him an adult beverage.
Are we willing to celebrate with such completeness and joy when we are invited to witness new love and a future of hope and promise?
Instead of dwelling on what kind of family he might have raised, let’s take a moment to think about how much he loved his own family.
In our own home, Zach was always ready (well, maybe “ready” is not quite the right word—how about “willing”?)…he was always willing to pitch in to do the daily and weekly chores and be a true part of the family. Dinner conversations were always engaging and sometimes profound and intense. He was a devoted son and loving brother to each of us. His music—yes, even the drum set—his laughter, the funny stories and deep conversations filled us with joy and awe as he grew from a child to a compassionate young man.
Susie is one of six children and I am one of seven. So you can imagine family gatherings: loud, full of laughter, historic parties. Zach somehow managed to be at the center of every family reunion. Picture him late-night in a hot tub full of cousins at a mountain retreat or the manic filler-of-water-balloons helping to reload the marauding hordes of our wet nieces and nephews.
As with his friends, he never missed an opportunity to have one-on-one time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins: asking how we’re doing, catching up after so many months apart, listening intently and sharing intimately with each one.
How might that love and dedication to family re-shape our actions and attitudes towards our own families? Can we open our arms wide enough to embrace all and intimately enough to touch each individual?
Instead of wondering how his dedication to being of service to others might have shaped even more people in the years ahead, let’s look at how his dedication to service has already shaped countless lives.
Zach was never afraid of an encounter with “the other.” Besides his service to Little Friends for Peace and his help with the immigrant community in New York, Zach made himself available every day as person to be trusted with deep secrets and a healer of hidden pain with fellow students, co-workers, friends and family.
His two years of summer service building homes for poor families in Tijuana shaped him profoundly, and from what we heard from others, shaped them too. He connected not only with his own Maryland friends, but with the group from Seattle who shared the housing compound those weeks. Almost singlehandedly, he brought both groups together to become friends.
Where most of us would turn aside from a begging stranger or give token pocket change, one afternoon, Zach took the Metro to downtown D.C. and gave a homeless man $10 and he never thought twice about it.
In an age of bitter political divides, harsh and overheated rhetoric and inability to truly listen, are we willing to be like Zach? To encounter without judgement; to see the person, not the ideology; to give not just out of our surplus; and to love unconditionally?
As we mentioned earlier, less than 24 hours after we discovered Zach was gone, DeMatha Catholic High School organized a gathering of students. The tributes to Zach were amazing and heartfelt and reflective of what has already been said about him. His crew coach and senior counselor sent this text that same afternoon. Coach Bright said: “Zach was present in every single one of us in that room. It is as if he realized he couldn't change the world by himself so he just recruited the entire DeMatha community to do it with him.”
We believe that all who have been touched by this bright shining light, those in this Church and those far beyond these walls, all of us have an obligation to allow his life to penetrate our own. He’s recruited all of us to change the world for the better. In whatever way you can, I hope you will take up the challenge to try and change the world for the better using Zach’s example. God bless all of you and God bless you dear Zachary.