Excerpted from the funeral homily given by Fr. John W. O’Malley, SJ
If the church is a field hospital, I have known a place within the Church where both the badly wounded and the lightly wounded have flocked for many decades. I am speaking, of course, of Howard Gray.
What an extraordinary life he had as a Jesuit! The day he died the province sent out a biography that listed the important positions he held, including provincial of the Detroit Province, where he was not only esteemed as provincial, but loved as provincial — not a small achievement in the Society of Jesus!
Howard was, moreover, a key player in the rescue of Jesuit spirituality from the moralism into which it had largely fallen over the course of the centuries, and in promoting Ignatian spirituality, whose blossoming we experience today. He was one of the first to promote the individual-directed retreat, and he helped establish programs to teach others how to be compassionate and prudent guides for those making such retreats. He opened the programs to lay men and women. Today we take such things for granted, but we need to realize that they constitute a significant turning point in the history of Christian spirituality.
That was Howard the public person. Then there was the human being we all knew. There is so much that could be said, but if I say simply that Howard was a deeply affectionate person, I have hit upon one of his deepest traits. He loved his sister Marge and considered her his best friend.
He formed friendships easily and quickly but never superficially. Once his friend, always his friend. He and I were friends for 70 years, since we were teenagers, and I consider his friendship one of the most precious blessings of my life. We bantered and teased and feigned indignation at one another’s foibles.
Howard looked, he saw, he loved. A Jesuit who for years has been engaged in a courageous and difficult ministry wrote me the other day when he heard of Howard’s death: “Nothing prepared me better for the ministry I have been engaged in for over 30 years than the affection Howard gave me and showed me how to extend to others. He was a tender glance of God, empowering us all to be that tender glance in the world.”
That was the gift that drew people to Howard with their darkest secrets, their deepest wounds, and their highest hopes. They came to the field hospital he called spiritual direction, and there they found balm for their wounds and comfort for their souls. To that hospital came bishops, university presidents, students, faculty, staff, countless Jesuits, sundry others, and at least one cardinal.
Several weeks ago, Howard was at Georgetown University, where he gave a marvelous lecture. In it he quoted a passage from the spiritual diary of St. Peter Faber, one of the founding members of the Society of Jesus along with St. Ignatius:
With great devotion and new depth of feeling, I hoped for and beg this from God, that it be given me to be the servant and minister of Christ the consoler, the minister of Christ the helper, of Christ the healer, the enricher, the strengthener. Thus it would happen that even I might be able through him to help many — to console, liberate, and give them courage… and thus bring help to each and every one of my neighbors whomsoever.
What better description could there be of the life of our beloved Howard, that little guy and that great man.