Catholic Schools

St. Catherine seventh grader mourned by classmates

The following is an excerpt of the homily given by Father Tim Hedrick, parochial vicar at St. Catherine of Siena, at the Funeral Mass Dec. 3 for Clifton Neyrey, who died in a car wreck.  
As we come together to pray for Clifton today, it’s not easy to wrap our minds around what happened. Each of us comes with many emotions and many unanswered questions: Why Clifton? He was a good kid who loved Scouts. He was a good student. He loved playing lacrosse. Although he was a quiet kid, he loved to dance and joke around with his classmates. Why now? He was so young. He just turned 13. He was about to graduate from St. Catherine and move on to Jesuit. He had such a bright future ahead of him. Why so suddenly? We didn’t get to say goodbye. We didn’t get to tell him how much we cared about him.

These are all valid questions. I wish I could stand here today and give you the answers. But I can’t give you the answers and I don’t know the reason. God’s ways are not our ways. There are some things that we can’t and won’t know until we stand before God at the end of time. 

As Christians, we have faith in God. We know that death is not the end of the story. We believe in life after death. We believe that Jesus came to prepare a place for each of us in heaven. When people tried preventing the children from going to Jesus, he told them to “let the children come to me. Do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to them.”

As people of faith, we believe that Clifton is experiencing this promise of Jesus. We believe that he is in heaven with God.

How do we understand?
As we ponder the mystery of life and death with God, we may struggle with understanding it, but Clifton knew what it meant. In his very last school assignment at St. Catherine of Siena just two weeks ago, he gave the answer to the mystery of life and death. All of the seventh graders were given the assignment to pick an image to describe the Trinity. Out of all of the possible images that he could have chosen, Clifton and his classmate providentially picked the image of a car – yes, a car.

Little did Clifton know that these would be his last words to us. In the handwritten assignment, complete with a drawing, Clifton and his classmate explained the Trinity in the following way:

“The Trinity … can be described as a car. The engine is like God the Father. God gives us power to be kind and serve others like the engine gives the car power. God keeps us going like the engine keeps the car going. We can’t move without the engine or God.

“The wheels are like Jesus. Jesus was always preaching and moving to spread God’s word. The car needs wheels to be able to move. We need wheels and Jesus to be able to move forward.

“The frame of the car is like the Holy Spirit. The frame … connects the whole car together, just like the Holy Spirit connects us with God.

“In a car, God the Father is the part of the Trinity that we can’t see, but we know he is there. Jesus is like the wheels on the car transferring the power of the engine to make the car move. God is like the engine providing power to our faith.”

While all of this is very powerful, the most profound statements come on the last page of the assignment, written in Clifton’s own handwriting: “We need to know who God is because he created all of the animals and he even created us. He also loves us very much, so we should respect him by praying every day. In order for us to live with him in heaven, we have to go to Mass and say our prayers.”

Below these final words, Clifton drew a picture of a long, winding road leading into the sunset. Above the road was a sign that said: “Heaven.”

Even at a young 13 years old, Clifton grasped the reality that God is with us, even when we don’t see him. God is like a car that leads us on the road to heaven. Thank you, Clifton, for your profound words and profound images. Thank you for reminding us about these important truths of our faith.

I would like to take a moment to speak directly to Clifton’s classmates, lacrosse team members, fellow Scouts and friends:  You have lost a friend, a classmate and a teammate, but you have gained something new. Now you have a saint who is praying for you in heaven.

Clifton is with you today and he will continue to be with you tomorrow and all the days to come. His death serves as a reminder of the frailty of life. It reminds us to value what’s really important in life. If you want to honor Clifton, live your life to the fullest. Live your life correctly. Don’t worry about the things that are not important, seek to be close to God, love your family and be kind to others. Forgive those who hurt you.

Clifton left us with a powerful image: The car was an image of the journey of our lives with God. I think Clifton would say to us today: “Stay in the car, stay close to God, I’m praying for you and I’ll see you again in heaven.”

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