This is the text of part of the homily given by Fr. Francis Mulligan of St. John Church, Wilton, Wisconsin at the funeral Mass for Msgr. Urban Baer, former diocesan rural life director, former veterans’ chaplain, and former pastor of St. Wenceslaus Church in Eastman. Father Mulligan was a classmate of Msgr. Baer and he concelebrated the Mass of the Resurrection with La Crosse Bishop F.W. Freking and other priests in St. Wenceslaus Church in Eastman on November 19, 1973.
What shall we say about our friend on this occasion? He had the faith and appreciated it. It may have come to him through God-given channels of a good home, good parents, good schooling, good priests and sisters. He has a special vocation: he was called to serve God and he answered that call. He knew what it meant; he was an adult, capable of making a serious decision. There was no turning back.
I stopped to see him shortly before Fr. Charles Brady celebrated his 40th anniversary in the priesthood, and because he could not attend, I asked him to send greetings. “Just tell him the words of Father Feber,” he said: “To the noble shrine of love divine my lowly feet have trod; I ask no fame, no other name than this, a priest of God.” This was his own life motto.
In these days when the boat is being rocked by thoughtless children, we hear much about identity and fulfillment, personality and growth. Who would dare say that Monsignor Baer did not have all of these qualities? …
We knew him as a man who knew his vocation and loved it. In it he walked the way of humility and obedience and dedication. The capital sin of pride was not in him, whether he served as assistant or pastor. He worked for the salvation of people and the honor of the Church of God. When he served in the army, he was there to bring men to God. His highest rank was that of a priest of God. When he was sick and suffering, he bore his pains like a Francis of Assisi, knowing it was God’s will, and he knew that “Brother Body” would soon return to dust.
Father Urban loved the Church, and the Holy Father, and his bishop, and all men. He saw the need for her attributes of authority , infallibility and indefectibility. His theology was that of his Master, “obedience is better than sacrifice.” Among his theology books were the Holy Bible, the Missal, the Breviary, and the Crucifix. Of course he had read and learned the decrees of Vatican II. But he knew that the purpose of the Council was to make men holy.
His theology was not destructive or rebellious. Confession before or after first Communion, or receiving Communion in the hand or on the tongue — these were not disturbing questions for him. These were pastoral problems that could easily be solved. He also knew that “he who eats the Pope dies of ulcers.”
He was sad when his friends turned away and walked no more with him. He was pleased with aggiornamento, which cleaned out the dust of ages and made the house ready for renewal. But he was violently opposed to those who pull down the house because they wish to play with novelty.
Father Baer loved people—particularly the little people, and with them he identified himself. He knew that every man has the stamp of God and is a work of art.
Father Baer: I am here to express our thanks to you for all you have done for us. On a few occasions you told me that I should preach your homily when you died. It was presumptive to say that I would. We walked the road together, and walking with you was an experience and an inspiration. We met in St. Louis, in September of 1925, when we entered Kenrick seminary. Four years later we marched up the aisle together to be ordained priests. Nervously but unhesitatingly we made our commitment: “We are here.”
We offered our first Mass together, concelebrating with Archbishop John Glennon (later first cardinal of St. Louis.) After Mass he gathered us around him at the altar, where he spoke words that were not given to the rest of the congregation. He spoke about the priesthood and priestly service, of the honor and dignity connected with it. We were young, but we were old enough to make a decision and know that it meant. Gradually we advanced in the knowledge of our own ignorance and proceeded to grow up. We became fools for Christ.
I watched you work as a curate and saw you serve as a pastor where you were sent. It did not take an “act of Congress” to change you from one assignment to the next. You served in the little places, but you knew there were no little people.
When you served in the army, you were there to bring the men to God. The men knew their padre, and your greatest rank was that of Catholic priest. They knew you were like them, a civilian soldier. When the war ended, you returned to be appointed pastor here in the town of Eastman, where you served well for 15 years. This was your home, and now your body will rest with the people you loved.
Here you showed your ecumenical spirit. You served in the ministerial association and occasionally presided at meetings. You were an active member of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. But you were always the padre and you wore your uniform.
You were interested in farmers and farming, and you were appointed head of the rural life program in the diocese. Your activities branched out far beyond the limits of the diocese. I am sure that many here today visited farmers’ meetings at which you put on your act for better communication. We recall the red handkerchief and the corncob pipe with which you distracted us sometimes from a heated discussion. You were suited for this office, and I know that your book of advice on farming adorns a bookshelf in many homes.
Father Baer taught in season and out that every good gift comes from above. Of old the farmer had been described as a man “with the emptiness of ages on his face and on his back the burden of the world.” But Monsignor helped to change that idea. For him farming was the most dignified profession and the one closest to God.
For him this was God’s work, and this was loving his neighbor. In all of his service to people, he did not neglect his parish. First things came first. He administered the sacraments faithfully, offered the Holy Sacrifice daily, said the divine office for himself and all the people, for this was his business. He took care of the sick, and buried the dead, and you loved him and he loved you.
Then came sickness, eight years of sickness, and I suppose, loneliness. For he was human and the world was busy, and friends were slow to visit the sick. He helped where and when he could for a time. He accepted all of this as God’s will. He never seemed to lose his sense of humor, because, I think, humor is a daughter of charity. He knew he was dying. Each of us should know this. The sentence was passed when we began to live.
Today, Father Urban, the evidence is all in. Your case has been submitted. For you, I think, there will be a short hearing. This is your Father’s house. He has been waiting. Here is your Brother Christ. You were an Alter Christus. You communicated Christ to others. And here is Mary from whom the Word was made Flesh. Hail her again, as you did so often during your life and sickness. You know her, for she wears a rosary. And when you look around in astonishment at the wonder of it all, take a little time out to ask the Mother of God to pray for us sinners here below.
Father Urban, as a member of the Church Triumphant, help us who are still soldiering, sometimes plodding alone where the mud is heavy, and our eyes blinded with filth and the devil’s pollution, and our shoulders ache beneath the pack, our own and those of the fallen. Help us to keep looking up, beyond the margin of the earth, where we have not a lasting city, but where we seek one that is to come.