As the word spread rapidly and quickly last Thursday and into Friday of the sudden, unexpected death of Mitch Orth
and the tears were shed, the disbelief and shock expressed, and the great number of individual stories and memories
and anecdotes began to be spoken aloud and shared privately throughout this community he loved, I began to
wonder as to whether it really wasn't Mitch's heart that gave out so suddenly that night, but rather that piece by piece
throughout his all too brief 25 years, he simply gave that heart away to others.
And that thought led to another, How did he do it? Just how did Mitch affect so many lives with so much love and
affection, young and old alike, wih the possible exception of Louie, the dog, and where did it all begin?
So, given my background (Fr. Egbers was an FBI agent prior to entering the priesthood) as I am wont to do, I began
a little investigation and discovered that Mitch's full, but all too brief life began right here in this very church, new
then as well, on April 7, 1985 when Mitch was brought to the waters of baptism, symbolized yet again appropriately
today by the white pall of the baptismal robe and the Easter candle, of his sharing his new life with Christ, who by his
resurrection conquered the darkness for all who believe.
Mitch Orth was a believer and on that April Sunday began his journey through his baptism into the life of Jesus
Christ. As Christians we are all called to imitate the life of Christ in our own special, unique, and indivual way as
your own memories of his life will surely attest.
But let me offer a few I've discovered: Mitch worked for his Dad and took care of his Mom. So did the carpenter's
son in his early years, and through his last words on the cross. Mitch loved to party; so did Jesus, although there's
no indication he ever drove the Bengal's bus. Mitch loved kids and who was it who said, "let the little ones come to
Mitch loved to travel; so did Jesus, although I'll acknowledge there's also no record of a "Boom, Baby" from Jesus
at Torrey Pines. Mitch put others ahead of himself, knew everyone in the city, and was the prince of the $4 haircut.
Judging by the gospels and portraits of Jesus, the same. Mitch liked working with his hands, Christmas and nativity
scenes. I suspect Jesus had a special place in his heart for that season and those scenes, too. Mitch could sell and he
could make peace among the crews and customers. And it was Jesus who said, "Blessed are the peacemakers."
Mitch was passionate about life and so was Jesus, especiallly when his own was about to be offered for others. And
Mitch was a teacher, leader, retreat guide and coach. And we know Jesus did and was all that too. And as teacher
and coach, Jesus liked to tell stories, as did Mitch. And so I'd like to tell one now, if I may digress. I hope Mitch
would approve as I want now to address Mitch's teams, his students, his players who are here today and for whom
Mitch's death has been so sudden, so puzzling and so difficult.
This is the story of Giacomo Puccini, the great Italian composer of such operas as LaBoheme and Madama Butterfly.
It seems that when Puccini was also fairly young he contracted cancer and so he decided to spend his last days writing
his final opera, Turandot, which is one of his most polished pieces. When his friends and disciples would say, "You
are ailing, take it easy and rest," he would respond, "I'm going to do as much as I can on my masterwork and it's up
to you, my friends, to finish if I don't." Well, Puccini died before the opera was finished.
Now his friends had a choice. They could forever mourn their friend and return to life as usual - or they could build
on his melody and complete what he started. They chose the latter. So at the premier of the opera at La Scalla in
Milan, Puccini's opera was conducted for the first time by Arturo Toscanini, the famed conductor. And when it came
to the part in the opera where the master had stopped because he had died, Toscanini stopped everything, turned
around, and with eyes welling up with tears, said to the large audience, "This is where the master ends." And he
wept. But then after a few moments, he lifted up his head, smiled broadly and said, "And here is where his friends
began." And he finished the opera.
And so here is my point, Mitch's teams. I would like to suggest to you that if there is a fitting response to the shock
of your coach's death, it is life, your life, a life that is honest and decent, a life that makes beautiful music and scores
points for Coach Orth and the Lord. Across the chasm of death you can make your coach and friend live.
And our gospel for today gives us the assurance that Mitch, who was baptized into Jesus' life and death, now truly
lives with him in the promise of eternal life. Matthew 25: is the great scene of the last judgement and the only place
in the scriptures where the criteria on which we will be judged worthy for eternal life with Christ is set forth. And
those criteria are familiar to us as they were to Mitch - what you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to
Jesus. When you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, and when you do all this without
regard for yourself, or even knowing who you are helping, on the last day you will know it was really Jesus himself. In
other words, the creed of our lives as Christians and the values we are to instill as we imitate the Lord can be summed
up in two words, words familiar to you and familiar to Mitch as the motto of his alma mater, Bishop Brossart:
And with those words as Mitch's personal motto, today we celebrate his life and new life with his Lord who called him
friend and said to him last Thursday the words we, too, can only hope to hear when our time on earth is complete:
"Well done, good and faithful Mitch, enter into the joy of your Lord." And until we meet again, may God hold you
in the palm of his hand. Amen.
Fr. James Egbers
St. Mary Parish
|Mitch Orth's Homily
As Delivered By
Fr. James Egbers At Mitch's Funeral Mass
Tuesday Morning, March 9, 2010