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Bishop John O. Barres homily at funeral Mass of Msgr. Joseph F. Rebman: ‘Peace, love and joy’ from ‘a parish pastor’s pastor’

Msgr. Joseph F. Rebman and Bishop John O. Barres in October 2019. Dialog photo/Joseph P. Owens

By Bishop John O. Barres
Diocese of Rockville Centre

“Peace, Love and Joy!”

We are all so familiar with Msgr. Joseph Francis Rebman’s humble “Peace, Love and Joy” greeting – a greeting he gave to each of us, a greeting he gave sincerely and from the bottom of his beautiful pastoral heart every time he met us.

To his wonderful family, his sister Mary, his stepbrother Tom and his many nephews and nieces, I offer with Bishop Koenig, Bishop Malooly, the priests, deacons and religious of the Diocese of Wilmington, the parishioners of St. Joseph on the Brandywine parish and all the parishioners of every parish in the Diocese that Monsignor served so faithfully,  our prayers and our sympathy.

We remember too at this Funeral Mass the souls of Msgr. Rebman’s parents. Joseph and Isabel, his sister Isabel, his stepmother Pauline and all his deceased relatives.

Msgr. Joseph Rebman was a son of the City of Wilmington, a son of St. Peter’s Cathedral, and a son of the Diocese of Wilmington, the State of Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Msgr. Rebman was a son of St. Francis de Sales and Salesianum School.

Msgr. Rebman was a son of the Eternal City and the North American College.

Msgr. Rebman was a priest’s priest, a parish pastor’s pastor, and a canonist’s canonist.

Three themes this morning: Peace, Love and Joy – seen through the prism of Luke 25 and the Road to Emmaus Resurrection Appearance and seen through the life of a great Churchman,  Msgr. Joseph Francis Rebman.

Peace.  The two disciples walking on the Road to Emmaus are filled with fear, confusion, anxiety and grief.  Suddenly a stranger joins them and talks them through the Sensus Plenior, the fuller Old Testament prophecy anchored dimensions of what they have experienced in Our Lord’s Crucifixion on Calvary.

As they reflect later and recognize that it was Jesus Himself walking with them, they say: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?”

What were their hearts burning with?  They were burning with Christ’s presence.  They were burning with Christ’s peace and Christ’s Resurrected Light.

In so many of the Resurrection appearances, when the Risen Lord appears, often through locked doors of fear, he says: “Peace be with you.”

Msgr. Joseph Rebman was a priest of the Divine Mercy, a Good Samaritan priest who always went the extra mile and was an ambassador of Christ’s peace in every situation and circumstance.

So much of Msgr. Rebman’s Road to Emmaus priestly pastoral presence was forged in his first assignment at Immaculate Conception parish in Elkton, Maryland when he went out to the tragic crash site of Pan Am Flight 214 just outside of Elkton on December 8th, 1963.

It was a tragic scene with heavy rain.  The young Fr.  Rebman ministered to many families of the 81 people who died and this pastoral experience served as the foundation of his dedicated Catholic cemetery service.[1]

His beautiful priestly face – the kindness, the support, the goodness – brought peace to every situation.

Joe Owens from The Dialog asked me last week whether Msgr. Rebman was an important mentor.

My response was simple. Msgr. Rebman mentored the entire presbyterate of the Diocese of Wilmington.  He mentored generations of priests with his kindness,  compassion, understanding, encyclopedic intelligence, pastoral charity and wisdom.

Msgr. Rebman was and will continue to be Salt and Light to this great presbyterate, a presbyterate that my good friend and brother bishop,  Bishop William Koenig, now has the privilege to serve and minister with.

Msgr. Rebman could always find a charitable, faithful and practical road through a complex pastoral situation.  He understood the priest, the deacon, the lay person he was giving advice to.  He shared with all of us so much light, wisdom, compassion and peace.

Peace, Love and Joy!

Love. The Road to Emmaus Resurrection Appearance is Biblical and Eucharistic.  It is in the blessing and breaking of the Bread that the disciples suddenly recognize Jesus.

In The Word of the Lord, Pope Benedict XVI writes: “The Eucharist opens us  to an understanding of Scripture, just as Scripture for its part illumines and explains the mystery of the Eucharist.” (55)

The disciples on the Road to Emmaus burned with the presence of Christ in the Sacred Scriptures and burned with the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

In a letter to a family member near the end of his life,  J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings, wrote: “…I put before you the one great thing to love on earth – the Blessed Sacrament, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  There you will find true romance, true honor, true glory and the true way of all your loves upon earth.”[2]

The Body and Blood of Christ leads us on the true ways, the holy ways, of all our loves upon earth.

They were the true guides and the true ways of Msgr. Rebman’s heroic and relentless pastoral charity.

The rhythm of his kenotic sacrificial priestly love for the People of God was an expression of the rhythm of the Catholic Mass and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Pope St. John Paul II once wrote: “As a representation of Christ’s sacrifice of love for the Church, the eucharist is a fountain of charity.” (Familiaris Consortio 57)

The Eucharist was the fountain of Msgr. Rebman’s pastoral charity.

Peace, Love and Joy!

Joy!  Msgr. Rebman lived what Pope Francis calls “The Joy of the Gospel.”  He lived it with constant and  irrepressible spontaneity.  In his beautiful way, he was the Holy Spirit’s life of the party.  Msgr. Rebman lived not only the “Joy of the Gospel” but the Laughter and the Fun of the Gospel.

He was a constant evangelizer in his pastoral charity, always and at all times ready to listen with great empathy and compassion.

One of the qualities I always loved about Monsignor was that when it came to Catholic Evangelization he was always intergenerationally open to anyone with new ideas, a new approach, a new and creative way to cast the nets of Christ’s love.

Msgr. Rebman would have reveled in the Extraordinary Synod and its Diocese of Wilmington expression.

Listen to these words of Pope Francis describing the Synodal process because they describe the spirit of Synodality that Msgr. Rebman has been living his entire priesthood.

The Holy Father writes: “Synodality is an expression of the Church’s nature, her form, style and mission…The word ‘synod’…means ‘journeying together.’ The Book of Acts is the story of a journey that started in Jerusalem, passed through Samaria and Judea, then on to the regions of Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, ending up in Rome.  A journey that reveals how God’s word, and the people who heed and put their faith in that word, journey together.  The word of God journeys with us.  Everyone has a part to play; no one is a mere extra…This process was conceived as an exercise in mutual listening.  I want to emphasize this.  It is an exercise of mutual listening, conducted at all levels of the Church and involving the entire People of God…Listening, speaking and listening.  It is not about garnering opinions, not a survey, but a matter of listening to the Holy Spirit, as we read in the Book of Revelation: ‘Whoever has ears should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches (2:7).’  To have ears, to listen, is the first thing we need to do. To hear God’s voice, to sense his presence, to witness his passage and his breath of life.”[3]

As we prepare for the opening Diocese of Wilmington’s Extraordinary Synod Mass on October 17th, we remember  Msgr. Joseph Francis Rebman’s  spirit of Peace, Love and Joy!

Together let’s pray for his soul; let’s pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the Diocese of Wilmington and the Universal Church; and let’s conclude with the unsung version of one of Msgr. Rebman’s favorite blessings that he always sang delightfully off-key and with prayerful gusto:

“May the Lord bless you and keep you;

May the Lord make his countenance to shine upon you!

May the Lord bless you and give you his peace!”


[1] Cf. Joseph P. Owens, Dialog Editor, 15 April 2021, ‘Heroic and dedicated’ servant Msgr. Joseph Fr. Rebman, pastor of St. Joseph on the Brandywine, to retire after 61 years of active priesthood.’

[2] As quoted in James T. O’Connor, The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), 336-337.

[3] Address of his Holiness Pope Francis to the Faithful of the Diocese of Rome, Paul VI Audience Hall, Saturday, 18 October 2021.