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We come together this evening to bid our farewell to Fr. Anton D'Souza, SJ, a man for others. Funeral Eucharist is not a time for presenting a panegyric. However, it is a place and time to present before all the good points of the departed and the lessons we can learn from the way he led his life.
Today the Church celebrates the Birthday of John the Baptist, the austere, fearless, at times harsh, precursor of Jesus. Fr. Anton, in many ways reminded one of John the Baptist. Fr. Anton, a man for others, realized the financial need of the family and so, soon after his SSC, began working as a conscientious young man, employed by the Railways in Ajmer. As we heard in the first reading, we are all chosen by God from our mother's womb. At times, that vocation unfolds slowly, as it seems to have happened in the case of Fr. Anton. Anton was well settled in his job when the Lord called him to leave his job, his way of life and follow Him. And this is precisely what he did. At the ripe age of 28 he joined the Society of Jesus to dedicate his life in the service of God and His people in Gujarat. So, the first lesson we learn from his life is, accepting one's responsibility as one sees it, but at the same time, being constantly open to God's further specification of His call or change of vocation.
After his ordination in 1972 at the age of 36 he was appointed Assistant Principal in the newly founded St. Xavier's School, Surat. His facility with accounts and his meticulous work made his superiors to put him as assistant province treasurer. He accepted the job, first working under Fr. Salas, then Fr More and then taking over the reins from Fr More and being the Province Treasurer. After 18 long years in these positions, he accepted to be the treasurer of Vidyajyoti, Delhi.
Here is a person who leaves his job for the service of the Lord and all he is asked to do is carry on work very similar to the one he was doing before joining. I'm sure this would have raised a lot of questions in his mind. On the one hand there is the will of the superiors and on the other, there is the deep desire to undertake pastoral ministry. Here is a man who accepts the assigned work as God's will, does not insist on change but at the same time he takes up pastoral work in his free time. Come evening and Anton would be seen cycling to visit families. Being concerned about families, he dedicated his spare time in Marriage Encounter. Though he began with English speaking couples, later he extended his ministry to Gujarati speaking couples as well. When he got a chance of Sabbatical, he went to USA to familiarize himself with his chosen apostolate. He can be called pioneer of Marriage Encounter in Gujarat.
When he realized that he had done all that he could in and through Marriage Encounter, he moved on to Neo Catechumen. By now, a popular priest, he went all out to deepen the faith of people. A man of faith made sure that others also shared in his faith experience.
To accept Superior's wish, do the work conscientiously, but at the same time, not to neglect the call one feels in one's bones is the second lesson that we learn from the life of Fr. Anton.
Anton was the treasurer. He handled a lot of money. But his own life style was extremely simple. A few baggy pants and bush shirts were perhaps his only possessions. He preached by his word and example.
He was also in charge of Glen View. Taking care of a villa in Mt Abu from A'bad was not an easy task. But Anton would go periodically to Abu, often in the company of Bro Martin to undertake maintenance work there, take inventory of things and make sure the villa was kept ready for those who wished to go there.
Not many were aware of these various works that Anton undertook. He seems to have put into practice what the Baptist said, namely, "He must increase, I must decrease." Selfless, quiet service is the third lesson of his life.
Where did he get the inspiration, the stamina to undertake all these works? Those who stayed in Premal Jyoti with him will remember Anton with his Breviary in the afternoon hours in the corridors of Premal Jyoti. Mornings in the office with accounts, afternoons with the Lord in Prayer, evenings with the people of God was the routine that Anton accepted for his life. Hard work in the service of God is the fourth lesson of his life.
But he was not a hardened, austere man. He enjoyed a good meal and light conversation. Presence at any night recreation in Premal Jyoti would show how Anton enjoyed and made sure others enjoyed those recreations. Spending time with the Community is the fifth lesson of his life.
Finally, at the age of sixty he was appointed Assistant PP at Loyola Hall. For five years he did the unassuming work of an assistant. A man of God, strict with himself, expected others to be strict with themselves too. He was pained when he perceived laxity and like the Baptist, lashed out against it. And in spite of those rare outbursts, on the whole, he remained a quiet, calm priest. And that is why, people could make fun of him about his outbursts.
In 2008, at the age of 72, his body could not support his undying spirit and he had to be shifted to the Jeevan Darshan Infirmary. It was sad to see this zealous priest confined to the infirmary, unable to recognize or communicate with people. Enclosed in his own world, he would at times start on a journey, always a replay of one of his apostolic journeys.
Like the Baptist, he chose to play the second fiddle. Like the Baptist, he served the Lord with all his might. Now at last the Lord has called this good and faithful servant to be with Him.
Thank you good Fr. Anton (this was his way of greeting others, calling them good).
May God grant him eternal rest. May we imitate his virtues and one day join him in God's Kingdom, Amen. (Fr.Francis Parmar)