Eight years of seminary training, four years of post-graduate studies, eighteen years in ministry, presiding countless funeral services and administering anointing of the sick to those on their death bed… one would have thought that it would have been more than enough preparation to accept the death of someone dear and close to my heart. If not the school of theology at least the school of life should have prepared me, but how mistaken I was to think along those lines. We all know that someday we will have to meet death; for every birth there is only one certainty, and that is death. However, when death stares you in the face , one realises that one can never be prepared for such a reality – not just one’s own finality but even more the passing of a beloved one.

78 years 7 months, 24 days ago, a baby was born and his parents named him Devadass. Like the crowd that was gathered at the birth of John the Baptist, his parents too may have wondered “what will this child turn out to be?” (Lk 1:66). Little did they know that this child whom they named Devadass, which means ‘Servant of God’, would only grow up true to this name, becoming a humble servant of God.

A man who in many ways did not know how to say ‘no’ when it came to serving his family and community. Whether it was at work, in Church or in the community at large, he was always ready to serve and almost everyone in the town of Rawang knows him. In all my growing up years, my siblings and I did not have our own identity as we would always be introduced as Mr Dass’ children. He is so well known that even if I “burped” in town, my father would hear about it from someone. In the past two days, our family has been meeting with many of his friends and colleagues and all of them had only kind words and fond memories to share with us about my father. Given such a scenario, how does one pay tribute to a person whose life speaks louder than any words that I can share with you today.

Whether it was in Church as a lay minister or pastoral council chairperson, as prayer group leader or cemetery committee founder member in the parish of St Jude, Rawang, as member of the Archdiocesan inter-religious organisation or BEC Formation Team, there was only one thing on his mind… to help the parish to become a vibrant community.  To the community, as an active member of the Lions Club dedicated to education, cornea transplant & upliftment of the poor, a committee member at the drug rehabilitation centre, and member in the neighbourhood Rukun Tetangga, my father only had the common good of society in his heart.

It is not my intention to stand here and pretend to be at the Oscars and present him a Lifetime Achievement Award but in more ways than one, the Beatitudes in the gospel of Matthew  where Jesus spoke to His disciples at the early phase of His public ministry is itself a fitting tribute to my father. One of my favourite saints is St Thomas Aquinas,  a great Doctor of the Church, and he had devoted much of his great writings describing what beatitude is: beatitude is a kind of perfection and God’s perfection includes every other sort of perfection. That describes my father – a perfectionist when it comes to work. He was so meticulous that he has a file on everything including… his wife, children, grandchildren, house, car, tax, insurance, sacraments, sessions he attended, even the correspondences between paternal and maternal grandmothers regarding his marriage preparations… and probably everything else you could think of under the sun. He was the beta version of what Google is today – the conventional database in his cupboard. All you needed to do was ask him something, he would probably have a file on it. If today my office staff who are present here today complain that I am picky and meticulous when it comes to work… please blame it on my father!

Not only did he exemplify perfection, he also was a man of great virtue. For St Thomas Aquinas the beatitude / perfection is best exemplified through virtues: whether it was faith, hope and love or prudence, fortitude, justice or temperance, my father made sure that we did our best in whatever we undertook. If there is anything that I want to remember my dad by as I celebrate his life and bid his body farewell… I want to remember him as  God’s greatest gift to us – his wife, children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, relatives, colleagues, and friends.

Not only do we see him as God’s gift to us , he often saw the many people who walked into his life as God’s gift to him. He is a man of gratitude – to God and to the people around him. He expressed his gratitude often by saying ‘thank you’. At every family prayer, he would end by saying Thank you Father, Thank you Jesus, Thank you Holy Spirit. The words “Thank you” were never far from his lips. In fact, these were the last words just before he was sedated in hospital… “Thank you ma”… even though he did not like being in hospital and was probably experiencing great discomfort. That is the person my Father is…. and probably the  lesson we can learn from him is that let us always be grateful to God for His blessings and grateful to the many people whom God sends into our lives as gifts and remembering to express our gratitude to them who make our lives better in so many ways.

There is no better way to conclude this tribute than to quote two short paragraph written by my nieces Vanisha and Raveena of their grandfather for this perfectly sums up the man he is and what he means to us: “No words will suffice to perfectly sum up how great a man my grandfather truly is. I refuse to refer to him in the past tense because he is still present with us, not physically as we’d like, but spiritually. Heaven has earned an angel, but he has always been ours on earth. God gifted the most loving and selfless man to be the heart of our family and friends. I will strive to one day be a reflection of his good self. I miss you, Thata (grandpa), we all do but I feel your presence wherever I go and I’ve never felt more safe… God has blessed me with the most caring and selfless man that I am so privileged to call my grandfather. No words can ever describe how grateful I am for everything he has done for me. I love and miss you so much Thata.”