Funeral of Msgr. Charles Meisel
St. John the Evangelist Parish, Hydes
October 6, 2021
Shortly after Monsignor Meisel went home to the Lord, I learned that he had asked me to preach at his funeral Mass. His request deeply touched me and I willingly agreed to do so, even though many others, especially Father Willie Franken, enjoyed a long-standing friendship with Charlie and knew him better than myself.
What I do know is that Charlie was a beloved and respected priest. He was beloved and respected by a succession of Archbishops of Baltimore, beginning with Archbishop Francis Keough who ordained him in 1950, and extending to the incumbent who had the privilege of visiting with him many times, whether in my office or at Mercy Ridge or at Stella Maris, including my final visit about a week before he died. In my first meeting with Charlie at 320, I quickly discovered that he was straightforward and plainspoken. Like Nathanial, whom Jesus called “an Israelite without guile” – Charlie told me what he felt I should know and understand. As he gave it to me “with the bark off”, I sensed that “obedience and respect” he had pledged at his ordination. That same forthrightness won him the respect of his fellow priests and engendered trust among the parishioners he served so faithfully for so many years.
From the beginning, I also sensed what many others have said: If you didn’t know any better, Monsignor Meisel might strike you as being gruff, but underneath that appearance was a heart of gold, a wonderful human being and a dedicated priest, with a picante sense of humor and an expansive capacity for friendship with people from all walks of life – friendships forged in the course of ministry and on the golf course. And so it is that we come here together this morning, and standing in the light of the Scriptures, the living Word of God, we commend Charlie with utmost confidence to the Lord of life and love. In that light, we give thanks to the Lord for his friendship and his leadership, and for his long and fruitful priesthood at St. Anthony of Padua Parish (for 22 years) and as the founding Pastor of Nativity Parish where he served for 28 years. We turn now to the reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.
As all of us know, Charlie was the oldest priest in the Archdiocese. He was 96 years old and had been a priest for some 70 years, indeed he was ordained a priest a year before I was born! Thus Jeremiah’s words, “I know not how to speak; I am too young” may strike us as an odd choice for this funeral Mass – but on reflection, they fit perfectly.
For Charlie was born to be a priest. He knew from his earliest years that God was calling him to this vocation and he wasted no time in pursuing it – making his way through St. Charles Seminary, to St. Mary’s on Paca Street, and finally Roland Park. As Father Franken commented, “Monsignor Meisel was a man who knew he wanted to be a priest from the third grade . . .” – and I might add he never wanted to be anything else but a priest. In the priesthood, such people are sometimes called “lifers” – and as I “lifer” myself, I appreciate how the call to priesthood begins early in life.
So like Jeremiah, Charlie heard the Lord’s call at an early age, accepted his vocation, and never looked back. He went where he sent and brought to the people he served the living Word of God and shared with them the Sacraments, countless times and in varied circumstances. Charlie also had great regard for others whom the Lord called to the priesthood, whether it was his fellow priests – he was a man of deep priestly fraternity – or whether it was the many young priests he mentored, or the seminarians for whom he set up a scholarship fund.
1 Peter 5:1-4
Given Monsignor Meisel’s dedication to the priesthood and priestly fraternity, the reading from the First Letter of Peter fits him, if I may say, “to a tee”. In that letter, Peter exhorts his fellow presbyters to be good shepherds: “Tend the flock of God in your midst”, he said, “overseeing it not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, and not for shameful profit, but eagerly.”
In the course of his long priesthood, Monsignor Meisel served in only a few parishes… St. Anthony of Padua in Baltimore, Nativity Parish in Timonium, and I understand he helped out here at St. John’s, Our Lady of Hope, and St. Joan of Arc for as long as he was able. Serving in those parishes was no mere “assignment” but his life. Like the Good Shepherd, he knew his people well and through his ministry the truth and love of Jesus made deep inroads into their lives and families. His rock-solid priestly example stood as a salutary exhortation to his brother priests, not so much in words but rather by daily dedication to his parish family. The quality of his love was expressed in his determination “to do things right”.
The Grain of Wheat and the Valley of Darkness
In his last years, the Lord called Monsignor Meisel to live his priesthood differently. As his strength began to ebb, he moved from Mercy Ridge to Stella Maris and spent the last four years of his life in a small room with only a few mementos. The Lord who called this priest to give of himself each day for the sake of his people now was to become that “grain of wheat” that falls into the ground and dies in order to bear much fruit, the good and lasting fruit of the Gospel. The Lord called him to embody, to re-produce in his own flesh the sacrifice he had enacted on the altar for so many years.
I know that these past few years were not easy for Charlie and to be sure he did not endure them entirely without comment! I should imagine he gave it to the Lord “without the bark on” no less than to me. Yet, he maintained his demeanor, his cheerfulness, his sense of humor, and indeed interest in others. Even when he could not leave his bed, he remained what he always was: a very good priest, a pastor, a friend, and a disciple of the Lord, true to the end.
Just as Monsignor Meisel was a good shepherd for so many years, we now entrust him to Jesus the Good Shepherd, asking the Lord to walk with him “through the valley of darkness” as he journeys from time to eternity, where we are supremely confident, he will hear his heavenly Father say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Monsignor Meisel, may your great priestly soul rest in peace!