Father Bill Byrne
If you were to take every photo of Matt Poyner ever taken, if you could pull up every Snapchat that was ever sent, if you could see any picture of him ever posted or shared, you would see one common element. Whether it was a baby picture, a team photo, a video of him doing a goofy dance to some tune; in every photo you would see one common thing - a huge smile – not a forced smile - a genuine, deep warm, “I love you all” kind of smile.
God definitely smiled on the world through Matt Poyner. It’s why our tears are so real. It is why there is such a space left in our lives. There was a warmth, a smile, a kindness that is rare and God gave you that smile, that warmth, that kindness. God gave Matt to all of you to show you something special about love and life. I believe that God smiled on the world through Matt Poyner, and our world needed that smile so much.
Again if you look at all the pictures of Matt ever taken you would see something else - every picture is filled with family and friends. #Poynerstrong was Saxon strong; it was Hitmen strong; it was friend strong; it was brother strong; it was laughter strong.
Sarah Van Houton , his girlfriend and besty from all the way back in Kindergarten put it well, “If someone was lucky enough to become friends with Matt he would put all his effort into that friendship or relationship. He always had every person’s best interest in mind. He put everyone before himself. He loved his friends and family with his whole heart.”
Poyner Strong is Friend Strong – and it is a huge web that unites generations and jocks, friends and family. Everyone whom he met was “friended” – literally. Not just a click on a computer screen, but really, truly had a friend in Matt.
Another thing about those photos, they are baseball strong. Like Matt loved his family and his friends, Matt also really loved baseball. There are photos of teams, of days at Nat’s Stadium, Fenway Park and Cooperstown. Matt love baseball and the lefty was great at the game.
So Monday was a perfect day for Matt. He got his driver’s license and he made the Saxon Varsity Baseball team as a sophomore. With his license he could be the guy to help his friends, with some country tune blaring. With the varsity baseball he was realizing his hard work. Working out at Epic, camps, being a great athlete like his big brother John.
Baseball has a quality to it that other sports do not have. There’s a spiritual quality. I would like to suggest to you that if we understand the game he loved so much, we might find the faith to live through the sadness of saying goodbye to such an incredible person like Matt.
Baseball begins in spring and ends in fall, but all summer mirrors life – new life to the end of life. But baseball has no time frame – so like life it can end quickly or last a long time. Tragedy is that Matt’s innings were shorter than we would have hoped.
Most of us take full lives to get it right. But Matt is not the only one we know who also was called early. In John 3:16, numbers that hang on homemade signs in every stadium, we find the words, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son.” To look on the Cross is to see the truly greatest Man who was also God. And Jesus died a young man.
Matt knew Jesus - from his family, from serving at this very altar, from the faith supported by friends, especially those who gathered for prayer at Young Life. I know that Matt knew the Lord. When you meet Christ, you learned one thing. Jesus, who is love and kindness, also died young.
As the book of Wisdom taught us today, “Being perfected in a short time, they fulfilled long years”, and I know that Matt did not just belong to us, he belonged to God. God gave you this amazing gift of son/brother/friend, but like the only begotten Son of God, he gave him for a shorter time than we would wish.
Another thing about baseball is that the field opens up to infinity. No other sport does that. A gridiron has an end zone, but a baseball can conceivable fly forever.
So when we see the young Jesus on the Cross, we realize that God dying for us is not the whole story. The real victory is not death but the death that gave us Easter. Jesus rose from the dead. When Jesus’ mom Mary went to the Tomb, she found that it was empty forever. Jesus died for us and so ended death. Jesus showed us that eternity is our destination. Heaven is our true home. The baseball will fly forever.
This life is just a blink compared to forever. Matt is not gone, he has just moved to a different reality of love and kindness that is only known in the fullness of God. It’s important to note that it is NOT our decision when we go. It is not God’s plan for us to end life, it is God’s plan for us to live and cherish life. We get to heaven by bringing heaven to earth.
Which leads us to our next point. Baseball is all about teamwork – implicit morality – you have the stars, but the teams that are champs are those that play with true teamwork. Alex Ladd, one of his best friends, said it well, “I got to see first hand the countless number of lives he touched. I cannot think of a person who didn't genuinely love him. Even people he talked to for a minute or two absolutely fell in love with him.” Matt made other people the star.
Finally, baseball has sacrifice - sacrifice flies and sacrifice bunts. I think that this must be one of the reasons why Matt loved baseball so much, because life is not just about the individual, life about all of us.
Perhaps it is here where you begin to answer the hardest question of all, how do you live life with such a huge space in it? The answer is sacrifice. It is the core message of Jesus; it is key to understanding the great and good young man, Matt Poyner.
We are here today to pray for Matt’s soul, but we are also here to honor his life. If his life is to have meaning, his smile must go on in your smiles. His kindness should live through your thoughtfulness. His faith and hope in God were real and to know love can only happen when we let God into our lives.
Matt’s mom and dad chose the readings for today’s Mass and they especially chose the Gospel for today. His mom said that these words, all called the Beatitudes, were what she tried to teach Matt:
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Blessed are the Merciful.
Blessed are the pure in heart.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
She said she told Matt; these Beatitudes are the “Attitudes to Be.” Perhaps now we know why he had such a big smile all the time. Perhaps, for those who were loved so well by Matt, these are the attitudes that should be ours. Death is sad, but eternal life is real. Heaven is our home, but we get there by bringing heaven to our homes. Life is not just about me, but also about us. To love is to sacrifice.
This, my brothers and sisters, is what it really means to be Poyner Strong.