On June 21, 2017, with the passing of Monsignor Richard Mouton, we lost a friend, a spiritual guide and a member of our family. More importantly, The Church lost one of Her extraordinary priests. Ordained sixty two years ago, Monsignor was one of the last surviving Second Vatican Council designated experts. Please pray for the repose of his soul.
Today, much of society will scoff at and denigrate the priesthood. In order to be a holy priest that serves others with fidelity to the Church for a lifetime in a world that belittles everything holy it requires a priest to become heroic. Heroic, not by worldly terms, but by heavenly terms. Heroic in both virtue and in embracing the gifts of the Holy Spirit imbued in the sacrament of Holy Orders. Pray for our priests.
A natural introvert, Monsignor would not be thrilled with the attention he got in his passing. Perhaps, in my humble opinion, the best way to honor his life is to draw attention to his love of Christ, The Church and the priesthood. Throughout his time as a priest, Monsignor demonstrated this love in a variety of ways and with the greatest joy and humility while providing the sacraments over six decades.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. (John 20:21-23)
Imagine, if you can, hearing confessions almost every day for sixty two years and wisdom gained from guiding thousands of people to Christ over those years. A wisdom that becomes infused to a priest’s very being. Monsignor, like all priests, was in persona Christi through the sacraments and especially so in the confessional. He had a love of Christ that searched for truth, even in the confessional.
An encounter with Monsignor could be foreboding and moving at the same time. In the confessional he was both gentle and direct. He was a rare confessor that asked questions to determine how to direct the penitent. More than once, as he heard my confession, he would state, after a pointed question, “That’s not a sin.” On one occasion I can remember saying, “But, Monsignor…” to be stopped, “That is not a sin.” “Yes, Monsignor.”
He, like many priests I have met over the years, understood the weight and impact his words had on the people he had a responsibility to guide. As such, people sought his advice and he was a thoughtful teacher. He taught in his words, he taught in his actions and he taught in his homilies.
And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God. (Hebrews 13:16)
On one such occasion he taught me a lesson I will never forget. This particular lesson came through a phone call I had made looking for advice and went as follows: (Paraphrased)
Monsignor: Hello, Jay.
Me: Hello, Monsignor. Do you have a moment?
Monsignor: Of Course, Jay. I answered the phone didn’t I. (Chuckle)
Me: That you did. (Chuckle) I have a moral dilemma. I am not sure what to do.
Monsignor: Yes, Mr. Toups. (Switching gears.)
I went on to explain that I had a house with a rent-to-own lease, the tenant had stopped paying and further more wanted a sum of money to vacate. Monsignor asked detailed financial questions about the property, rent, down payment, circumstances and then proceeded.
Monsignor: Mr. Toups, what do you want to know?
Me: Am I under a moral obligation to pay the sum the tenant is asking and what is the “better” thing to do?
Monsignor: Mr. Toups, you are under no moral obligation to pay the sum to the tenant and you can certainly morally evict him.
Me: (I had the sense more was coming.) but?
Monsignor: The man has paid you are a large sum of money correct?
Me: Yes, Monsignor.
Monsignor: Can you afford to pay the man?
Me: Yes, Monsignor.
Monsignor: If you want to do the “better” thing, Jay. (Switching gears once again.) Pay the man the money. He needs the money. You can afford to pay him and he has rented from you for two years.
Me: But, I don’t want to pay him.
Monsignor: Jay, you don’t morally have to pay him, but the better thing to do is to be generous.
Me: But, Monsignor.
Monsignor: Jay, (pausing) be generous.
Me: Yes, Monsignor, I understand, be generous.
The generosity he spoke of was not only a material generosity. He was, in his own way, directing me to have a generous spirit that forgave and then acted charitably.
Monsignor practiced what he preached. This was the same generosity he demonstrated to our family and others many times over the six decades he served Christ. The same heroic generosity that defines what it means to be a priest in our modern world. In embracing their priesthood, priests give their entire mind, body and soul in service to Christ, The Church and the Truth.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. (Mark 10:7-8)
A priest, at the moment of his ordination, becomes one with his bride the Church. They become one with the Church with the entirety of their being. Richard Mouton lived and died for Christ and his bride the Church. Even in his death, he continued to teach and live for the Church. On more than one occasion during our last decade with him, he could be heard instructing us, “If you want to know what to know the answer morally or in faith look to the Church first.”
Many times over the years he also talked to us about accepting end of life suffering, offering it up for our sins and the poor souls in purgatory. He would state, “Accepting that suffering can shorten or eliminate our time in purgatory.” In his own suffering before his death he continued to teach us.
At the end of his life he left explicit instructions not to remove any care until his heart ceased to beat naturally. In the face of death, he did not give in and run from the pain, he accepted it. To the many who loved him and came to visit him in his last ours, he was teaching us to accept suffering. We each knew he embraced this suffering as a gift from God that could, with great hope, lessen or eliminate his time in purgatory. The same God Whom he had given his life to and loved with all his being.
The greatest beauty in getting to know Monsignor was to know him as a man and a priest. As a man he pointed us to the beauty and frailty of our own humanity. As priest he pointed us to the thousands of holy priests each day who are working to build the kingdom. Thank you to each and every priest. You are in our prayers.
Richard Mouton, servant of the Church, friend and spiritual guide you will be greatly missed. I pray that as you faced Christ, you heard the words, “Well done my faithful servant.”