Homily from Archbishop Martin in St. Mary’s Pro Cathedral on Saturday, November 13th at Mass to remember priests of the Diocese who have died over the past year.
We have come together in this Mother Church of the Archdiocese of Dublin to pray for those priests of the Archdiocese, or who ministered in the diocese, and who died during the past year. We gather as relatives and friends, as brother-priests and as men and women who are indebted to them through their ministry and life witness.
We come full of gratitude to God for the friendship and for the work of ministry which have bound us over many years with one or other of these priests. But humanly we still come with heavy hearts as we reflect on the pain of loss that we experience and the void that the passing of each of these priests has left in our hearts and our lives.
They constitute an extremely diverse group, men of different talents and abilities; men who worked in a variety of ministries; men who enjoyed good health and long lives and men whose ministry was limited by ill health and suffering. They were a diverse group but all were men who were loved and respected in the communities in which they worked and indeed farther afield.
I never fail to be struck at the level of affection and recognition that people show at the funerals of priests. At times in which the Church is often under criticism I can witness to the fact that priests’ funerals bring full Churches. People come from parishes where priests had served decades beforehand and where their ministry is still remembered.
I would like to say a particular word of encouragement to the close relatives of these priests. Too often we fail to be fully aware of the sense of loss that you experience. The loss that you experience is however a witness to and recognition of the good that they did and the love that the showed to us when they were among us. I am especially grateful to the families of these priests for the support they gave them during their illness, whether it was short or long, and for the gestures of human solidarity that you showed them in the final days and moments of their lives. These words of recognition and appreciation go to also those housekeepers who loyally, lovingly and quietly supported these priests in the ministry over many years.
In this month of November we remember those who have died. How do we approach death? No one has ever experienced death. We may have witnessed death. We may have accompanied a person on their final passage from this life. But what death means and how the one who is dying experiences that moment we can never know
Death is a subject that we often prefer not to speak too much about or reflect on too much. Inevitably we fear death and as the years pass the inevitability and the proximity of death becomes ever more present in each of our lives. Our culture often tries to sanitize death, to keep it as far as possible from the public view, to ensure that as far as possible we remove or cover up the sense of bodily decay which is part of death.
In our Christian reflection there are times when we have fallen into a similar trap. Despite our hope of resurrection, death remains for the Christian painful and mysterious. It involves a passage to new life, but once again we have no real understanding of what the real after-life will look like. The life that opens to us after this life is new life, it is not in any way a replica of this life, but something completely transformed. We have nothing in this life with which we can compare or imagine what after like will be like.
What we can say is that with death life is transformed but it is still my personal life. What is transformed remains the person that I am, but unencumbered by my body-liness as experienced in this life and freed from the traps of sin which have accompanied and encumbered me along the path of my life.
Death and resurrection belong to the very essence of Christian belief. The Christian teaching about new life is not about the mechanics of what we will be like or what sort of place heaven might be, but rather of a relationship. The Christian teaching about new life is about a relationship of intimacy with Christ in which I achieve in Christ also the fullness of who I am and of what is truly good in me.
There is a true discontinuity between this life and the life after death, but there is also continuity. If eternal life is a relationship with the Lord who died for us, descended into the realm of hell and death and then rose for us freeing us from the bonds of sinfulness, then the way in which we must live in this life – the true meaning of human life – is also to be found in our ability and our willingness to answer the call of Jesus to fellowship with him and to follow him on the path of his self-giving love. Saint Paul, in our first reading, reminds us that “life for us is Christ” and that we can experience his glory within us in life or in death. We prepare out relationship with Christ for all eternity by the way we live in relationship with him in this life.
We can be assured of our salvation and we can in a way anticipate that salvation already in this life the more we become faithful to Christ and witnessing to him in our daily lives.
The Gospel reading introduces us to some Greeks who wish “to see Jesus”. Responding to what seems to be a rather simple and practical question Jesus surprises us with a very profound reflection. The path to seeing Jesus passes also through death and resurrection. The grain of wheat must die before it can bear fruit. The glorifying of Jesus will take place by him being lifted up, not lifted up into human glory, but being lifted up on the cross. Each of us prepares for death by dying each day to self-centredness and preoccupation only with our own interests and allowing Christ to enter into our lives.
The Greeks ask: “We want to see Jesus”. This reference of some Greeks would have been understood in a very special way at the time that the Gospel were written and where already the Christian community had changed and grown well beyond its Jewish origins, and was composed of people of a different background and tradition and religious heritage, and who are here generically spoken about here as “Greeks”. This is really a reflection on the Church. Our seeking and seeing Jesus takes place in the Church. The desire to know Christ which will only be really and authentic answered within the life of the Church. The Church is the place where we come to know Jesus and where we gain a share in that life of Jesus which will be our guide and our certainty about eternal life.
The priests who we commemorate here this morning dedicated their lives in service to and within the Church. They discussed the Church and perhaps debated about the Church, but in the depths of their priestly ministry they loved the Church. Their devotion to the Mass and to the Eucharist became the daily nourishment of their spiritual growth in this life and the bread which gave them nourishment and became the promise for the life which lasts forever.
Our hope lies in the depth of our faith. As the Church begins the celebration of a Year of Faith we thank God for the witness of faith of these good priests who witnessed with joy and dedication to Jesus in this life and who now in the presence of Jesus are in a position to continue to intercede and inspire and help us on the difficult path of our life in faith in a changing world. We give thanks to God for the ministry of these priests and we commend their souls into the hand of God who is merciful and forgiving and who is true life for all eternity. ENDS