MASS FOR DECEASED PRIESTS 2015
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Pro-Cathedral, 7th November 2015
In this month of November when the Church remembers those who have travelled the path of faith before us, we have come this morning to remember in our prayers and in the celebration of the Eucharist, the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, 17 priests of this Archdiocese of Dublin or who have ministered in the diocese and who died over the past year..
We celebrate their life and ministry. We commend them to God who is full of mercy and compassion and we know, as we will hear in our first reading, that the generosity of God’s mercy is out of all proportion to our merits. I greet the families of the deceased priests, their friends and especially their priest friends. I greet people who have come from various parishes in which these priests have ministered and those who cared for them in their latter days.
We commend the deceased to the mercy of God and we acknowledge our own need for mercy and forgiveness as we recognise our own sinfulness.
The ministry of a priest bring each of us into a unique contact with the realities of life and death. Priests assist not simply at funerals, but they accompany men and women in their final moments of physical weakness and into death itself. They share in the sorrow of the bereaved and at times share in an anguish and even anger with God in asking the question of why: why a sudden death or the death of a young person or of a child or why the horror of a brutal and violent death.
The priest can never treat death as routine or become immune to the reality of death and what it signifies for those who are close to the one who dies. The priest has the experience of being with people as they prepare to die, but none of us knows what it is like to die. We can experience death from the outside, but no one has experienced what death is in fact like.
That is one of the reasons for which death frightens us so much. I suppose as one grows older one begins to think a little more closely about my death; how will it happened, what sort of a death will come to me? None of us want to suffer for a long period before death. We fear sickness and we fear suffering. We know above all that, no matter how many people are there holding our hand as we breathe our last, each of us will enter into death alone,
Each of these priests that we remember today will have ministered to the dying and to the bereaved, yet that experience alone will not have removed from them the deep fear that we all experience as we face our own death.
What did help these priests was their faith. Faith alone enlightens the reality of death. Faith in the fact that Jesus Christ has conquered death is our key not just to understanding death, but also in understanding life, this life and life eternal. For the just person there is a continuum from this life into life eternal.
The Christian faith is above all a faith about life. We believe in a God who is a God of the living. Our faith is about the fact that life will reach fullness, not in this life but in a life that it to come. But faith in a life that is to come does not relativize the significance of this life. The women who went to the grave, as we heard in the Gospel, were struck with amazement, but they were sent away from the site of the resurrection back into their calling in the world.
Our faith in a fullness of life generates within us a love of life. A true love of life cannot be just a love of our own life; that would be narcissism. Faith in a life that endures must elicit a real commitment to ensure that every human being has a life that is of value and that we have a responsibility to work so that every individual can anticipate in this life, to the fullest manner possible, the fullness which is to come.
The scientific progress of the world in which we live – and the genius and inventiveness of humans and of human science – have brought great benefit to humankind and the relief of suffering. Suffering will never be eliminated; it is love alone that can bring even suffering to a different level and change and redeem what human life is about.
What do we know of life eternal? Michelangelo’s last judgment gives vivid image of what the judgement could be like. It pictures vividly the grief of the condemned and the happiness of the saved. The central figure however is Jesus Christ. The only key which will enable us to grasp what eternal life is Jesus Christ.
Eternal life is incorporation into the love of God. Our God is a God, however, who reaches out and loves, not a self-possessed judge. Heaven is not a place where we will sit back and gloat about how satisfied we can be. Heaven is a place where we experience God’s love in a new way and we enter into communion with that God. Each of us dies on our own. Death is the moment of supreme loneliness, if we are not aware of the fact that we are to be taken up into communion. For the believer, death and entry into life eternal mark the end of the loneliness and isolation and self-centeredness which are what brings grief into human life.
If we understand that heaven is communion with God, then all our life in this world should be a witness to what the communion of humankind means: the believer in Jesus Christ must be one who is out there alongside all those who are trapped in loneliness and isolation, through sinfulness and narcissism, through being excluded from society, through doubt and anxiety and fear.
That is the ministry in which the priests we remember today lived. We all treasure in our hearts our own personal memories of their goodness. They were men of faith and men who despite their own failings and sinfulness dreamed of realising something better.
We remember them for the good that they did and the love that they showed and their witness to the God of life. In the beatific vision they now look at God not from a distance, but inserted into the very life of God.
If eternal life is about unending communion with God, then the way we get a foretaste of eternal life is in the Eucharist. We remember seventeen priests whose ministry was centred on the Eucharist. We thank God for their ministry. We pray that they will now enjoy union with Christ for all eternity.
We pray for all our priests today, especially for those who are ill and for those who suffer and are troubled in their ministry. Through our prayers we enter into communion with their ministry. We pray for those priests who have become lax and disheartened and where the spark of ministry has been dimmed. We pray for those priests who continue to give themselves day after day in ministry and through the way they live help us to understand that way we live here on earth must be one which will lead us along the path towards eternal life, the real path of human fulfilment.
God grant these 17 priests the fullness of life with you and give us their protection as we continue our struggle here on earth.