NEEDING ONE ANOTHER – IN LIFE AND IN DEATH
HOMILY – 31st SUNDAY [A] 2017 [Malachi 14; Matthew 23]
The death of Fr John Berry last week was followed only days later by the death of Fr John Heijen, an Assumptionist priest connected with Tawa parish and Viard College. These deaths make a total of 12 priests who have died this year. Yes, they were mostly retired, but their absence deprives us of a presence and a witness to the vocation of service and the strength of faith.
Even in retirement priests remain concerned for the good of God’s people. Their prayer, their offering of the Mass, and the encouragement they continue to give those who have known and served with them, all contribute to the life of the faith community and the light is darker when they leave us.
In today’s first reading, God sends a warning to priests through the prophet Malachi. Though it’s aimed at priests of the old covenant, the Hebrew leadership that had proved itself unworthy, there is never a time when it does not have some relevance. You have strayed from the way, the prophet cries. You have caused many to stumble. Such behaviour is hypocrisy that Jesus has no hesitation in condemning. [Matthew 23]
Every priest is aware that he is not a saint. He holds a privileged position as spiritual guide and intercessor for his people, but he remains human, and is not immune from failure or sin. So, every priest needs the prayer of his people to keep him worthy of his privilege; this priest needs your prayer. And, when a priest dies, your prayer should continue, that whatever kindness and generosity that shone in his priesthood, might light his way to eternal peace.
What helps me in my journey as priest is the image St Paul gives us in our second reading [1 Thess. 2:7-9,13]. He sees his ministry through the eyes of motherhood, feeding and looking after her own children. The devotion and protection every mother brings to her role is her saving grace. She sees her child as her treasure and her first priority, a sacred privilege, unique and unrepeatable. She is prepared to forget her own needs, give all for her child.
I’ve often thought of this image when troubled or upset; or when I know I haven’t measured up to my responsibilities. I remind myself of the beautiful diversity among the people entrusted to my care, and their uniqueness; of the privilege that is mine to feed and look after others. In this I am much more a mother than a father!
Baptised, we are created anew, a true child of God. This marvellous reality, though clouded in mystery, enables us to recognise one another as sister or brother. It’s a relationship that outshines every other connection: husband/wife, mother/father, teacher/student, priest/lay person, all cease to matter when placed alongside the free gift of God’s love brought to life in baptism. This is the good news, the greatest news, that St Paul slaved night and day to proclaim.
Our faith in Jesus Christ unites us; the family connection carries us despite the circumstances of our personal lives; our prayer for one another is our fuel for the journey home. Alive or dead, we belong to the Lord. Surely then, as Jesus so often insisted, there is no need to be afraid.