Obituary of Rev Terence McSweeney

Parish Priest of St John the Evangelist, Fountains Road, Kirkdale, Father Terry McSweeney, died on the evening of Sunday 28 August at the age of 68.

He was born in Liverpool on 14 December 1942, the son of Daniel Thomas and Catherine. His early education was at St Mary’s College, Crosby, and his ecclesiastical studies were undertaken at Ushaw College and at the English College, Rome. He was ordained to the priesthood in Rome on 29 October 1967.

Following ordination he continued his studies at the English College and in October 1968 he was appointed to St Ambrose, Speke. In March 1971 he was appointed Diocesan Promoter of Vocations, returning to St Ambrose in September 1971. In November 1975 he moved to Blessed Sacrament, Aintree and In September 1980 he embarked upon missionary work in South America with the Liverpool Archdiocesan Missionary Project (LAMP). He remained there until 1987 when he was appointed to Skelmersdale as Team Leader. In September 1993 he became Parish Priest of St Matthew, Liverpool and in September 1999 he returned to South America with LAMP. In 2002 he was appointed Director of Palazzola Retreat Centre in Rome and in 2005 he received his final appointment as Parish Priest of St John the Evangelist, Kirkdale, Liverpool.

His Funeral Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Patrick Kelly at St John the Evangelist on Tuesday 6 September followed by interment at Ford cemetery.

Introduction to Mass and Homily preached by the Most Reverend Patrick Kelly, Archbishop of Liverpool, at the Funeral Mass of Rev Terence McSweeney. Tuesday 6 September 2011 at 11.00 am in the Church of St John the Evangelist, Kirkdale, Liverpool.

Introduction to Mass:

The family, the brother priests, the friends, the co-workers of Terence McSweeney would fittingly keep his Funeral Mass. We would, enriched by many, varied memories, but only through and with and in Our Lord, hasten his ascent to the final mountain peak where all is light and vision and exhilarating joy for its name is God.

The Word of God proclaimed at every Mass today gives us all we need: in his letter to the Colossians as powerfully as anywhere in all his wisdom and perception, Saint Paul portrays Jesus the Lord, in whose body lives the fullness of divinity; only because of him does church, priesthood, mission make any sense.

Then from Saint Luke the choosing of the twelve: so a Simon Peter, without whom Rome would be of little concern for us: James, and so a Saint James’ society enabling many to reach out to Latin America; Father Joe Bibby is here today not only in his own name but in the name of the Society. And John, Evangelist: the final mission fulfilled here unto in sickness, endurance, uncertainty death.

Homily:

‘In his body lives the fullness of divinity and in him you too find your own fulfilment.’ Not just a John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets: but, in the acclamation of Simon Peter, son of Jonah: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Not a way; but the only way. Not some sort of my truth, with the fashionable addition, but you have your truth: but you are the truth. But the truth. Not some sense of living and partly living as the women of Canterbury felt when deprived of Thomas a Becket, patron of the diocesan priests of this land, patron of the church of the Venerable English College, Rome. But Jesus is the life. And fidelity to this means: ‘You must live your whole life according to the Christ you have received: Jesus the Lord; you must be rooted in him and built on him’. Fidelity to this brought an old, old, man to Nero’s circus, the show place of one of history’s mightiest empires, and the fulfilment of words spoken by Jesus to Simon son of John, by Galilee’s lovely sea to which place Terry and I were fellow pilgrims nearly 50 years ago:

There Jesus said to Simon Peter:
‘I tell you solemnly,
When you were young
You put on your own belt
And walked where you liked;
But when you grow old
You will stretch out your hands
And somebody else will put a belt round you
And take you where you would rather not go.’ In these words the indicated the kind of death by which Peter would give glory to God. After this he said, ‘Follow me.’

And so to Nero’s circus, death on an inverted hideous, barbaric cross, and burial in a pauper’s grave up the side of a hill know as Vatican. The Pallium, the symbol of my communion with the successor of Simon Peter lives in a box modelled on that pauper’s grave.

And about the same time another old, old man, knew: ‘My life is already being poured way as a libation, and the time has come for me to be gone.’ Paul Saul of Tarsus beheaded close to the Ostian Way, the road to the sea. So it was: ‘Per ensis ille, hic per crucis victor necem.’ ‘One by the sword, one by the cross was victorious over death.’

And it may be sung: ‘O Roma felix quae duorum principum es consecrata glorioso sanguine’: ‘O Blessed Rome: consecrated by the glorious blood of the two princes of our church.’

It would all be waste, folly, extreme stupidity but for the absolute certainty of the words of John the Evangelist: ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was towards God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh.’

And that and only that is the foundation of calling to, formation for, fidelity to priestly life and mission.

But to appreciate the words of John the Evangelist, to be serene, enthusiastic, quietly consistent, ever more inspired and inspiring as a herald of the Lord, we are wise to take to heart one small feature of the Lord’s calling, choosing of the twelve. We are told: ‘he spent the whole night in prayer to God.’

It isn’t enough to think he was just praying: ‘Father, show me whom you choose.’ Rather he spent the whole night in prayer because he needed to discern those who would pray as he prayed; to live before God as he did; to share his heart, his mind, his feelings, his attitudes.

They were to be credibly sent in his name: no clash of word and heart with his; no pretence; but sheer transparency to the Lord; to him in whose body lives the fullness of divinity: to manifest that the word is his, the deeds are his, the supper is his and his alone.

To illustrate that by a story, one to which Terry could have added many more, about the late Cardinal William Theodore Heard; the sharp, witty, blunt Scottish Cardinal whose home for many years was the English College, Rome. He used to hear the confession of some of us; on one occasion someone confessed something and received the reply: ‘that’s not sin, I do it myself.’ But to be fair: Saint Paul once said: ‘Keep on doing all the things you have heard and seen that I do. Then the God of peace will be with you.’

So it was after a night alone, wrestling in prayer up in the hills, he called, chose those who would also pray that way. And the tradition, the handing on the apostolic encounter, the calling, communion begun that early morning, reaches down to us in the serenity, wisdom, love of a Benedict, but it is a gift I am certain the Holy Spirit wills for every priest. After all the prayer that enfolds us ever after from our ordination is this: ‘Innova in visceribus eius Spiritum sanctitatis’: ‘Renew within him the Spirit of holiness’.

And so the precious gift of Palazzola: indeed it is memories of sun and moon on the lake; wind and breeze touching leaf and water. It is Enzo’s sharp, authentic castelli wine, utterly beyond anything so labelled today. It is the beginning of plain-chant, renewed as Alfredo sang of the events of a coming day while picking tomatoes for this morning’s breakfast, to go with coarse casarecia bread. It is sunset over the Mediterranean; it is sunrise on Faete; early morning Mass on Tusculum; it is Julie’s pasta.

But for me and many I am sure, and for me on the fourth row on the right hand side of the chapel, the hearing of the call to be one with him who went into the hills to pray; the call, the vocation to be taken deep down into his praying; the call to contemplative prayer. A call massively affirmed for me by Fr Ladislaus Orsy one Friday evening after I had been to confession to him when he said: ‘Patrick, tell me how you pray’.

Terry, big man; man of mountain; man of mission; man of zeal; man of honesty in the valley of the shadow of death. Because Jesus the Lord called you into such communion with himself for the sake of many, we now gratefully, sadly, serenely, confidently entrust you to the Lord’s prayer which is the Mass for which and for communion with the Bishop of Rome, Ralph Sherwin and all the 44 gave their life.

And the Mass is the forgiveness of sin: Peter was a forgiven man; Paul was a forgiven man. So our remembering today only knows healed shadows; in peace, at peace, we pray for your peace: eternal rest give unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.