Introduction to Mass and homily preached by the Most Reverend Patrick Kelly, Archbishop of Liverpool, at the Funeral Mass for Canon James Collins. 11.00 am on Tuesday 1 May 2012, the Feast of St Joseph the Worker, in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool.
Introduction to Mass:
‘We give you praise, Father most holy, for you are great and you have fashioned all your works in wisdom and love’. That outburst of praise from the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer is the confidence in which we are gathered by God to offer this pure sacrifice as the only right and just way to accomplish the funeral of Jimmy Collins. For it is really only wisdom and love that gives us so to do as we honour Saint Joseph the Worker and at once we name one place Kirkby: the word of God for this first day of May, Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, is the only light we need.
It is nearly fifty years ago that with fear and trepidation I made my first visit as a priest. It was to a sick, elderly lady, Mrs Rudden of the
I was shown to the lady’s bedroom where her family were all assembled: she looked up at me and said: ‘Oh, well, I suppose a lot of good can come in small parcels’.
Unlike the Lord’s neighbours in
‘A lot of good in small parcels’. I suspect Jimmy must sometimes have found assurance in the possibility that the reason in the crowd Zachareus in
A carpenter’s son: with the same Northern, unfashionable accent as the rest of us: as for Mary, there was a time she was a nobody, hungry; I suggest a bit like that sickly child Bernadette Soubirous a bankrupt’s daughter of whom someone once sneeringly said: What that little, insignificant thing the Bernadette whom they say had eyes and heart for Mary, Immaculate, Queen of Heaven, Mother of the Risen Lord.
Only a priest who has eyes for our servile God, as the paraplegic Christy Nolan named him, for a Lord who kneels and washes feet, and chooses as his abiding sign among us a candle’s gentle ray, or ordinary, unspectacular bread and wine, will have a heart to embrace Kirkby in its lowliest days, and leave no stone unrolled away to be a voice for the voiceless.
A priest who knows Mary of Nazareth, the lady whose heart was the first to notice and feel compassion because the wine of gladness has failed not only at Cana but for the whole human family; only such a priest will feel where joy has failed: wounds are hurting: sin is festering: someone’s name has become like that of the poor man feeding the swine, naked, howling, his name ‘Legion’ pulled every which way: tormented, dragged about in chaos and utter confusion.
And the Lord of healing never ceases to raise up among us those who can speak from the heart into this darkness: ‘Put on love: and may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts’. And so: ‘Always be thankful’.
But the only small parcels in which can come a lot of good must painfully, by daily renewal, by surrender of all self-seeking and pride and ambition learn how: ‘never to say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Whatever your work is, put your heart into it as if it were for the Lord and not for men, knowing that the Lord will repay you by making you his heirs. It is Christ the Lord you are serving’.
Blessed John Henry Newman, formed in heart and spirit by that other small parcel, Blessed Dominic Barberi, knew even a long life does not see the healing, renewal, consecration accomplished. So his poem, ‘The Dream of Gerontius’, the Dream of the Old Man sublimely ends as the old man’s guardian angel lowers him into the healing waters of God’s tender love and mercy.
Angels were as familiar to Jimmy as you and I are to each other. Let an old man’s Guardian Angel’s poem have the last word:
‘Softly and gently dearly-ransomed soul,
In my most loving arms I now enfold thee,
And, o’er the penal waters, as they roll,
I poise thee, and I lower thee and hold thee.
And carefully I dip thee in the lake,
And thou, without a sob or a resistance,
Dost through the flood thy rapid passage take,
Sinking deep, deeper into the dim distance.
‘Angels, to whom the willing task is given,
Shall tend, and nurse and lull thee as thou liest;
And Masses on earth, and prayers in heaven,
Shall aid thee at the Throne of the Most highest,
Farewell, but not for ever! Brother dear,
Be brave and patient on thy bed of sorrow;
Swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here,
And I will come and wake thee on the morrow.