18 September 2010
Homily of Bishop Gerard Clifford for the funeral Mass of Charles Armstrong
We gather today to celebrate this Mass for the repose of the soul of Charlie Armstrong. Our gathering is our welcome home to the late Charlie Armstrong. Twenty nine years ago he set out for Mass here in St Patrick’s Church Crossmaglen. Today he completes that journey. Twenty nine years is a long time to wait for his arrival but today we thank God that he has completed that journey and he now rests in peace.
Over those years his family has never given up hope. They have made their own journey of sadness and grief but like the words of St Paul in our second reading they “hoped against hope”. At times there were indications that there might be good news. Times they hoped against hope. Oftentimes their hopes were shattered. But for 29 years the Armstrongs persisted in their demands that a husband, a father, would be given a proper burial, a place where they could gather and remember, a dignified place, a dignified burial.
The Gospel story of Christ’s death and burial has a particular message for us as we gather here today. We are told that after his death Joseph of Arimathaea went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus . Pilate granted the request. The narrative continues. We are told that this upright man bought a shroud, took Jesus down from the cross and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock. And then the salient words: “ Mary of Magdala and Mary the mother of Joset were watching and took note of where he was laid”.
Later Mary of Magdala returned to the tomb and stood outside weeping. Jesus appeared to her. She thought he was the gardener and she said “If you have taken him away tell me where you have put him so that and I will go and remove him”.
Her words have a particular resonance in our gathering today. She said “If you have taken him away tell me where you have put him and I will go and remove him”. It was the most natural thing in the world to ask for the body of a loved one.
Over the years the Armstrong family have been persistent in their plea. Tell us where you have put him so that so that we may give our loved one a dignified burial. Today the family’s search has ended.
Today is a day of relief, a day to close a chapter in the lives of the Armstrong family. It is a day to welcome home one who was loved and respected in this community. It would be an exaggeration to say that it is a day of joy. The loss of one’s own is as deeply felt today as it was 29 year ago. It is still a day of mourning for one’s loved one. It is a day to end the torment, the fear, the frustration and the anger. It is also a day to thank God that one’s loved one has come home and is entrusted to the loving care of God himself.
Today is a day to remember those who have found their loved ones. They still struggle with their loss but we know that, in particular, they give hope and consolation to those still in search of a loved one.
Today gives hope to others. I think of the nine families still searching for their loved one. The search goes on. I think of the work of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains. I think of the unstinting and meticulous work that continues. I think of the support work of WAVE in helping and supporting families in their search. The work of Commissioner Frank Murray and fellow Commissioner Sir Kenneth Bloomfield directing this work is particularly appreciated. I would also want to recognise in particular the work of the late John Wilson who gave direction and leadership to the work in the early days. The work continues under the direction of Geoff Knupfner, John Hill and their team. We thank them all for their work.
The searches are meticulous and are persistent but they will only be completed when the bodies of those still missing are found. That can only be done with the help of somebody or some people who may have an inkling or hint that might give a lead to those doing the search. 29 years ago Charlie Armstrong went missing. It was only with the help of those who gave some clue of what they remembered that we gather here today. Time is moving on. There may be people who have some indication of where a body is placed. Memories become frayed. Thankfully today in the search for those who have disappeared there is more advanced technology than in the past. That is the added hope given to us today . We are all getting older and time is passing all too quickly. To anybody who might have a shred of information I appeal to you to share that with those who will explore it to the full.
Our reading from the letter of St Paul to the Romans says: “Hope is not deceptive”.
Today we have seen the fruits of persistent hope. Through the relentless work of many people, and the persistent requests from his family, Charlie Armstrong will now receive a Christian burial. Our hope is that the other families, who have lost a loved one, will be able to close a painful chapter in their own lives.
Today we pray for all of them.
May their souls and the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.
- Bishop Gerard Clifford is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Armagh. This funeral Mass was celebrated at 11.00 am in Saint Patrick’s Church Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, on Saturday 18 September, 2010.
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