4 Deccember 2010
Homily of Cardinal Seán Brady for the Funeral Mass of Mr Gerry Evans
Church of St Patrick, Crossmaglen, Co Armagh
To bury our dead with dignity is a most sacred duty. The fulfilment of that duty is sometimes associated with the name of a princess in Ancient Greece called Antigone. She was prepared to defy the decree of the king and lose her own life rather than leave her brother’s body lie unburied on the streets of the City of Thebes.
When Jesus came he taught us that mercy will be the quality on which everyone will ultimately be judged. Traditionally, this teaching has been handed down to us as the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. They are the works which should be the outstanding characteristics of the lives of those who claim to follow Christ.
The corporal works require us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit those in prison and, last but not least, to bury the dead. And so, after all these years of waiting we come here today to bury the mortal remains of Gerry Evans.
There is a great sense of relief that, at last, the waiting has come to an end. At first that waiting was filled with hope – the hope that Gerry was still alive and would, one day, turn up safe and sound. But then, as the years rolled by, one kind of hope was replaced by another – the hope that his remains would be found and identified so that the mourning could begin, and the burial take place, and proper respect be paid to his memory and prayers be offered for his eternal rest and happiness.
And so, our first reaction today is one of great sympathy for Mary and Noel and Tom and Seán for the great crime committed against a brother and a son, for the great wrong that was done to them. Our sympathy is also tinged with great admiration for the fact that they never lost hope that Gerry’s remains would be found one day and given proper burial.
Along with that there has to be great anger and even sadness, great fear and pain perhaps, at the thought that we live in a society where certain people took upon themselves to play God with regard to the life of Gerry Evans. They took upon themselves to be judge and jury, executioner and undertaker. What arrogance. What appalling wickedness. I just want us all to try and take on board the enormity of it. Then each one of us will determine, hopefully, to do all in our power to ensure that something similar never happens again. God alone is the Lord of Life – from its beginning to its end. No-one can, under any circumstances, claim for himself, the right to directly destroy an innocent human being!
As in every funeral Mass, today we celebrate the suffering, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We believe that in Baptism Gerry Evans was united with Christ – the Christ who not only suffered and died but who rose from the dead.
Gerry Evans died before his time. He died because someone or some group decided to take to themselves the right to destroy his life. People die before their time for various reasons. Others live to ripe old age. What is absolutely certain is that we are all going to die. What is absolutely important is that we all be ready to die when death knocks at our door, as eventually will happen one day. What is absolutely important is that, in the meantime, we live virtuous lives – righteous lives.
Gerry Evans was baptised. In Baptism he was united with Jesus – the same Jesus who, for love of us, suffered, died and rose from the dead. By rising from the dead, Jesus conquered death, once and for all. Gerry made his First Communion and was confirmed. In other words, he received his share of the riches of Christ. He received the gifts of the Holy Spirit to guide him and direct him on the journey of his short life. In his death he passed from this life to the next in union with Christ to be purified in soul and to be welcomed into Heaven.
We are here to pray for Gerry – in union with his sorrowing mother, Mary and with his brothers, Sean, Noel and Tom as they have faithfully prayed for him all these years. We pray that he may be found worthy to enter into the company of the saints with his father, Gerry and his brother, Martin. Found worthy that is to enter into the mysterious presence of the Eternal God. Then we shall proceed to bury his mortal remains at last. We Christians do so with great care for we believe that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit and we believe in the Resurrection of the Body.
In death our soul is separated from our body. As a result, the human body decays but the soul goes to meet God – while it waits to be reunited with is risen and gloried body.
From the very beginning the Christian faith in the Resurrection was ridiculed and rejected. Yes, many accept that your life and my life could continue in some spiritual way – that is, without a body after death but they ask: How could you expect us to believe that the body so clearly weak, could rise to everlasting life. And yet that is exactly what we do believe. We believe that God will give incorruptible life to our bodies in the resurrection. God will reunite our bodies with our souls forever. The profession of our Christian faith ends with a proclamation of the Resurrection of the dead and of life everlasting.
In this Mass we pray for ourselves that we may be ourselves, ready for death when it comes. We pray for those who killed Gerry. We are moved to do so because we believe in Christ’s victory over sin.
“Raise up your power, O Lord and come” is our constant prayer in this Advent Season. The power in question appears most wonderful when in
fact it becomes mercy and victory over sin. God is never revealed so great as when his power becomes pardon. God will not refuse His pardon to all who ask it.
“They have taken my Lord away and I do not know where they have put him” was the anguished cry of Mary Magdalene. Gerry Evans was brutally taken away and, for all these years, his grieving mother and family did not know where they had put him. What was not taken away was their faith – the faith of the Evans family in their Risen Lord and Saviour. Jesus has never ceased to give them hope in all their trials and tribulations.
We pray for ourselves that our faith too in Jesus may remain strong. Yes he has returned to His Father and His God, to our Father and to our God. But. He has also promised to be with us to the end of time. It is our challenge to grow in our awareness of His presence.
We pray in thanksgiving for the work of the Commission for Victims – North and South for their assistance, Patience and perseverance are essential elements of genuine hope. The patience and perseverance of the Commission have sustained the hope which we see fulfilled here today.
Martin Long, Catholic Communications Office 00 353 86 1727678