Homily of Bishop John McAreavey for the funeral Mass of Michaela McAreavey in St Malachy’s Church, Ballymacilroy
Just around this time last Monday news began to filter through that Michaela was dead. In our initial shock and disbelief, our thoughts went to her husband John, Michaela’s family, and the McAreavey family. As the week went on, this circle widened and widened and it seems as though the world has been touched by Michaela’s death.
The fact that we gather in St Malachy’s church, Ballymacilroy highlights that the climax of Michaela’s life was her marriage to John here on 30th December. I stress this, because John and all who love Michaela will want to hold the memory of that very special day rather than the day or circumstances of her death.
The first love in Michaela’s life was of the love of her parents, Mickey and Marian, and her brothers, Mark, Michael and Mattie. Over the past few days I have listened, particularly to Marian, Michaela’s mother, talk with great warmth and affection about Michaela. In most families one of the strongest relationships is the friendship between mother and daughter, especially an only daughter. This was absolutely true in the Harte family.
As Michaela grew up in this community of Errigal Kieran, she went to St Malachy’s Primary School, Glencull, and Loreto Convent Grammar School, Omagh; later she went to St Mary’s University College, Belfast. During those years of formation, she developed a special love and knowledge of the Irish language; this remained a passion of Michaela and she had the opportunity to share her knowledge and passion for Irish as a teacher in St Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon, since 2007.
As everybody knows, Michaela was close to her Dad and through him became part of a wide circle of friends in Tyrone and in the GAA family throughout Ireland. Michaela was a Tyrone woman through and through and nothing was ever going to change that!
Five years ago Michaela became friends with John and this opened the door to another circle of friends, firstly in Belfast where they were students, later in John’s home area around Banbridge and Tullylish in Co Down.
Over recent days our families and John and Michaela’s friends have talked about the special love they enjoyed. They lived for one another; they enjoyed and supported one another in everything. Their lives revolved around one another; each talked endlessly about the other. Their hopes for the future were bound up with each other.
Sometimes photos tell the story best and the papers this week had a picture of Michaela beaming when John accepted the cup as captain of the Tullylish team that won the Down Intermediate Championship in Newry last October.
At their wedding everyone remarked on the glow of happiness that radiated from Michaela and John. Finally they were united as husband and wife. They had pledged their love to one another. Michaela took John’s name and was delighted and proud to do so.
Underlying all the love in Michaela’s life was an even deeper love. Her profound faith and trust in the love of God underpinned her whole life, her values, her decisions, her attitudes and everything about her. Michaela’s rosary and her Pioneer pin that were brought up earlier capture elements of a faith that was deep, simple and totally real. This is a part of Michaela’s life that we cherish and it is a source of comfort to us now.
In this Mass John, the Harte and McAreavey families and all who love Michaela entrust her into the arms of Jesus who loves her with an everlasting love. She was baptised as a child into the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus and God’s Spirit was poured into her heart. Her faith was constantly nourished and renewed in the Eucharist. She loved the Mass and was faithful to it. She was a young woman who prayed and whose prayer was important to her.
We also entrust Michaela to the love of her grandmother who died last year and others whom she knew and who have gone before her. In heaven Michaela’s final dream, happiness with God, will be fulfilled.
Within the close bond that unites us with our loved ones who have died, we will continue to pray for Michaela; she too will continue to reach out in love, particularly to strengthen John, her family and all who are deeply saddened by her death.
For all that was good and wholesome in Michaela’s life we thank and praise God.
Today we also need to somehow face the darkness of these days. An evil act ended Michaela’s young life last Monday; it robbed John of his beautiful wife; it deprived the Harte family of their precious daughter and sister; it deprived the McAreavey family of the daughter-in-law they looked forward to having; It shattered hopes and dreams for the future.
Nothing in John’s young life could have prepared him for the ordeal of this past week. Even those of us who are older and who had some experience of tragedy have been shaken to the core by what has happened. We are still in a state of shock. At this dark time we turn to our faith and to our relationship with God for resources that might bring us some light and comfort. In a special way we turn to the Word of God for guidance and support.
The first reading today from the Song of Songs was part of a reading at John and Michaela’s wedding Mass. In this reading the bridegroom affirms that ‘love is as strong as Death’. ‘The flash of it is a flame of fire, the flame of Yahweh himself. Love no torrents can quench, no torrents drown’. I know that in their hearts John and Michaela believed this.
The second reading today was also read at John and Michaela’s wedding. In the 8th chapter of his letter to the Romans St Paul expresses his absolute conviction that nothing – not even the most unspeakable evil – can come between us and the love of God:
With God on our side who can be against us? Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give.
He goes on:
Nothing therefore can come between us and the love of Christ, even if we are troubled or worried or being persecuted, or lacking food or clothes, or being threatened or even attacked. These are the trials through which we triumph, by the power of him who loved us.
For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, or height or depth, nor any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.
There are times when it is easy to make this act of faith. There are times, like now, when we struggle to see the hand of God in the things that happen.
I realise that the death of Michaela may be a challenge to the faith of many, particularly those of Michaela and John’s generation, as well as Michaela’s pupils and the young people that John works with in Tullylish. We pray that the God of love and life will bring us all to see the mystery of Michaela’s death in the light of the greater mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. One of the hardest things in life is finding that there are things that we cannot understand, no matter how hard we try.
It is in the Eucharist above all that we celebrate the victory of Christ’s love over sin and death and our own sharing in that victory through our baptism and faith. We pray that our Risen Lord will bring Michaela to the fullness of the new life she first received in baptism.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus promises peace to His disciples, a peace that the world cannot give. This peace that Jesus promises is a gift of the Holy Spirit; it is a peace no sorrow or suffering can take away, a peace that does not depend on reason or logic or outward circumstances. In this dark moment we ask God to renew within us the gifts of the Holy Spirit and to pour out on us this peace. We pray that Michaela will enjoy peace and joy and eternal rest in heaven. We pray that John, Mickey and Marian Harte, Michaela’s brothers, the McAreavey family and all who have been touched by Michaela’s death will find peace through the grace of God.
Through our hope in the Resurrection we believe that one day we will be reunited with Michaela and with all our loved ones who have died and gone before us. When that day comes, all tears will be wiped away and we will be together in the presence of God, with Mary our mother and all the saints.
I want to end with a reading from the Book of Revelations:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; the first heaven and the first earth had disappeared now and there was no longer any sea. I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride dressed for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice call from the throne, ‘Look, here God lives among human beings. He will make his home among them; they will be his people and He will be their God, God-with-them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness or pain. The world of the past has gone’.
Eternal rest grant unto her O, Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon her.
May she rest in peace. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.
Bishop of Dromore
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer 00353 (0) 87 310 4444