Homily of Bishop John McAreavey for the anniversary Mass of Michaela McAreavey in St Malachy’s Church, Ballymacilroy, Co Tyrone
We gather this evening to celebrate Mass on the first anniversary of the death of Michaela. The wound inflicted by her death remains deep and raw and so, as we pray for Michaela, we carry in prayer those for whom her death has left a painful void: John her husband, her Mum and Dad, brothers and sisters-in-law, John’s family and John and Michaela’s circle of friends.
We gather in sadness and with a deep sense of loss. We come before God with empty hands, aware of our need for God’s healing. Over the past year the enormity of what happened with the death of Michaela has slowly come home to us. ‘The people that walked in darkness’ – that Isaiah speaks of – describes the journey we have made over this past year; it has been a time of disbelief, shock, loneliness and grief. We struggled – and continue to struggle – to make sense of Michaela’s untimely death.
However Isaiah goes on to say that ‘the people who walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone’. Where, for Isaiah, does the light come from? He says, in a phrase that we know well:
For there is a child born for us,
a son given to us
and dominion is laid upon his shoulders’.
For Christians this promise of a light coming to those who walk in darkness was fulfilled in the birth of the child Jesus. This is why St John describes Him as ‘a light’:
All that came to be had life in him and that life was the light of men,
a light that shines in the dark,
a light that darkness could not overpower.
In spite of all that has happened and all its impact, we continue to believe that Jesus, the light of the world, has accompanied us at every step. He has given us strength to carry a heavy cross; He has opened His compassionate heart to us; He has been close to us when we turned to Him in prayer; He has listened to our prayers for ourselves and for each other.
Jesus has continued to gather us around His table, as He does tonight; here He pours oil on broken hearts; He gives us the strength to continue and He gives us hope, the hope of ultimate union with Michaela in God’s presence and, in this life, the hope of better days. The presence of Jesus to us does not lessen the grief that we feel or the loneliness and heartache of those who mourn Michaela and miss her. However in the midst of our heartache our Christian faith assures us that God’s saving love, which was at work in and through the suffering and death of Jesus, overcame and overpowered all the inhuman forces of sin and darkness and brought new life to the world. That same love of God, which is more powerful than the evil which ended Michaela’s earthly life, is at work in us who mourn and will bring us life, healing, light and hope.
Tonight we also want to express our thanks to God for many graces. We thank God for the joy of knowing and loving Michaela. We thank God for the love in her life, her love for John, for her family and for many others. We thank God for her faith, her prayerfulness and her trust in God. We are grateful for the encouragement and inspiration that she gave as a teacher and as a friend. We also appreciate the support and friendship of many people who have helped us over the past year. But, above all, we are grateful to God for the gift of Michaela herself, the gift she was and is. In the words of the psalmist, we thank God for ‘the wonder of her being’, for all she meant and means to those she loved and those who love her.
St Thérèse of Lisieux, the young French saint who is also known as ‘the Little Flower’, died at 24, even younger than Michaela; knowing that she was dying, she said she would ‘spend her time in heaven doing good on earth’. I think that idea would appeal to Michaela and I have no doubt that she will continue to offer strength and encouragement to all who are near and dear to her.
Tonight we gather to pray. We pray in communion with all the saints in heaven. We pray for Michaela and for those who most deeply feel her loss. We pray for all who have died.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord. 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 John McAreavey is Bishop of the Diocese of Dromore
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