Homily at the Funeral Mass of Fr John Sweetman
Preacher and Celebrant – Bishop Denis Brennan, Bannow.
The end of a human life is a sacred moment, it cries out to be celebrated. Sometimes it comes with cruel suddenness, like a thief in the night, changing everything in a heartbeat.
Sometimes it comes dropping slow, casting a long shadow before it finally arrives. Whichever way it comes it makes real the words of Ecclesiastes “there is a time for every occupation under Heaven….a time to live…… and a time to die.”
Father John left us suddenly, no words can begin to describe the heartbreak his mother and family must be feeling at this time. And yet words have to be spoken, we must name the pain and search for hope.
We must mourn John, we must be with the family and share their pain. This cross is theirs in a special way, we can’t carry it for them but we can put our hand to it.
That’s what Veronica and Simon did for Jesus. They couldn’t carry the cross for him, only he could do that, it was his cross, but they could help —and they did. Coming out of the crowd Veronica wiped the face of Jesus and Simon put his hand to the cross.
Our presence here today is in that long Christian tradition of standing with those who mourn, of putting our hand to their cross, of making real the second beatitude ‘blessed are those who mourn, they shall be comforted.’
Something here in Bannow, something in the people here called John to priesthood, called him to serve and in the idealism of youth he answered “yes.” Over the years he followed that call, in Wexford, in Enniscorthy, in Riverchapel and of course in Family Life Service.
Over those years he touched many people in a gentle, caring way. We thank God for that today. No one moment is the measure of a person’s life, all the moments have to be in the scales and we leave the final reckoning to God alone who knows our innermost thoughts.
On a human level there is great sadness at a time like this, sadness that a precious human life has been lost. The American actor Rod Steiger reflecting on the mystery of life and death said “we come, we go, and in between we try to understand.”
That’s where we are now, trying to understand, trying to make sense of what has happened. Many families, many communities in our diocese have had to wrestle with this situation in recent times, now it’s our turn to walk that road, the road of tears and questions, the road of having more questions than answers.
Everyone tried to help John, to reach him in the dark place he found himself in, sadly that help was not enough. We mourn him today, we mourn his loss, but we do so as people of faith, people of hope.
The words of the prophet Ezekiel are the ground of our hope. Speaking in the Lord’s name he said ‘’ I will look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong again.’’
This is the God we believe in, and these are words of comfort and consolation in our time of loss and grief. They assure us that we can never go beyond God’s love and mercy, he is always looking for the lost one, always seeking to bandage the wounded.
We need to hear these words at this time, to know that God is with us in a special way in these pain-filled days.
The Word became flesh and lived among us. In doing this the Lord didn’t abolish human suffering, as many hoped he would. He did something more surprising, He shared in our suffering and made it possible for us to share in His.
Fr John’s earthly struggle is now over, if he forgot for a moment how much he was loved it was only for a moment, and there were many other moments.
The words of Psalm 23 come to mind “the Lord is my shepherd…….even though I walk in the valley of death I will not fear…….because you are there.”
Our prayer and hope in this Funeral Mass is that John has gone to a place where broken things are mended and lost things are found. Our prayer is that he has found peace, a peace which sadly eluded him here.
Finally, we pray God’s peace on Fr John’s mother and family, these are bleak days for them, but I know that the community here in Bannow will be there for them and help them bear this heavy cross.
Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord.
May he rest in peace
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace