Once again I welcome you all here to St Agnes for this requiem Mass for Gerard Mulligan. On behalf of all of us here I’d like to offer our sincere sympathy to Gerard’s mother, Eileen, his sisters Eileen, Geraldine, Angela and Siobhan, his partner Michelle, his children Sarah, Shane and Mia, his nephews and nieces and to all who mourn the loss of Gerard.
Gerard died last Saturday evening. It has been widely reported in the media over the last few days, and so it’s well known that Gerard had been on remand in Maghaberry since the death of his father in September. During these past months Gerard was a deeply troubled soul. He suffered with mental health issues. His sudden death, which might have been foreseen, is therefore not completely unexpected, but it nevertheless comes as a great blow to his mother and sisters and the wider family who loved him dearly.
For Gerard’s family the last few days have been like a nightmare. The many people who called at the house over the past few days, like myself, have struggled to find words to express our sympathy. We have searched for words that might bring consolation and reassurance to them in this terrible situation. And yet we know that however hard we try, none of us can really enter into their experience of desolation. Their sorrow, their pain and loss is something that only they can really know.
Having said that, Gerard’s family are here today as members of a larger family, the parish family of St Michaels and St Agnes’s. All of us here are bound together by the special form of friendship which is the friendship of faith. When our hearts are broken and our spirits crushed we are grateful for the presence and the support of family and friends. As we gather here we lean on the love of one another.
Gerard was born in 1972 and grew up in Riverdale Park. He attended St John the Baptist Boys Primary School and De La Salle College. As a young man he developed a great interest in cars. He enjoyed tinkering about with engines. He later worked in a car dealership and was a successful car salesman.
Gerard had three children, Sarah, Shane and Mia who he loved very much. He was especially close to his son Shane, his nephew Adam and his cousin Martin. His aunt Siobhan recalls that Gerard was always ready to help. If you needed anything, you only had to lift the phone and Gerard would be there in a flash.
Gerard was close to his mother Eileen. Whenever there was a disagreement between them, he would always phone her later on to tell her he was sorry. And Eileen loved Gerard with a mother’s love – that love which never fails, in spite of the ups and downs and disappointments of life. Eileen stood by her son in his recent troubles. She visited him in Maghaberry and told him that she loved him. He was her son and, no matter what, she would always love him. That was a message that Gerard badly to hear; it was a much-needed reassurance that he was loved still; that he was still loveable. Perhaps without even realising it, Eileen was like an angel of mercy, bringing a message of love and mercy to her son and giving him reason to hope.
On Sunday, the day after Gerard died, Pope Francis celebrated a Mass in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome in the presence of 1000 prisoners from 12 countries and their families, as well as prison chaplains and volunteers. The event was part of the Church’s Holy Year of Mercy, which comes to an end later this month.
I was struck very much by one comment that Pope Francis made during his homily. He said, “I want to tell you, every time I visit a prison I ask myself: ‘Why them and not me? We can all make mistakes: all of us. And in one way or another we have all made mistakes.”
I think that is such an important thing to say, in case anyone of us would think it’s okay to point the finger to judge and condemn others. It’s not okay. And Pope Francis is right. We all make mistakes – all of us. We all need mercy and if we want mercy for ourselves then we must be willing to offer it to others.
Pope Francis went on to speak about the importance of hope and mercy. “Hope,” he said, “is a gift of God. We must ask for it. Hope is placed deep within each human heart in order to shed light on this life which so often is troubled and clouded by situations that bring sadness and pain. We need to nourish our hope so that we may know God’s closeness and compassion, despite the evil we have done. There is no corner of our heart that cannot be touched by God’s love. Whenever someone makes a mistake, God the Father’s mercy is all the more present, awakening repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation and peace”.
During the last few weeks Gerard reported that he had started going back to Mass and that he had received Holy Communion. And he had rosary beads in his cell that he used for prayer. These things are signs that our heavenly Father had not given up on Gerard. The grace of God was hard at work in Gerard’s life – working for his good. Even at the 11th hour the merciful Father was working unceasingly through the Holy Spirit to turn Gerard’s heart back to him; to give him hope; to prepare his heart to receive the love and mercy that God as his loving Father yearned to give him. They are signs too that Gerard desired to work things out with God and that he longed to find some peace in his tormented life.
Pope Francis reminded his listeners on Sunday of the gospel story of the repentant thief who hung on the cross beside Jesus and to whom Jesus said “this day you will be with me in paradise”. It is helpful for us to think of that story again here today. Whatever our hearts may accuse us of, small or great, Pope Francis said, “God is greater than our hearts” We need only entrust ourselves to his mercy.
Dear friends, we find ourselves still in the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Today we come before the Lord seeking mercy for our brother Gerard and for ourselves as well. We ask confidently, knowing that our loving Father will not turn a deaf ear to our pleading. We put our faith in the power of Christ’s death and resurrection to save us. We turn also to Mary, who knows what it is like to lose her only son to death. She too will have pity on us and plead on our behalf.
And so with one voice let us pray for Gerard as we say together,
Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.
Notes for Editors
- Gerard Mulligan’s remains will leave his mother’s residence, 50 Riverdale Park North, Belfast, today, Wednesday 9 November at 1pm to arrive for his Requiem Mass which will be held at 1.30pm in St Agnes Church, Belfast. Cremation to follow at Roselawn Crematorium for 3.30pm.
- The principal celebrant for the funeral ceremony will be Fr David Delargy.
- Out of privacy and respect for the family and according to diocesan protocols, no photography or filming is allowed within St Agnes’ Church, Belfast.
- It will be possible to record sound from within the Church either from the sacristy or by attaching a radio mic to the ambo.
- All media should make themselves known upon arrival to and take directions from Fr David Delargy.