Homily of Bishop John McAreavey for the Funeral Mass for Seamus Ruddy RIP
- 1.00pmin Saint Catherine’s Church, Newry, Co Down
Few weeks go by without the celebration of Funeral Mass in this church. Families come here on the third day after the death of a loved one, often still raw and numb from the loss of a beloved family member. The funeral rituals of the Catholic Church support them at each ‘station’, prayers in the home, reception of remains at the church, the Funeral Mass, final commendation and the burial of the remains, often alongside family members. This ritual takes place after a wake, when those who knew and loved the deceased person or who are related to the family visit the family home, say a prayer and take time to share some memories of the deceased person over a cup of tea. In the Newry area, this traditional practice remains deeply embedded and reflects the desire of the wider community to grieve and to show their support for the bereaved at a difficult time. The Church lists ‘burying the dead’ among the corporal works of mercy and the practices surrounding death and loss in the Newry area reflect the quality of mercy and solidarity in a way that bereaved people find moving and consoling.
In 1985, 32 years ago, Seamus Ruddy died in Paris at the age of 32. Whatever about the circumstances of his death, one thing is certain: his death represented the snuffing-out of a life that had many wholesome qualities; it also cut off the promise of a new life in France. A family account of that time refers to letters and phone calls from Seamus, visits to him and plans to visit. ‘And then’, the account states ‘there was nothing’.
In the years since his death, Seamus’ family and friends kept a long vigil. They grieved and prayed; they appealed for public support, which they hoped would lead to the recovery of his remains. They did this with the support of other families of ‘the Disappeared’ and, in recent years, the support of civil authorities in Ireland and in France. In recent years they rejoiced with the families of ‘the Disappeared’ whose prayers were answered; they continue, as they did at the opening of this Mass, to reach out to those families who are still waiting.
On Thursday Seamus’ family and friends welcomed him home to Newry. They were finally been able to do what they always wanted to do: to have a wake, to celebrate a funeral Mass for Seamus and to say a personal and dignified farewell to him through the funeral liturgy. And in the months and years ahead they will be able to visit the grave where Seamus lies.
At the heart of the funeral liturgy is the reading of scripture. In his account of the Passion of Jesus, St Luke recounts the story with great drama and solemnity. He gives the final words of Jesus, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’. In these words we find Jesus living out to his last breath his loving and trusting relationship with God whom he calls ‘Father’. The Church holds out for us in the death of Jesus a model of how we too might approach our own.
Despite the cruel death that Jesus suffered at the hands of the Roman authorities and with the connivance of Jewish leaders, one of those leaders who ‘had not consented to what the others had planned and carried out’ approached Pilate and, in an act of personal courage, asked for the body of Jesus for burial so that his family and friends could come and anoint his remains in accordance with Jewish religious custom. This act of charity on the part of Pilate could be overlooked in the overall drama of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. However many of the people gathered here today will appreciate it.
In the Eucharist we recall the death and resurrection of Jesus. From this celebration we draw hope for ourselves and our loved ones and, as St Paul reminds us, this hope ‘is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which has been given to us’. Seamus received the Holy Spirit at his baptism and confirmation. Today we entrust him into the hands of God; those whom he loved and who loved him look forward to being reunited with him one day in the kingdom of God.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace. Amen. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.
Notes to Editors
- Bishop John McAreavey, Bishop of Dromore, is the chief celebrant and Father Joseph Ralph OP is concelebrant for this Mass.
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