Saturday, March 19, 2016

funeral address: Richard Boyle, RIP

May I speak in the name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen

There is no way to speak easily of the events that bring us here today. Richard went into hospital for an operation; and while no surgical procedure is without its risks, the one he was scheduled for is one that normally would see the patient discharged the next day, perhaps even back at work. There was no inkling of any danger; but danger there was. And soon the dreadful news began to spread: to his family, to his neighbours, to the community in which he was born, grew up in, and lived all his life. Richard had gone.

It is difficult to know what to say. The death of a decent man at a relatively young age is a hard one for all who knew and loved him. Richard was a hard-working man who set up his own business and threw his energies into it until his back forced him to ease off; a man who got through the tragic loss of his brother Mark at young age to forge a good life for himself in the area he grew up in, marrying happily, raising three children he adored into young adulthood; a man who enjoyed the simple pleasure of going rambling of an evening, as his wife Bernie put it, to visit with friends and family; a steady, trustworthy man – 'we all relied on Richard,' his mother Mary told me so many times over the last few days. A man who no one has a bad word to say about; a man the news of whose death was met with by shock by all who heard it, bringing tears to the eyes of neighbours as well as family.

His mother, Mary, when she called me said: 'I have terrible news.' And it was terrible. Three generations left not only bereaved but bereft: his children Wayne, Keith, and Eímear have lost a father they loved dearly and whom they expected to have in their lives for many years to come; his wife Bernie has lost without warning a husband whom she loved and who loved her, and his sisters Martha, Margaret, Roberta, and Christina have lost their brother; and then there is his parents Mary and Bobby. Parents are not supposed to have to bury their children – and this is the second time they have had to do so.

Three generations at one blow – what does one say in the face of so much pain and sadness? Perhaps it helps to remember that our Lord also knew this kind sorrow in his life; and that those important to him in his life were not spared such pain either. Today is the feast of St Joseph; and we tend to think most on his day of how he had looked after the Virgin Mary when she was with child, protected her and her infant when they were threatened, and raised the Christ-child as if he was his own son. But, of course, we have no mention of him in the Gospels once Jesus begins his ministry; and that has led, quite naturally, to the tradition that he had passed away before then. This means that our Lord would have known the pain of losing a father – a pain he would have experienced while he was yet a young man. This also leads us to the realisation that his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, knew what it was to lose a husband while she was still a relatively young woman herself. To this pain was added that of seeing her Son dead on the cross while she stood at the foot of it, a mother watching her child suffer and die before taking him in her arms to lay him in his tomb.

If God and his mother experienced such suffering, we must accept, I think, that suffering is an unavoidable part of human life – this valley of tears, as the poets and writers of prayers call it. And if this life was all there was, then such suffering would be essentially unbearable: life is short, we suffer, and then we die. But this life is not all there is; and the pain we know during it is not meaningless. As St Paul tells us in the Epistle we heard earlier: For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.' This life, and all it brings us, sorrows as well as joys, prepares us for for eternal life. And that hope we have of eternal life is not something imaginary, something based on the fear that the grave is all that awaits us. It is something that is based on the sure and certain promises made to us by Christ himself: We heard his own words spoken to us today from the Gospel of St John: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.' He showed the truth of those words by his own Resurrection from the grave; a resurrection we think of in particular at this time as we prepare shortly to enter into the sorrows of Holy Week knowing that they will be followed by the joy of Easter morn. And if Christ himself tells us of the glories that await all those who love him, we have nothing to fear; and we have hope indeed.

Such hope sustains us at times like this, when grief would otherwise be unbearable. This is the hope that his mother Mary expressed when she said to me soon after hearing the shocking news of Richard's death: he's in a better place now. This is the hope his wife Bernie expressed when she told me: his pain and suffering are ended; he is at peace; I'll see him again one day. This is the hope we all express as we gather here today as the people of God, a Christian community coming together to bid farewell in Christ to one who was our brother in Christ. Such a farewell is not a final 'good-bye,' but rather an 'until we meet again' in that place where tears and suffering are no more. And this is the hope we have as we prepare, all too soon, much much too soon, to take our leave of Richard today. Amen

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