Fr Eddie Deeney SMA preached at the 2013 Remembrance Mass in Dromantine. He gave the following homily on that occasion which brought together a large number of SMA supporters whose relatives had served as SMA bishops, priests or brothers and who had now gone to their eternal reward.
Today as you drove up the avenue I am sure you were aware of the beautiful autumn colours that lined the way. At this time of the year, during the month of November when nature is dying, to prepare itself for the spring that is to come, the Church asks us turn our minds to those who have gone before us on the journey of life. And to remember them in our prayers. We are gathered here this evening to remember in a special way our SMA priests and brothers who have died all of whom have been members of you own individual families. We also bring before the Lord all those other missionaries at home and abroad that Fr. Kelleher has mentioned at the beginning of Mass and who have been part and parcel of the missionary work in Africa.
And we come in a spirit of thanksgiving for the gift of their lives and for all the good that God achieved through them in Africa or wherever they spent their lives. Shortly after my ordination I was posted to our Provincial House in Cork and one of my duties was, on the occasion of the death of one of our members, to attend to all the various details associated with the funeral. At that time there were many of our members there who had spent a lifetime in Africa. As the remains were being brought from the church in Wilton to the graveyard beside it, followed by family members and priests I used to notice double decker busses passing along the main road and the people in the upper deck looking down at this small gathering as it weaved its way to the grave. No doubt wondering who was being buried. At those times I used to say to myself how different it would be if this person was being buried in Africa. There would have been a week of mourning and thousands attending the funeral. Because apart from bringing the message of the Gospel they would have been the first in many areas that would have been involved in bringing schools, colleges, hospitals, clinics to the area for the first time. But if faith we know that God sees everything and he will not be outdone in generosity in rewarding them for the good that they have done.
In St. Mark’s Gospel we read in chapter 4:30 “Jesus said the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which at the time of sowing, is the smallest of the seeds of the earth yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can come and shelter in its shade”. The mustard seed of faith that has been sown by missionaries in Africa has really grown into a strong and vibrant church today. Last month the diocese of Ekiti in Nigeria was celebrating the centenary of the first SMA missionaries to arrive there in 1913 and Fr. Des Corrigan, who is a member of our community here was there representing the Provincial. He was appointed to that area as a young priest and he wrote about the development that took place there since the area was declared a diocese. Fr. Des went to Ekiti in 1967 and the diocese was formed in 1972. He was amazed at the progress that had taken place. Here are some figures: (over a period of 41 years)
7 Parishes 65 parishes
3 Nigerian Priests 99 Diocesan priests plus 10 Religious priests
9 SMA priests No SMA priests
12 St. Louis Sisters No St. Louis Sisters
No Nigerian Sisters More than 100 Nigerian Sisters
4 convents 15 Convents.
And that progress has been taking place in all the other dioceses as well. And so today we give thanks that the mustard seed that was sown has grown into a very large shrub.
We are all aware that there are many parts to our life – birth, schools, getting a job, falling in love and raising a family, children, joys and sorrows and then death – the one appointment none of us can postpone. So the question is –is that all? The message Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel is “No”. It is not the end. The Sadducees who approached Jesus did not believe in the resurrection –which was a good excuse for them to eat, drink and be merry in this life. The Sadducees were not interested in getting an answer from Jesus. They were only trying to make fun of him for believing in the resurrection. The Pharisees on the other hand did believe in the resurrection. He could have ignored them but he took the opportunity to remind them that God” is God not of the dead but of the living: for to him all men are in fact alive.”
We are gathered here today as people of faith. Our faith teaches us that death is not the end of our story. We live in a world where many people believe death is the end of everything. But for us it is the beginning. Many speak of death saying “that is another door closed”. But for us it is a door opening into the home that the Lord has prepared for us. People speak of death as a going away – but for us it is really a coming home – to our true home that the Lord has prepared for us. What that future world/life will be like, we have no idea. Life after death remains clouded in mystery. Christians have as many questions to ask as others. We are very much like the child in its mother’s womb that has no idea what lies beyond. But St. Paul assures us that eye hath not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to conceive what things God has prepared for those who love him.
The good news of the Gospel is that God is a loving, kind, compassionate, forgiving God, who is hopelessly in love with us – who loves each and every one of us with an intimate love – who has come down and walked among us – and shown us by his example how we should love God and love one another and has revealed to us that our destiny is to be with God and with all those we have loved and lost.
That was the Good News that our parents passed on to us. That was the Good News that our missionaries shared with the people of Africa. Let us thank the Lord for the gift of this Good News in our own lives and pray that the seed of the Good News that was sown by all our missionaries may continue to grow and strengthen in the years ahead.
Today we also remember and give thanks to God for all our benefactors – all those who by their prayers, financial support, friendship have supported the work of mission. We are often reminded that by our baptism we all called to be missionaries. And as somebody said, some give by going and others go by giving. Unfortunately vocations in our part of the world are going through a winter at the present time but that is not so the case in Africa. This year alone 25 priests were ordained for the SMA – mainly African who are becoming missionaries to their own people but some from Poland and India. And there are roughly 250 students in preparation in our various seminaries. And they are being trained and supported mainly by the support of our benefactors here in Ireland and in other countries.
The Lord reminds us that the harvest is still great and the labourers are still few and he has asked to continue to pray that he will send labourers into his harvest. And as we pray for that intention we give thanks to God for all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.
May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen