Fr Bernard J Raymond SMA
Homily preached by Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll SMA, Provincial Leader, at the Funeral Mass for Fr B J Raymond SMA on 21 September 2011 at St Joseph’s SMA Church, Wilton, Cork.
Macc 12: 43-45
Luke 23:44-46.50.52-53. 24:1-6
Fr Bernard J [Bennie] Raymond was a true blue Dub. Eventhough his interest in sports was as close to zero as it is possible to be, one can surmise that he may have been able to take even a modicum of enjoyment from the fact that the Dubs brought Sam home in such dramatic circumstances, the day before he died. He will not partake in the celebrations on the Liffey, but he can now begin that greater celebration, the journey into new life with the Father. Bennie passed away peacefully on Monday afternoon after a relatively short but acute and rapid illness.
Our gathering today on the Feast of St Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, is to pray for the repose of Bennie’s soul that he may rest in peace. Though the sadness of losing a cousin, a friend, a confrere is very real and we do not gloss over it lightly, it is tempered by our Christian faith which sustains us at such times. We are assured that for Bennie this is not the end. Life is merely changed, not ended. He will be missed in this life but the guarantee of new life with God helps to heal the pain.
In the Book of Maccabees from which we have taken our opening reading today we find an Old Testament theology of resurrection. Judas Maccabeus, by his collection for the sacrificial sin offering, attested to his belief in the resurrection. As the reading puts it, “for if he had not expected the fallen to rise again it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead”. Our faith guarantees that it is far from superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. So, we pray for Bennie today asking the Father to purify him in whatever way may be necessary so that he can enjoy the fullness of life in heaven.
Our second reading today is taken from the book of the Apocalypse. Here we hear God say, “I am making the whole of creation new; I will give water from the well of life free to anybody who is thirsty.” This is a gentle reminder to us that salvation is never earned; it is freely offered. We are not saved on the basis of any achievement. We can only be saved through the free gift of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This passage is also important in helping us to recognise that it is God who is making the ‘whole of creation new’. This means that God can take all the messiness and contradictions of our earthly life and make them into a new creation. That is our Christian hope for all people.
Our gospel today speaks of Joseph of Arimathea who believed that the body of the dead should be treated with great reverence. So too the women went to reverence the body in the tomb with spices. But they are gently reminded that their focus is wrong. “Why look among the dead for someone who is alive? they are told, He is not here, he has risen.” As we pay reverence to Bennie’s remains today we know that he is not actually among the dead but is very much alive.
Bennie Raymond was born in November 1931 in Glasnevin, Dublin. He was looking forward to celebrating his 80th birthday in a few weeks time. He was the only child of his parents which may have contributed to a somewhat sheltered upbringing. He took his primary school studies at Iona Road and St Vincent’s and continued in St Vincent’s for his secondary schooling. He then spent three years as a student with the Franciscan Order, which may have been influenced by the fact that a cousin of his mother’s was a missionary and later a Bishop in South Africa. He studied philosophy at UCG during his time with the Franciscans.
On ending studies with the Franciscans he returned to Dublin where he took up work with CIE and then a longer period with Aer Lingus. It was probably due to this career path that he developed something of a travel ‘bug’. He also studied at night classes in UCD, graduating in 1958 with a BA degree. He was very fond of the Irish language and spoke it with fluency and blas.
During his days with Aer Lingus, a chance encounter at Dublin airport with the late Bishop Richard Finn SMA sowed the seed of a desire to work in Africa. Bennie went as a lay man to teach in Fatima Catholic College, Ikire. He was obviously inspired by the priests among whom he worked as he discerned in himself a call to missionary priesthood. He began his life in SMA in 1963 and due to the fact that he had earlier taken philosophy his studies for priesthood were accelerated. He was considerably older than his class mates and was ordained in December 1967. During the years in Dromantine he developed a life-long interest in photography and was to share his photographic memories of people he met and places he went with friends far and wide. Later, with the coming of video photography, Bennie made many a tape, often featuring his parents – whom he almost always referred to as Ma and Da – and these too he shared with confreres and friends. The quality of some of his work was good and the films of missionary work in Africa were used as promotion material and in support of vocations to the missionary priesthood.
After ordination he returned on assignment to Ibadan diocese. He taught once more in Fatima College and retained up to the end a bond of friendship with some of his students from that time. He was also to work in Iwo and Oke Offa and for a time was Editor of the Catholic Newspaper, the Independent.
In order to be closer to his parents who were becoming increasingly enfeebled, he was assigned to work back in Ireland where he spent some time in the Archdiocese of Dublin in the parishes of Larkhill and Finglas. On the death of his parents he was first assigned to promotion work in Ireland and this was followed by a short period in Southern Nigeria to work on promotion and fund-raising for the new African Foundation of the SMA. During the last sixteen years of his life Bennie exercised a quiet and non public ministry in the Archives department of the Province. Here he put his computer knowledge at the service of the Society through the important work of scanning and cataloguing thousands of old photographs thus preserving them for posterity.
Our spirituality must be grounded in the Christian theology that we get today in the Apocalypse reading. We believe that God’s incarnation as man means that our humanity is the space where God is glimpsed, grasped, struggled with and finally served. Incarnation means there is no other-worldly, ethereal, ‘spiritual’ route to God that escapes our humanity. God is to be encountered both in the glorious beauty and also in the awful messiness of this world; in the ecstasy of sheer joy and celebration as well as in the agony of loss, pain, suffering and desolation. While this is not easy to believe, it can be a source of comfort and consolation for those who have suffered.
As we lay Bennie Raymond to rest, we pray “Ar dheis lamh De go raibh a anam”.