Homily at the SMA REMEMBRANCE MASS at St Joseph’s SMA Parish, Wilton, Cork on 5 November 2011
Here is the text of the homily deleivered by Fr Denis Collins at the SMA Remembrance Day Mass
When I was working in Australia I became aware of the significance in the minds and hearts of the peoples of Australia and New Zealand of the place called Gallipoli in Turkey, a country which straddles Europe and Asia. During the First World War, about a hundred years ago, many young men from Down Under sacrificed their lives by sailing half-way around the world in order to play their parts for the cause of justice and right in a part of the world very removed from their homes and very foreign to them. They landed at the shores of Gallipoli and were picked off very easily by the enemy as they tried to land. Every year that event is commemorated and there are many war memorials around Australia to pay tribute to their heroic endeavours.
Some friends of mine who recently visited Turkey on a holiday made it their business to visit Gallipoli and they gave me a picture postcard which displays an inscription which is written on a plaque at the entrance to the gate of the cemetery there. It is attributed to the First President of modern Turkey, Mustafa Ataturk, and it reads:
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives…
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours….
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries,
Wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land
They have become our sons as well.”
Very recently after Mass on a Sunday morning, I was greeting some parishioners outside the door of the church, within sight of our SMA cemetery here. A lady who attends Mass here regularly was chatting to me, and in the course of the conversation she said: Father, very often in my prayers, I pray for the parents of priests (and for the brothers and sisters and relatives of priests, but especially their parents), because they gave us their sons so that we could all have a part of them.”
You have gathered here with us today in large numbers, as you always do, to honour and to pray for your loved ones who have given their lives to the mission of the SMA. That is the defining bond and purpose of our being together in prayer and solidarity today. And we are united not only for those SMAs, your flesh and blood, who are buried in the adjoining cemetery, but for those buried in other parts of the country, according to their wishes, and for those buried overseas in other lands, including Africa and Australia. I include in my prayers Fr. John Guilfoyle SMA, Fr. Don Connolly SMA and Fr. Joe Mullins SMA, who are buried in Fremantle Cemetery in Western Australia.
As we pray for your dearly loved deceased, we thank you and bless you for having given us your relations and friends, so that we could have a part of them.
Even while they were alive, you were always welcoming them, accommodating, making adjustments to your homes, your routine, your plans, so that they would have a place to stay and be comfortable and feeling “at home.” You had to cater for the foibles and idiosyncrasies of these SMAs who were under your roof (and probably also under your feet), who were perhaps not in the best of health, physically or mentally, and who themselves, on their part, were trying to come to grips with being back in Ireland after a number of years in Africa, who were somewhat, to a greater or lesser extent, out of touch with the changes in Ireland and Irish life since their previous visit home, who were, for a change, needing to get used to seeing white faces on a daily basis, who were not used to having your young kids clamouring and clambering all over them; it called for adjustment and adaptation, sometimes minor, sometimes a bit major. It also entailed for you to be not only interested in the returned missionary as a person and family member, but also in his work and his concerns and his experiences on a seemingly different planet.
You were probably introduced to some of his SMA friends and confreres. Maybe that helped you to appreciate your own particular SMA better, when you compared him to the others he brought along. “Our own fella isn’t too bad after all,” you might say. And I suppose there was the consolation for you that he was keeping “good company” and that he wasn’t in with “the wrong crowd.”
The First Reading for today’s Mass is from the Prophet Isaiah. This is a Book full of Consolation, Expectancy and Hope. During the new Season of Advent, which is only a few weeks away, the church will feed our minds and hearts with the inspired words of Isaiah in readiness for Christmas. The readings are full of promise for the coming of our Saviour. They are full of promise that our God is there to save us as He saved His chosen people in the past. We apply those words also to the Lord’s Second Coming, when he comes at the end of time to judge us and welcome us into the joy of the Lord; – “Come, you whom My Father has blessed, receive the Kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.” This is the same kingdom into which each of us is baptized, to which we belong, the kingdom we try to live and spread by our fidelity to our God in the chosen vocation He has for each of us.
In the Responsorial Psalm we call on God to listen to our prayer as we try to be faithful to Him who is ever and always faithful to us. We cast ourselves on God’s mercy, because whatever we are, whatever we have, whatever good we do, is from His merciful love. The only thing we can call our own is our sins. But even they are the material of God’s merciful love. “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine virtuous people who have no need of forgiveness.” Those heart-warming and fascinating words are meant to uplift us, sustain us and re-assure us. (This was the punch-line in the Gospel two days ago.)
The Second Reading in today’s Mass was the reading at Mass two days ago. “The life and death of each of us has its influence on others.” And, of course, it is the life and death of Our Lord Himself which have had the greatest influence of all, for everybody. We readily recall those near and dear to us and apply these words to them, the interplay there is (and was) between those we love. As SMAs we remember with gratitude our family members, our parents, our brothers and sisters and other relations, our teachers, our friends, our sponsors, our benefactors, and the example, encouragement and support they have given and continue to give us.
I was very fortunate, indeed blessed, with the parents and family God gave me, again, as a free gift. I had no choice or say in it. There they were – there for me. Our homes were the nurseries where we sported and played, but, more than that, it was there that the little seed of Christian faith was born, was nurtured, developed and grew. It was in such a nursery that the seed of a vocation to priesthood and religious life was conceived initially. God bless our families.
I love the Gospel of today’s Mass and that is why I chose it. There is great “heart” in it – you can sense that it is emanating with passion and empathy from the sacred and loving heart of Our Lord, as though “with a sigh that came straight from the heart.” Giving thanks to His Father and our Father for giving such great gifts to us, and then encouraging us, His followers and His friends, to keep going for Him as He keeps going for us. He helps us shoulder whatever burdens we have.
We are indeed fortunate that the One who comes to judge us is such a loving and merciful God.
On behalf of the SMAs I thank you all for coming here today. We thank you for having given us your loved ones to become SMAs. To try to adapt somehow the words of Ataturk with which I began; let us imagine God speaking to you from Heaven:
“You, the Mothers and others, who sent their loved ones from far away countries, wipe away your tears; your sons and your loved ones are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.”
May their souls and the souls of all the Faithful Departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.