Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C
The Church has a special way of marking time, especially around dying and anniversaries of death. We think of Vigils, Wakes, Requiems, Months Minds, First Anniversaries and other such moments. This evening in St. Mary’s Cathedral, so much loved by Bishop Seamus, we gather to observe his Months Memory. And it’s been a longer month than the thirty days and that’s absolutely fine, because when we lose those we love in life, there is that sense of time standing still. Remember this is not calendar time but God’s time.
My thoughts this evening remain with Bishop Seamus’s sisters Esther & Sr. Mary, his brothers Tommy, John & Pat; his sisters-in-law Bernie, Catherine & Michelle; his nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews; his close friend Fran and those at the Diocesan Office; Raymond; his extended family; his Pallottine family, his Ossory family of priests, religious and lay faithful as well as his many friends.
In welcoming all who join with us for this evening’s Months Memory Mass, I particularly welcome the Pallottine Provincial Fr. Liam McClarey, and in welcoming Fr. Derry Murphy, I wish him every blessing on his recent election as First Consultor at their General Assembly. I am delighted that many Ossory priests, religious and friends join with Bishop Seamus’s family this evening.
Since his death on August 20th and his Requiem on August 26th many have taken time to recall the kind, gentle, compassionate nature of Bishop Seamus. Anecdotes were shared; moments remembered; cards revisited for favours rendered in times past.
This evening we have returned as three families to observe the passing of ‘the month’. The persistence of the widow is applauded in St. Luke this evening. Widows were considered very low on the pecking scale of first century biblical times. The story is told in the context of the need to persist in prayer and not to lose heart. Moses in our first reading and the widow in our gospel are held up as evangelists who understood better than others, God’s mercy, love and compassion and so we pray …
We measure time very differently. There is the world of calendar time, clock time, watch time, smartphone time – minutes, hours, seconds, days, years. And still we are conscious that we are somehow outside time, allowing us to connect with those gone before us. In just over two weeks we will be commencing the Month of All Souls – November. A month to remember those who have gone before us, people we have lived with and with whom in our faith, we still live. The inscriptions on the headstones, maybe sometimes fading or indistinct remind us, we are all on a journey. A journey beyond time, a journey into eternity, time with God.
The ‘Months Mind’ or ‘Months Memory’ is one of those markers that honours this eternal concept of time. The month isn’t ever strictly a month, it’s the time it takes for family and friends to comfortably gather again after burying a loved one. With Bishop Seamus, it’s technically a calendar month and twenty-six days. And that’s absolutely fine. It’s the Greek sense of Kairos, an opportunity to remember, like we might stick a post-it on the fridge or scribble something on the back of our hand, all to trigger a memory. My late mother used to put a tea towel on the floor in front of the Aga at home, to remind her and all of us that the brown bread was in the oven. Unfortunately it didn’t always guarantee the bread wouldn’t be forgotten and burnt! We never forget those we love in life and lose to death.
I’m always intrigued it’s in the weeks after a funeral that you hear so many memories of a loved one. For Bishop Seamus Freeman it was the memory of him as a school boy, entering the Pallottines in Thurles, his ordination as a Pallottine in 1971, working out in Rome during different periods of Pallottine leadership, home on holidays, ordained Bishop here in St. Mary’s in 2007, initiating listening sessions across Ossory towards developing a Pastoral Plan, celebrating confirmations and engaging so comfortably with all ages, but especially with the young. Someone mentioned to me only the other evening of Seamus’s work with the homeless in Rome. The tributes posted up on rip.ie are a joy to read of a brother, an uncle, a priest, a Rector General, a Bishop who made a huge impact, often quietly, on the lives of so many.
There was nothing quiet about the widow in this evenings gospel. I love the use of the imperfect tense expressing the continuity of her action, Luke tells us she “kept on coming to him”. Notice she is representing her own case in this action, there is no mention of the support of her husbands family or even siblings, she was literally on her own. The Redemptorist Denis McBride reminds us “she has to rely wholly on her own resources to secure the justice she desperately needs. She is too poor for justice and too ordinary to influence the judicial process”. And Jesus holds her up in a patriarchal society as a model of persistence in her cause, in her plea and in her prayer. I love the way Luke’s text allows us to hear the corrupt judge talking to himself. He only gives in to her, because he is afraid she will worry him to death. He is all the time worried about himself, not the widow. The Revised New Jerusalem text offers us his reasoning for granting her, her wishes: “I must grant this widow justice since she is such a nuisance, or in the end she will come and slap me in the face”. What a powerful message of persistence in prayer, whether it was Moses raising his arms over the Israelites as they took their fight to the Amalekites or this illiterate widow as she found her voice before an unjust judge.
We know when we pray to God for our needs, we are not going before a corrupt official. Yet, we are encouraged to be persistent in our prayer. It is not that God needs convincing, it’s more that the journey of prayer we take teaches us a critical lesson. A Chinese proverb runs: “it’s often better to journey than to arrive”. Persistence is a key part in the discernment journey that Pope Francis has invited us to take in the Universal Synod journey. Bishop Seamus would have been proud of the engagement of the diocese in the initial stages of the synodal journey over recent months. I was delighted to hear someone contribute at a recent meeting of the Ossory Diocesan Pastoral Council that they could recognise their own local contribution in the National Synthesis document. In other words their voice was heard and as our diocesan synod message ran “all our voices make the parish”.
Like the word Kairos, Synod comes from the Greek “syn” and “hodos” meaning “walking together ”. It’s a pathway which is not a journey to a particular destination; but a new way of operating, a new way of understanding ourselves and a new way of being Church. This can’t be measured on a calendar or a watch but in the end result. A year ago at this Mass, I launched the synodal journey here in Ossory. We continue that journey exactly a year later, marking the Months Memory of Bishop Seamus. And Bishop Seamus would insist we all engage in that journey, being attentive to one another, sometimes listening to uncomfortable conversations, but listening always attentively.
Prayer calls for a steely resolve and people of faith keep praying even though God at times might seem silent. We pray not to change God’s mind, but ours, and so often prayer does that for us. We are all very conscious that the last few years of Bishop Seamus’s life has been challenging as sickness sadly took a greater grip on him. Throughout that sickness he never once lost his smile. I feel that smile came from the reassurance his faith gave him, a faith that was nourished in the family home in Callan. May his gentle soul rest in peace this Month’s Memory evening.
St Vincent Pallotti, pray for us.
St Kieran, pray for us.
St Canice, pray for us.
 McBride, Denis: ‘The Parables of Jesus’, Redemptorist Publications, Third Edition, 199, pg. 174
 Lk.18:5, Revised New Jerusalem Bible, 2019