Homily preached by Fr John Grennan OCD in St Columba's Church Long Tower, Derry.
Fr. Jerry loved Derry and the people of Derry. That was something he was well aware of, but I think that the depth of that love was a revelation to himself in the aftermath of his serious heart surgery over three months ago. He very much appreciated the care of the Nursing Home and the company of the brethren down South, but he said: “Derry is home for me; it is where I want to be.” That was probably the real deep-down reason for his coming back to visit in Termonbacca on a number of occasions, while still seeking to recuperate. It was during the last of these visits that he was called to another Home during the early hours of Sunday morning last.
The readings chosen by his very dear sister, Peg, initially point us to that other Home, to a future without sin or shame, and without tears or mourning, a place where there is no more death. Positively, it is compared to a Banquet: “a feast of rich foods for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.”
In parenthesis, I think the Holy Spirit must have inspired that image for people like Jerry, who was never more at home than at a table where there was good food and congenial company; it was his heaven on earth –
The Book of Revelation is even more explicit: there Heaven is described as the Wedding Feast of the Lamb – and the second reading further sees it as a place where Jesus is able to live out the full reality of his name, Emmanuel (God-with-us), the Lord being at home in the company the people he died for.
Next, the Gospel – what a lovely Gospel, the story of the two bereaved disciples walking away for the scene of their bereavement, and, by themselves, unable to find any positives in their situation. Then, this seeming stranger comes along, invites them to share their grief, and responds by giving them a whole new perspective on what has happened – and before they ever recognise Him, their hearts are burning within them.
All who mourn Fr. Jerry take the place of those disciples today, and Jesus walks with us, touching our hearts, and helping us get a fuller perspective on what has happened. He can do this in different ways. The way I have been personally most touched by is through the kindness and love of others: Bishop Donal was among the first to call on Sunday morning. I think of our wonderful staff and volunteers in Termonbacca. I think too of that lovely group of young people who meet at our Retreat Centre every Sunday evening, who last Sunday evening spent an hour in prayer especially for Jacklin Doherty and Fr. Jerry. The Lord has been using all of these people and many more: members of the Carmelite Secular Order and Cursillo; people who visited, members of the clergy, sisters, people who rang-in, or sent cards and messages. Last and by no means least, all who came to the wake yesterday afternoon and on into the evening until night-time. I know I am not alone in sharing that I have a different heart today than the one I had after being the first to have my fears confirmed on Sunday morning. The Lord is still Emmanuel, walking with us, giving us heart, in this case through the empathy and love of others.
Back to our two disciples on the road. They reach their destination, but they don’t want to be separated from their fascinating companion. Something deep is happening within them. They want more of it; so, they invite him to come and share a meal. He does, and sitting at table with them says ‘Grace before meals’ in the Jewish way, taking bread, blessing God for it, breaking it – and suddenly both together recognize Him – and Heaven breaks loose within them. His visible presence is no longer necessary; He has entered their hearts!
As we break bread here today something very wonderful can happen for us too. We can by our faith recognise Jesus and by our love come close to Him, and not only to Him, but to all our loved ones who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. Here are words spoken by Pope Emeritus Benedict at the funeral homily of his friend, Hans Urs Von Balthasar:
“We know that the souls of those who have died in Christ live in his resurrected body. That body shelters and carries them towards the common resurrection. In that body which we have the privilege of receiving, we touch one another.”
With these thoughts, and thinking especially of Fr. Jerry, I conclude with a well-known prayer composed by the Dominican, Fr. Bede Jarrett:
“Lift us up, strong Son of God, that we may see further; cleanse our eyes that we may see more clearly; draw us closer to Yourself, that we may know ourselves to be nearer to our loved ones who are with You. And while You prepare a place for us, prepare us also for that happy place, that where You are, we may be also for evermore. Amen.”
Homily preached by Fr Vincent O'Hara OCD in St Teresa's Church, Clarendon Street, Dublin.
Your presence is indeed a great support to Fr Jerry’s family, and to us his Carmelite brothers too. We do miss our brothers when they go from us, and it has happened a lot recently. And you’d miss someone like Fr Jerry especially, for he was as large as life. They say that the company on the other side is getting better all the time! And we are all of us being called home, one by one – it is borne in on us with each death that ‘we have not here a lasting city, our true home is in heaven’, and whether we live for 40, 60, 80 or 100 years, it’s still a drop in the ocean, compared to the eternity to follow. As one of the early writers put it: ‘A Christian is a citizen of every country but at home in none’. We are on a journey to another land, and our big thing is in the future.
10 years ago Fr Jerry stood in this very place, speaking at the funeral of his good friend and classmate, Fr Michael Fitzgerald. He was affected by Michael’s untimely death, saying he didn’t expect to outlive him himself, and he quoted at length from a wonderful hymn that we have as part of our Office, or Prayer of the Church once a month. It speaks about the way life, and indeed death, is laid out for each of us by a provident God:
Alone with none but thee, my God,
I journey on my way:
what need I fear when thou art near,
O King of night and day?
My destined time is fixed by thee,
and death will know his hour;
did warriors strong around me throng,
they could not stay his power.
My life I yield to thy decree,
and bow to thy control
in peaceful calm, for from thine arm
no power can wrest my soul.
The child of God can fear no ill,
his chosen, dread no foe;
we leave our fate with thee, and wait
thy bidding when to go.
'tis not from chance our comfort springs,
thou art our trust, O King of kings.
I first met Jerry 60 years ago – he was prefect in the large dormitory in Castlemartyr where I was a raw first year and he in Leaving Cert. I got the impression then that he had grown to full height even as an 18-year-old, and he was an imposing presence, and he certainly bestrode our narrow world like a Colossus. The Dean at the time, Fr Paul Sullivan, happily still with us, had a lovely easy rapport with Jerry’s class (there were only 8 of them), treating them trustfully as adults, and by and large they behaved as such. The next time I caught up in a significant way with Jerry was when he was Dean himself and handing over to me as the incoming Dean, and I’ll never forget his wisdom, humour and compassion in his assessment of the boys, and his comforting reassurance (if that’s the word) of the impossibility of keeping up with their tricks; as he put it: ‘Boys will be boys!
Jerry had a great love of the Scriptures, and he would have relished the choice of readings for his Funeral Mass today – the way they point to what is in store for those who leave us, and at the same time are a comfort to those left behind. And indeed we are consoled most of all in death by the word of God, which is at its most beautiful and inspiring when it is addressing the human condition and consoling the human heart. Listening to this word, it is brought home to us that our God is not a distant God, detached from our human sorrows, but One who is full of compassion for the tears of the world. And his word lifts us up and stretches our horizon beyond the limits of this world. And so that first reading looks forward to the day when God “will remove the mourning veil and destroy death forever. The Lord will wipe away the tears from every cheek”.
It is an added bonus that the reading speaks of a lavish banquet: of “rich food and the finest of wines”. Jerry liked his food – who doesn’t? – and while he was not averse to enjoying a bite to eat on his own, he liked the conviviality of a meal, for he was a consummate conversationalist, in spite of the fact that he had no interest in either sport or politics! And the Scriptures are full of significant things happening around meals. I don’t know was it Jerry himself that I heard say that if you stick a pin in St Luke’s Gospel, the chances are, people are either going to a meal, having a meal or coming from a meal!
Which brings me nicely to the Gospel – so timely for this time of year: the two disciples on the journey to Emmaus on the first Easter Sunday (it’s a road that Jerry himself travelled, literally). It’s one of the loveliest of all the Easter stories, and it touches a chord with most people, for it's about a journey, and it's really about the journey of life, and we're all on that journey, with its ups and downs, its highs and lows, and how sometimes on that journey we feel that God is absent, only to realise, looking back, that his footsteps were alongside ours all the time and intermingled with them. The moment of awakening for these two happened at a meal, and their eyes were opened, and they were able to say afterwards: ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he spoke to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?’
Jerry had that ability too to move hearts by his obvious love for the Scriptures, and he was one of our best exponents in preaching the word. You could see how the word he preached was the fruit of his own reflection and prayer, and I know that the spell he spent in the Holy Land made a deep impression on him and it enlivened his preaching. And while he always prepared his homilies, he had a quite extraordinary capacity for speaking off the cuff, and doing so meaningfully. I remember him telling me once about a retreat he gave to a community of Cistercian monks and, as was his wont, he always built his reflections round the Divine Office for the day, and had prepared accordingly, but when he got to the monastery, he discovered the Cistercians were following a totally different Office and psalter, but he didn’t blink an eye and adapted his talks completely, without saying anything. And I remember meeting the Abbot of that monastery years later and he said to me: ‘’We had a great retreat once from one of your men, Jerry Fitzpatrick’. And when I told him the background, his words were: ‘We never noticed!’
Jerry was nothing if not versatile, having been Dean, Prior, Parish Priest and Provincial, but at the same time he can’t have found it easy to be hived off to Rome as a member of the General Council back in 1997, with no word of Italian, and an innate resistance to technology and emails, but he tumbled to it and bloomed in the role. I remember asking him a few months into his new job, what his Italian was like, and with his usual wit, he answered: ‘Very good, but I have very little of it!’. Among his roles as General Definitor was responsibility for the Carmelite missions, and he particularly looked forward to his visits to Nigeria, for it was on his watch as Provincial that our Province took on care of that mission.
It will be difficult to get used to not having him around anymore, for he was a substantial presence, and he made a major contribution to our Order, at home and abroad. We’ll miss his vigorous presence and strong voice, and as we try to cope with that reality, a line of Yeats comes to mind: ‘Our best labourer dead and all the sheaves to bind’.
If there is such a thing as a good time to die, then this time of year is as good as any, when resurrection is in the air and everything is coming back to life again after the death of winter. Jerry had his winter too, his 40 days and 40 nights, especially recently, when his strength was failing, and that strong voice was weaker, and his usually dulcet tones were more muted, and he had begun to wonder would all that ever come back. But he needn’t have worried, for a gentle Providence took him at the appointed time. He had always lived in the conviction (and often spoke about it) that for us, as for Jesus, beyond the Hill of Calvary lies the Garden of the Resurrection and he was at the ready to make the transition to the life that knows no end. His love of liturgy led him to particularly relish the uplifting readings at this time of year, with their promise of what is to come, and that is where he is now bound.
So we let him go into the land of eternal youth, this Tir na nOg, land of eternal beauty, the new Jerusalem of the second reading, to ‘the kingdom prepared for him since the foundation of the world’. We believe that death, far from being an end, is the gateway to a new life, when the immortal part of us comes into something wonderfully new; when youthfulness is restored and we taste something of the glory of the risen Lord, who is “the first-born from the dead”. As Hopkins says, “We will one day be what Christ now is, for he once was what we are now”.
And we pray that Jerry will come into the company of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, one of whose names in the Carmelite tradition is Queen, Beauty of Carmel, and who will have been there with him at the end, for how many times in life did he pray to her (as we all do) to be there for us ‘now and at the hour of our death’. The name Jerry took when he entered the Order was ‘Angelus of Mary Immaculate’ (he gave up the Angelus, and went back to Jeremiah, but he kept the Mary Immaculate!). We honour her especially in this month as Queen of the May, she who let all God’s glory through – a glory that is now in store for our brother, as he enters that land of eternal beauty.
We are grateful for his time on this earth which has been enriched by the quality and goodness of his living, and we speed him on his way with our prayers until we join him in the great reunion that will know no parting, in that land of peace and happiness – the like of which ‘no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the human heart, the kind of things God has prepared for those who love him’.
‘Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal’