Funeral Mass Fr Andrew Hurley

Homily of the Funeral Mass of Fr Andrew Hurley, 3 Sept 2014, Brentwood Cathedral

Fr Andrew Hurley, the brother of my uncle and the nephew of another priest, Canon Vincent Hurley, is a man whose fidelity to his priestly ministry since ordination in 1968 would alone warrant the eulogy that will be offered later by his brother Joseph. My task now is somewhat different. The aim of my brief homily, like all homilies, is to increase our understanding and desire for what pertains to salvation, what will save our souls, what will help bring us to heaven.

In support of this aim, the deceased person may, however, shape the theme of the funeral Mass and its homily in various ways. For example, Cardinal Basil Hume chose readings for his own funeral that tactfully reminded the assembled dignitaries that it is foolish to disbelieve in the existence of God. More recently, Canon John Redford instructed that the homily of his own funeral Mass last year would remind Catholics of the existence and implications of purgatory. To summarise this teaching for our benefit today, the general sense of the tradition is that most persons who have reached the age of maturity and who are not damned will spend at least some time in purgatory. Purgatory is the place and state of purification where our own prayers, sacrifices and especially the sacrifice of the Mass help to complete anything needed in the purification of the deceased to speed them to heaven. On this understanding, we are not here just to remember Fr Andrew’s accomplishments and to thank God for his life. We are here on a mission of mercy, to pray that his soul rests in peace after his labours.

As regards the details of this specific Mass, however, Fr Andrew Hurley did not leave any explicit instructions regarding the homily. In fact, his radically self-effacing character suggests that he would have been utterly overwhelmed even by the thought of a funeral Mass at the diocesan Cathedral, attended by the new and emeritus bishops of Brentwood, together with so many friends, family members, parishioners and fellow clergy. Nevertheless, the entire pattern of Fr Andrew’s ministry suggests, I believe, not only a theme but a kind of masterclass in arguably the most important issue in theology today: the distinction and relation of the life of nature and the life of grace, the difference between being a success in the City of Man and being fruitful for the Kingdom of God.

To help grasp the importance of this distinction, it is worth reviewing in outline what we can and cannot do for ourselves. Generally, we know the natures of things by their developed forms, and on this basis it is easy to see what it means for a dog, a dolphin or a tree to flourish. But what is the perfection of a human being with an immortal soul? What does it mean to succeed in human life? The simple, subjective version of this question is, “What makes us happy?” The entire existence of the modern advertising industry testifies to the difficulty we have in answering this question. Some seek money, or status, or freedom from anxiety or pain. Others cultivate the life of the mind. Many in effect try to avoid such questions, escaping into some kind of virtual reality or other pleasures of the passing moment. Whatever goal is pursued, however, at least three problems confront us: first: success in the City of Man is uncertain and fickle; second, it does wholly satisfy us; third, it comes to an end because this life comes to an end. Unaided human nature cannot, it seems, attain true happiness.

Fortunately, what is impossible for man is possible for God. The First Reading from the Book of Wisdom suggests that there is a place and state of rest that is intended for us: a supernatural happiness that is permanent and that also completes us as human beings. But we need God’s help to reach this place of rest, a completion that in some way involves knowing and loving God, even becoming like God and seeing God as He is. As St Paul teaches in 1 Cor 2:9, a verse quoted often by St Thomas Aquinas, “Eye has not seen, no ear heard, nor has it entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.” On God’s part, what enables us to reach this place of rest is a gift from God called the life of grace. This life of grace is a sharing in the divine life of God, an adoption as children of God, so that we can live in hope of one day seeing God face to face. On our part, what enables us to reach this place of rest is a free response to this gift.

This response to grace is where the challenge begins. Like a bitter medicine that heals our bodies, we recoil by nature from the path of grace that God sets out for us to cure our cold, unresponsive hearts. One message of the beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the mourners… and so on,” is that we need our hearts to be melted and typically broken to acquire a taste for the things of heaven, to love with God the things that God loves. In the Second Reading, St Paul prays that his listeners will comprehend, with all the saints, what is “the breadth and length and height and depth,” but in expressing the immensity of the fullness and love of God he is also, of course, describing the shape of a cross. God’s grace is a free gift, but to accept grace leads us to the cross, a free response that not only saves us but also helps mediate salvation to others.

Seeing Fr Andrew as I grew up, anointing him recently at Nazareth House, and hearing the testimony of many others, I think that he has given us a masterclass in this relationship of grace and the cross. From a young man with great natural abilities, much of his mature priesthood was marked by long periods of physical and spiritual suffering. Only reluctantly and under obedience did he take on responsibility for a parish. In recent years, the pattern of his life has resembled the Old Testament Book of Exodus 17:12. According to this narrative, Aaron and Hur help hold up the arms of Moses in the shape of a cross until sunset and victory. Similarly in his own life, Fr Andrew has required a great deal of help from others, especially his fellow clergy and religious, his brother and his sister-in-law, and many parishioners to continue exercising his ministry to its end in this life, to sunset and victory. Yet as we in his own family, many of his parishioners, other members of his diocese and a flood of correspondence testify, the grace mediated by Fr Andrew’s ministry has touched a remarkable number and variety of persons. As far as we are able to judge, his cross has indeed been extraordinarily fruitful for salvation. May he rest in peace.

 

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