“Indeed I promise you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
These are amongst the loveliest words that Jesus spoke. Is there a man or a woman amongst us who wouldn’t love to hear them spoken to us; the promise, the assurance, our deepest hope fulfilled? … Paradise!
May we hear these words today, and may we be as humble, honest and repentant as the man hanging on another cross beside Jesus.
With God, all things are possible. All healing, all reconciliation, all peace. This is where we believers take our stand. And this is why when we come together to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, we always begin with where we ourselves are at. We begin on our knees, aware of our sin… heart sorrowful and repentant.
This must apply in the first place to those of us entrusted by the Holy Spirit with a greater responsibility in the service of God’s people. I speak of those of us who are priests and bishops particularly. Saint Patrick sixteen hundred years ago began his Confessio with the words, ‘I am Patrick, a sinner…’. Pope Francis too is deeply aware of this truth. When asked at the beginning of his Petrine ministry, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” After a pause he said quietly, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech. I am a sinner”. He later added, “but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ”. So must we.
Eamonn Casey, whose mortal remains are with us today in this Cathedral, had a long life as priest and bishop. He did much good. As a young priest with the Emigrant Mission in London, he enabled many young couples to acquire their first home, to rise out of tenements and homelessness and thereby anchor their families in positive community environments.
Later, back in Ireland, as bishop, in Kerry first and then in Galway, he acquired an even bigger profile as a man of energy and initiative. He was a doer. Not just within his dioceses, but on the national and international scene with the development, from 1973, of Trocáire, and as a defender of the rights of people who were oppressed and poor. He is particularly remembered for his courage as he attended dozens of stricken people when soldiers opened fire and many people were killed and injured at Archbishop – now ‘Blessed’ - Oscar Romero’s funeral in San Salvador in March 1980.
There are those of us who remember, with gratitude, his kindness and encouragement when personally we most needed it.
Then 25 years ago, the emergence into the light of other hidden realities in his life, beginning with the fact that he had a son, Peter, were profoundly upsetting for the Church and for people in general.
This is neither the time nor the place to go over the details which in any case are very well known, not only in Ireland, but all over the world. Yes, we are all sinners, but irresponsibility, infidelity and sin are particularly shocking in the lives of those who preach the Gospel.
In 1992 Bishop Eamonn resigned and left the country. He expressed his sorrow many times, apologised and asked for forgiveness. He spent a number of years working on the missions in South America, and later in the south of England, before eventually coming home to live in Shanaglish, Co Galway.
But people had been hurt and wounded … wounds that do not always heal easily or quickly. We remember these people too today. We acknowledge their suffering. We pray for continued healing and peace for them.
Bishop Casey’s health deteriorated further on Ash Wednesday, the day on which believers make their way to churches to receive the mark of the ashes on their forehead. “Dust you are, to dust you shall return.”
The road to Calvary begins. We walk that hard road with Jesus through Lent, recognising our own need for redemption and committed with him by the repentance the ashes signifies, to the Father’s saving project for all people. Ash Wednesday this year marked the beginning of the last stage in Bishop Eamonn’s life journey.
Calvary though is not the end for Jesus. Neither is Calvary the end for those who take Jesus’ word to heart today and follow him. Not because we don’t fail again and again, we do and we will, but because we trust in that same promise of Jesus to the repentant sinner on the cross beside him: “Today you will be with me in Paradise”. Mercy has the last word on Calvary and for all who, like that ‘good thief’, turn to Jesus in faith. May it be so for Eamonn Casey and for all of us. For that we pray today. In that Good News we put our trust.
Suaimhneas síoraí tabhair dó, a Thiarna, agus go lonnraí an solas bhuan mharthanach air. Go bhfaighe a anam, agus anamnacha na bhfírein uile trócaire ó Dhia agus cónaí faoi shíocháin. Améin.