Archbishop of Westminster

Homily for the Funeral Mass of Fr. Brian Heaney

Friday 15 March 2013

Church of Our Lady of Grace and St Edward, Chiswick

Every funeral Mass is an act of faith. This Mass today, for Fr Heaney, is one such act of faith. Through the Mass we place our trust in God and in God’s mercy; we trust in the welcome which God will extend to those who love Him; we trust in His loving Providence in our lives.

From this act of faith, we draw great consolation, especially at this time of mourning. We draw consolation as a family – and I extend my condolences to Fr Brian’s nieces and nephews and all the family and friends. We draw consolation from our faith as a family of the diocese, and of the priesthood.

Every funeral Mass is also an act of remembering, gratefully, a life which has been an unfolding of the Providence of God.

Fr Brian lived a long life. He died at the age of 85. His was a long life of faithful service, full of Yorkshire grit and resilience and kindness. He was, of course, born in Hunslet of a family of five children, and he is the last to go to the Lord.

The family moved south and young Brian followed the call of the Lord and was accepted by Westminster Diocese as a seminarian. He prepared for this life of ministry at Allen Hall in Ware. Then, on 20 May 1953 he was ordained a priest by Cardinal Griffin in Westminster Cathedral. Fr John Miller, still serving in our parishes, was ordained on the same day. I was 8 years old!

A faithful, steadfast life of a priest followed, starting here in Chiswick from 1953-1957. I am sure many of you remember those years. Then Fr Heaney served in Sudbury, Carpenders Park, Stoke Newington, West Hendon, Feltham and Gunnersbury. I thank so many of you for coming from some of those parishes. In 2002 Fr Heaney moved to Nazareth House as chaplain and then until the Lord called him. I welcome and thank Sister Nuala and her companions for all their care for Fr Heaney, and I thank Fr Dan Magnier, who is also present today and is now chaplain at Nazareth House.

How many people have received from his ministry in all these years? There have been so many moments of grace – and some moments of failure too, no doubt. But today we thank God for this good priest and his largely unsung life of faithful ministry.

But let me return to this Mass as act of faith. Through this Mass we strive to base our lives again on the realities of our faith. Each day we do well to begin with an act of faith as the foundation for all that will follow. 

What is this faith?

It is our answer to God’s showing us his plan of love. It is our response to the Word of God, to God’s intention shown for us in Christ. Day by day this faith is letting ourselves be grasped by the Truth that is God, a truth that is love.

This is the faith of every disciple of the Lord. It is the faith of every priest.

Another thing, too, about our faith. The truth to which we entrust ourselves is not an imposition on us. The truth we embrace is not a straight-jacket that constricts us, limiting our freedom or our nature. Rather, the truth that is put before us in the person of Jesus is the very meaning and purpose of our life. It is a truth that sustains us, the rock on which we find stability, even now, especially in the face of death: this death of Fr Brian, and the reality of death that awaits each one of us.

In the light of this faith, life becomes secure. Faith is what enables us to stand rather than to fall; and to stand again when we have fallen.

Now there is a very particular aspect to faith which is brought to the fore in every Mass, and in this Mass in particular.

It is the promise of heaven, a promise which, in God’s mercy, we grasp today for Fr Brian Heaney.

It is well expressed in words we use in the First Eucharistic Prayer, the Roman Canon:

‘In humble prayer, we ask you Almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on High, in the sight of your Divine Majesty so that all of us may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.’

At this Mass, at every Mass, we become part of the liturgy of heaven. Our offering, our prayer, becomes, by God’s grace, part of the praise of God in heaven –‘in the sight of your Divine Majesty.

We pray that Fr Heaney is now part of that praise of God in heaven and, taking his place there, he is joined to us here or rather we are joined to him there, in heaven.

This is the reality of the Church – the Church on earth and the Church in heaven. We are held together, in Christ, with all who have gone before us. We are one with them in the Lord. They can help us still. Fr Heaney will care for us still. 

With these words of faith, at this Mass, let us console one another and be strong in our thanksgiving and in our resolve to serve the Lord in kindness. Amen

+Vincent Nichols

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