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Given at the Funeral Mass of Fr Mark Leenane RIP at St Vincent de Paul, Osterley, on Tuesday 1st August 2023

Chiselled into the stone above the door of the old Mansion House of All Hallows College, Dublin, are the words Euntes Docete Omnes Gentes, ‘Go teach all peoples’. Those words inspired thousands of young men, including Fr Mark, to respond to Jesus’ invitation to ‘follow him’ and leave Ireland to go out on mission to another land. The privilege of being a member of a formation team of a seminary is to see the gradual growth of a seminarian into priesthood and the ways in which the Holy Spirit prompted and shaped Fr Mark’s vocation, ordination, and then priestly ministry. 

At his ordination, the priest hears the bishop pray the words of the Prayer of Consecration, ‘grant to this servant of yours the dignity of the priesthood. Renew in him the spirit of holiness… so that he may bring the words of the Gospel to the ends of the earth, the family of nations, made one in Christ, to become God’s one holy people.’ We thank God for the service of Fr Mark through his priestly ministry. 

The shock of Fr Mark’s sudden death is a reminder of the fragility of life and the mystery of life and earthly death. Every priest is both a steward of God’s mysteries and an earthenware vessel, conscious of weakness and the need of the merciful love of God to forgive and heal. The hymn Ag Críost an síol is a reminder that priestly ministry is a gift and that it is Christ at work in the mission of the Church. 

Christ’s is the seed, Christ’s is the crop,
into the barn of God may we be brought.
Christ’s is the sea, Christ’s is the fish,
In the nets of God may we be caught.

In the second verse, the hope of eternal life shines through from death to the end of earthly life, and then beyond to rebirth. The beautiful image of the two arms of Christ enfolding and surrounding us will bring us gently to the Paradise of Graces. The opening hymn ‘Christ be beside me…’ the modern adaptation of the ancient words from the hymn attributed to St Patrick which sings of the power of God to strengthen and guide the pilgrim, ‘I arise today’… in the mighty strength of the Trinity, the life of Christ’s paschal mystery, and the power of God in creation. Such words speak of the protection of God over his beloved.

When the priest receives the paten and chalice at his ordination, the bishop says, ‘Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.’ The second reading from the letter of St Paul to the Colossians invites us to look for the things of heaven because the life we have now is hidden with Christ in God. This invites constant conversion and putting to death all those things that prevent us from becoming like Christ, putting to death the old man, and reclothing ourselves in the new clothes of grace: sincere compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with and forgiving one another, putting on love, allowing the peace of Christ to reign and being thankful. Always be thankful. These are the signs that our life is in Christ. The growth can be slow, but persistence, sacrifice and care are called for through the daily steps of priestly life. 

In this funeral Mass we entrust Fr Mark to the mercy of the Father and pray for the repose of his soul that he may be welcomed into the mansions of heaven, to that place which Jesus promised to prepare for him: ‘I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me; so that where I am you may be too’ (John 14:3). 

The consoling words of the first reading promise the hope of eternal life and liken heaven to a great banquet of rich food and fine wines. This hope is fulfilled in the Eucharist when heaven and earth unite in time. Christ comforts those who grieve for their loved ones and wipes away the tears from every cheek. He has destroyed death for ever by his cross, death and resurrection. With such hope we gather as God’s holy people, laity, priests, and bishops, to pray for Fr Mark and to support his family in Ireland, one another, and to encourage one another in our faith in Jesus Christ and the promise of the hope of resurrection beyond the grave.

Fr Mark’s journey to the Father now continues through the purification of God’s healing grace and his soothing balm towards the gates of heaven. When we see the face of God beyond our grave, then we will know how completely we need God’s mercy. The Church’s prayer for the dead is a sign of our communion with both the living and the dead. It is an act of charity. We continue to trust that the Good Shepherd will lead Fr Mark home and hope in the final line of the psalm which echoes in our hearts, ‘In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell forever.

Eternal rest grant to him O Lord 
and let perpetual light shine upon him. 
May he rest in peace. 

Bishop John Sherrington