Given at the Funeral Mass for Fr Patrick Joseph Sammon, RIP at St Anthony of Padua, Edgware, on Thursday 14th June 2018
In the five years, so far, of the time of Pope Francis, one remarkable initiative stands out: his decision to call the Church to observe a Year of Mercy, from 2015 to 2016. What a response that had! It revealed, all over the world, a great hunger to understand and take to heart that, in Pope Francis' own phrase, 'the name of God is mercy!'
In fact, in his very first address given from the balcony of the Apostolic Palace on Sunday 17th March 2013, Pope Francis spoke about the mercy of God and how it endured beyond all our waywardness, and how our loving Father never tires of pouring out his mercy, even when we become weary of asking for it. He urged us to constantly show mercy towards one another, explaining that we can do so only when we have been 'caressed by the loving mercy of God ourselves.'
My brothers and sisters, as we celebrate this Funeral Mass for Fr Patrick Sammon, we do well to ponder on this mercy of God. It is to this mercy that we turn as we commend his soul into the hands of our Father. And it is also a focus for our thanksgiving for, as we heard at the beginning of Mass, in Mgr Martin's eloquent obituary, Fr Pat had his own very special way of making the mercy of God something present and tangible to so very many people. He had a deeply compassionate heart and a knack of conveying that compassion in a manner which gave encouragement and strength to those in need. We thank God for that graceful gift which brought comfort to many and which was a hallmark of the life of the much-loved priest.
At his ordination on 13th May 1978, Pat's inner being and his daily life were given a gift of grace so that he could be, in that special way, a disciple of Christ, a man 'of Jesus'. So it is so fitting that he was a man of mercy, for Pope Francis has reminded us that 'Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy’, adding, 'Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person reveals the mercy of God.’ (Misericordiae Vultus)
Now, this is what we have heard in this morning's Gospel passage taken from St Luke (Lk 24.13-35). The two disciples are making their sad journey away from Jerusalem, a name that is used to represent the presence of God among his people, the Church. They are walking away from the Church, disappointed in all their hopes, disillusioned by what they have seen and heard. Now we must notice what the Risen Jesus does: he goes to walk with them, continuing their journey away from Jerusalem. Only gradually does he get beyond their sense of being lost and speaks to their hearts. Even when he sits ‘at table’ he does not tell them to return to Jerusalem. That is the decision that they make, compelled by the compassion they have found in him.
In this account, then, we see the mercy of God at work, in the person of Jesus, coming to us in our every dismay, in the prison of sin which we construct around ourselves, and opening for us a door through which we can retrace our steps back to him.
Every time I hear the reading from the Prophet Isaiah, the First Reading of our Mass this morning (Is 25.6-9), my imagination conjures up a quirky thought. We heard of the promise of a banquet of rich food, indeed of fine wines. I can’t stop myself from imagining that as I approach the throne of God, undoubtedly fearful, I am consoled by the wonderful smells that come from heaven's kitchen! Yes, there is such a welcome awaiting us, if only our hearts are open to receive him. He longs to 'remove the mourning veil', 'the shroud enwrapping all nations'. God reaches out to 'wipe away the tears from every cheek' and, most powerfully of all, he 'takes away his people's shame, everywhere on earth.' That is the promise awaiting us. That is the ultimate gift for which we pray this morning, for dear Fr Pat.
This means that we, together with St Paul, will not be 'like other people who have no hope' (Thes 4.13). Rather St Paul tells us that we are to be confident in our faith that God will bring all who have died to be 'with him' and that 'with such thoughts as these we should comfort one another’ (Thes 5.11). And so we do!
This morning, we also pray in a particular way for all who died in the terrible fire in the Grenfell Tower one year ago today. We remember at this moment the 72 people who have been identified as dying as a result of that inferno and pray for all who mourn them and live with the lasting effects of that terrible trauma. May they rest in peace.
Fr Pat loved this parish of St Anthony's here in Edgware. He was not the only priest to find fulfilment in the priesthood here. I am
sure that the wonderful traditions of prayer in this parish lie at the heart of that truth. So I take this opportunity of thanking this parish for its faithfulness and for its love of the priesthood. It is a generosity which is repaid over and over again. I thank all who supported Fr Pat in every stage of his life, and I mention in particular Sr Clement who not only cared for him day by day in his time of greatest need, but who also had a deep understanding of the goodness in his heart. I offer my sincere condolences to his family, both those present and those at home in Ireland. May these words of comfort reach you all and may the mercy of God touch your lives each day.
But now, I can hear the trumpet of God calling out that I should continue no longer, for there are far more important, more powerful, words to be said: the words of our prayers, the words of the Mass by which Jesus himself comes among us in this great Sacrament. For it is he, by his all-powerful word who will bring us home. It is he who in this Sacrament gives us the promise of future glory, the promise of our heavenly home which we pray is now enjoyed by our brother and priest, Patrick Joseph Sammon.