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Bishop Denis’s Homily from the Annual Requiem Mass for Deceased Members of the Order of Malta

Held on Saturday 5.11.22 at 3pm in St. Mary’s Church, Haddington Road, Dublin 4


We gather once again to remember those gone before us, leaving footprints on the sands of time. I thank Patrick Clyne, your Vice President, and the Order of Malta family for the invitation to once again join you this November afternoon to celebrate this Annual Requiem Mass.

I last gathered with you in 2017. Since then our world has faced many challenges; the last few years have been unsettling on every front. We are just emerging out of a global pandemic that has challenged our certainties to the very core. We hear daily accounts of the ongoing brutal war in Ukraine. And that is because Ukraine is on our doorstep. There are many wars going on elsewhere that never feature on our news feeds or social media channels. More than a quarter of the world’s population, at this very time, are experiencing the ravaging effects of war, famine and environmental catastrophes on the eve of the opening of COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt.

We gather on the Feast of St. Martin de Porres. The Dominican lay brother, who cared for the sick and the poor. The Saint who exhibited kindness to everyone, irrespective of their circumstance or condition. And that too is your mandate as members of the Order of Malta. Indeed it is all our mandate as we reflect on the challenging words of Matthew 25.

In Matthew we find a very real and raw examination of conscience, and so, have we always gone to the aid of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned? Let us take a moment to call to mind our sins …


The late poet laureate Seamus Heaney writes:

Not the one who takes up his bed and walks
but the ones who have known him all along
and carry him in –
their shoulders numb, the ache and stoop deeplocked
in their backs, the stretcher handles
slippery with sweat. And no let up
until he’s strapped on tight, made tiltable
and raised to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing.
Be mindful of them as they stand and wait
for the burn of the paid-out ropes to cool,
their slight light-headedness and incredulity
to pass, those ones who had known him all along[1].

We gather once again to remember those who held the ropes in previous years, those who have carried the stretchers, those who have preformed CPR, those who responded to emergencies. The Order of Malta is among the first responders to critical incidents, present in every county, present in every crisis.

One of our most sacred and beautiful customs is that of gathering at the resting place of our dead, or gathering to remember them by name. No better place to do so than in the sacrifice of the Mass. Mentioning a name, triggers a memory. Indeed reading an inscription on a headstone triggers many memories. The Irish phrase “ar scath a chéile a mhaireann na daoine” rings true, we live in each other’s shadow. We need each other as much in death as in life.

From the earliest times the Church has honoured the memory of the dead with great respect. It is part of our faith and culture. These are the days when we write up our lists; we put name tags on remembrance trees; we light candles – we do many things to mark that liminal moment of time with family and friends and eternity with a loving and merciful God.

The Greek word ‘kairos’ translates as memory, very much a living memory. November brings the meaning of this word to the fore. God enveloping our lives in a very special way, assuring us those gone, have not gone very far, because they are with God and He is very near. The words of the Slane poet, Francis Ledwidge, come to mind:

He will not come and still I wait.
He whistles at another gate.
Where angels listen[2].

In the first reading from Maccabees, Judas shows himself as exemplary in taking up a significant collection to pray for the dead that they might experience resurrection. St. Paul speaks of personal accountability, each of us has a responsibility to the other. St. Martin de Porres knew this so well in his life. Remembered as ‘the saint with the broom’, I still think of his prayer card in my parents bedroom, my mother had great devotion to him. Kindness marked every moment of Martin de Porres’s life, a kindness that extended not just to people but to every living creature. He stands alongside Saint Francis and St. Teresa of Calcutta as models of mercy and compassion. As Saint John XXIII said at his Mass of Canonisation: “the example of Martin’s life makes the road plain by which we can win to salvation and to sanctity: the road Jesus Christ points out to us”. We won’t find that road on google maps, but we will find it through the mandate presented in Matthew 25.

It is often presented as ‘The Last Judgement’; I prefer to see it as a daily checklist. The image used is that of the shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats. Like in the world of theatre, the villain comes from the left. So are we on His right or on His left? Do we respond positively to those in need or do we turn a blind eye? Pope Francis is one of his early audiences suggested this ‘Parable of the Last Judgement’ shouldn’t frighten but “impel us to live the present better. God offers us this time with mercy and patience so that we may learn every day to recognise him in the poor and the lowly[3].   

Our faith doesn’t sweeten the bitterness of death but it reassures us of what awaits all of us – our belief in resurrection. I love that Irish phrase: “Ní imithe uainn atá, ach imithe romhainn” (they are not gone from us, but gone before us). I started with Heaney and quoted earlier from Ledwidge, I’ll finish with Patrick Kavanagh:

I saw Christ today
at a street corner stand,
in the rags of a beggar he stood
He held ballads in his hand.
He was crying out: ‘Two for a penny
will anyone buy
the finest ballads ever made
from the stuff of joy?’
But the blind and the deaf went past
knowing only there
an uncouth ballad seller
with tail-matted hair.
And I whom men call fool
His ballads bought,
found Him who the pieties
have vainly sought[4].

Kavanagh tells us, what Matthew already told us, that when we tend to those on the stretcher, to those at the street corner, to those on the bottom step, we are tending to Christ. In the hungry and the thirsty, in the stranger and the naked, in the sick and in those in prison, we are encountering Christ. We gather in confidence this afternoon in St. Mary’s Church, Haddington Road, that those gone before us, members and friends of the Order of Malta, are now looking on the face of Christ and in that face, as our psalmist reminds us, we pray that they will find the Lord who “is compassion and love, slow to anger, rich in mercy[5]. May they and all we lose to death, rest in the eternal peace of Christ. Amen.

[1] Heaney, Seamus: ‘Miracle’

[2] Ledwidge, Francis: ‘A Little Boy in the Morning’

[3] Pope Francis, Papal Audience, 24 April 2013

[4] Kavanagh, Patrick: ‘Street Corner Christ’ (1904-1967)

[5] Ps.103:8