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Funeral homily for Gerald McGrath, RIP. 10.06.24

I suppose there’s no question that whoever wrote that reading we heard from the Book of Ecclesiastes is right in saying that in life there’s a time for everything under the sun. No-one can deny, though, that some use their time better than others, and use it for better things than others. Sadly, I don’t think I ever met Gerry, but the family eulogy and even just one short visit to the family home tell me that he was a man who used histime on this earth to the full. He seemed to have a passion for life and for all that he turned his hand to. I think it’s clear that he was passionate most of all for Susan and for their four children, Daniel, Charlie, Matthew, and Roisin, and that it was to them, to their happiness and well-being, that he dedicated the best and the most of who he was and what he had.

While Gerry’s time on earth has run its course, the Word of Jesus assures us that the stopping of the clock is not the end of life, but the beginning of a new life that isn’t measured in time but in eternity. As Gerry will now experience for himself, it is for that new life that God gave us this earthly life in the first place. It was never meant to end in death. Everything in us protests in the face of death because we know instinctively that we are meant for life, for love, for union and togetherness. And that instinct is shared by every human being, of all religions and none. The very idea that our true destiny is dust and ashes is repellent, abhorrent. In fact, it’s devilish, both metaphorically and literally. It’s certainly not divine.

The Lord seeks from every human person one thing above all: that they love, truly, and therefore unconditionally, until it hurts, until we can love no more. And the reason he seeks that from us is because that’s just what He has done for us. That the cosmos exists at all, is the first great prelude to His love for us. That we exist as unique individuals, sharing the same DNA as our family, but sharing the uniqueness of our souls with nobody: each one of us is a work, a flash, a flame of that divine love. The proof of his love was that he keeps on loving us even when we stop loving Him, when we want to go our own way. The Cross of Christ isn’t about a God who loves death, but who dies for love’s sake, who loves us out of death and back into life.

Our destiny, Gerry’s destiny, is not death, but eternal life in the love of the God who first thought of him and created him to be loved and to love. God’s love for us is not the enemy of our human love, but its substance, its guarantee and its final goal. Jesus says that, when he has gone and prepared our place, our mansion in the Father’s house, he will come back and take us to himself. With these words, he redefines death. Death is not some evaporation into who knows what, who knows where. It is the Creator taking us by the hand and leading us to the throne of God, to the waters of everlasting gladness, to the communion and company of all those who have died in the love of God. Were I to say that goodbye doesn’t belong in the Christian vocabulary, I would not be going far enough. What I should really say is that it doesn’t belong in human vocabulary at all. Why? Because the pain of parting, as deep and as harrowing as it is, will one day yield to the joy of reunion, a joy which will never be taken from us. Human greatness does not end in the grave, but in the grace of eternal life.

Until that day comes, until the day when the Lord will come and take us to himself and all who live with him in eternity, the invitation to love and to keep on loving remains open with its promise of fulfilment in the Kingdom of God. Gerry loved the song, my sweet Lord. Now, we hope and we pray, he experiences the undiluted reality of that sweet Lord: sweet in His love, sweet in His mercy, sweet in His longing for us to be where He is. May our hope in this eternal truth give us courage and determination to move forward in hope and in peace. In that same hope, we commend Gerry to the loving mercy of his sweet Lord and ours.