Homily of the Archbishop of Liverpool, Most Rev Malcolm McMahon OP, at the Requiem Mass of Fr John Seddon, Friday 6 March 2015.
John Seddon RIP.
Deep within us the Lord has written his Law on our hearts. That deep truth was prophesied by Jeremiah and was made real for us in Jesus Christ who came to fulfil the Law. The law as we know it is a law of love – much harder to keep than a law that consists of lists of rights and wrongs. But a big heart can contain more – it contains the love of God made visible in Jesus Christ.
You might have thought that John Seddon would make a great policeman. He was a big bloke with big feet and a big heart. He was just the kind of person we want in our society to uphold the law and keep the peace. But in a peculiar way John’s heart led him to serve the community in a different way as a priest. His calling to serve the community, God’s holy faithful people, as Pope Francis puts it took many forms: policeman, port chaplain, national scout chaplain, Lourdes pilgrim – but they were all encompassed by this big man’s heart. His heart was bursting with love.
The thing about hearts in Jeremiah’s time was that they were understood to be the centre of justice in a person. It was in the heart that you discerned the difference between right and wrong. Hearts weren’t necessarily a place for your affections, but then a law of love is about justice too, and those who knew John would find in him an energy, power, that came from his heart.
That is why we will all miss John dreadfully. Like St Paul, he could be all things to all people. Because he loved people, he absorbed their experiences into his heart. He had what psychologists called empathy, so whether he was dining at the captain’s table of sitting around a campfire eating spuds and sausages he was at home and at ease. That is why priesthood suited John. Through him many individuals found a way to God. In John they found sincerity and authenticity, and with him they broke bread and shared the cup and were true companions on the journey through life.
But I believe that every priest preaches a sermon beyond death. John requested today that we wear white vestments to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and the hope that we will all be included in that moment of glory. He is not saying that we shouldn’t pray for him, that he will be pardoned of his sins ( that is our solemn duty) – we must always dare the dead to step into the light with our prayers. He is saying that he wants us to share in the joy that he found in Jesus, and not to be miserable. He is saying that our hope in the coming of the Lord is not optimism but true hope based on Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and he is saying that although life is full of pain it can still be joyful.
Unbeknown to many John had lived with the sickness that killed him for many years. He had received excellent medical treatment and lived a full life – it is a tribute to the knowledge and skill of the medical profession that he was able to live such a varied and energetic life in the service of the Lord. But the Lord had given John great strength to enable him to carry out his work. Every time John went on pilgrimage to Lourdes he must have wondered why he was so blessed when he ministered to the sick. Deep within his heart was God’s love bursting to get out but also within him was a medical condition that was always life threatening. We never know what goes on inside another’s heart, body or mind – except that that person deserves our respect and would be loved by Lord. For many pilgrims John was an embodiment of that love. That is his message for us that we must see the face of Christ in others: the young scout learning to work with others, a seafarer a long way from home, an elderly couple on a Caribbean cruise still seeking some meaning in life, a fellow patient in hospital, a barman in Lourdes or a sick pilgrim. These and many more were to John a reflection of the incarnate God.
It was john’s confidence in the Lord who called him to serve him as a priest that gave John the serenity and courage to look death in the face. He had followed his master, and served him faithfully. Jesus said in the Gospel we have just heard:
“If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.”
So that is our prayer today: Father, forgive John his sins and honour him by welcoming him into your kingdom.
Reproduced by kind permission of Archbishop McMahon.