" My Jesus, I will love only You; You are the only one I wish to please. "
St. Alphonsus Liguori
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Funeral Homily for Fr John Mulligan, October 2nd 2018...


Archbishop Peter, bishops, fellow clergy and religious, dear family and friends of Fr John, dear parishioners of St Teresa’s, dear all:

Throughout our lives we do thousands of things unthinkingly, ordinary routine stuff that we do every day with no great sense of drama or fuss. But we know that there will be a time in all our lives when it will be the last time, the very last time we do things. Tomorrow is guaranteed to nobody. There will surely be:

  • the last time we open the curtains and greet a new day
  • the last time we speak to those we love
  • the last time we hear someone call our name
  • the last time we wonder if all that effort was worth it.

Perhaps it is a mercy that few of us are given to know when that last time will be. Certainly Father John Mulligan did not: God called this energetic priest to enjoy a well-deserved eternal rest. Only God could make Father John rest.

Sometimes in life we get lucky, and whether we are priest or lay, no matter, we get to meet someone who offers us a glimpse of the living Gospel, however cloudy. In this person, no matter how fragile, we can catch a glimpse of the enduring commitment of our dear Lord Jesus Christ.

For me that person was Fr John – a dear friend of 15 years. Strange to admit, he was a friend who scared me some because of the unyielding demands he made on himself and his towering expectations of priestly ministry. Why would you hold onto a friend who scares you? But as the Duke of Wellington said on the eve of the battle of Waterloo when observing his own troops: "I don’t know what our men do to the enemy, but they scare the hell out of me."

He was a loyal critic of some Church practices. I remember saying to him one day: "John, if I were your bishop I think I would make my own the words that King Henry II spoke of Thomas Becket: "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" He laughed easily. His commitment to the Church as dean and parish priest and his devotion to his beloved parishioners were breath-taking.

I liked what Canon Alan McLean said to me about Father John: "Sometimes I wanted to take a few batteries out of John so he would slow down." But slowing down was never on his agenda. 

Father John was an authentic driven disciple, of independent mind, like the apostle Thomas in the Gospel.

The great Irish writer Oscar Wilde has a wonderful short prose piece, called The Master. After the death of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is walking past the tombs in the Kidron Valley when he comes across a disciple who is weeping. The disciple is alone, separated from the others. He has wounded his body with thorns and covered his head in ashes.

Joseph of Arimathea says: "I do not wonder that your sorrow is so great, for surely Jesus was a just man."

And the disciple answers, "I weep for Jesus, yes, but not only for him but for myself. I too have healed the leper; from the dwellers in the tombs I have cast out devils. I have fed the hungry in the desert, and at my bidding, a barren fig-tree withered away. All things that the master has done I have done as his disciple. So tell me this: Why have they not arrested me? Why have they not crucified me?"

In the Gospel the other disciples are gathered in a locked room. The brutal violence against their master has made them security-conscious. They have become runaways from a society they fear is hostile, so they lock themselves into what they hope is a safe house. But, but, dear friends: no one is after them; no Temple police are hunting them down; no Roman soldiers are stomping the Jerusalem alleyways seeking their hideout. They all lock themselves in, except one: the independent disciple Thomas. He leaves the locked room behind him and walks the streets. I think Thomas is the most intelligent of the disciples: he knows something the others do not: without Jesus, the disciples are a threat to nobody.

Even though the other disciples are locked in, they cannot keep out the pressing love of the risen Jesus. Jesus breathes on them: the disciples breathe in and the Spirit enlivens them to become missionary disciples. But one of their number is missing – Thomas. When he arrives back, he refuses to believe the story of the others.

Thomas is part of the apostolic group, but he is also a distinct, independent self. He is, I think, stunningly modern: he cannot be loyal to the group while being disloyal to his own inner self. That would make his loyalty worthless. For Thomas honesty is more important than loyalty. So he refuses to become part of this company of believers: he cannot shelter in a faith he does not believe.

Unlike Judas, Thomas did not betray Jesus; unlike Peter, he did not deny him. There is a stubborn authenticity about Thomas: he refuses to say that he can understand or believe when he can manage neither understanding nor belief. Thomas is brave enough to have the conviction of his doubts which he shares honestly with his community.

Later, the risen Jesus invites Thomas to inspect his wounds. But seeing Jesus is enough for Thomas, and he is the one who proclaims the basic Christian credo: "My Lord and my God." As Thomas is fearless in voicing his doubts, he is quick to proclaim his faith, and it is he who makes the most important affirmation in all the Gospels about who Jesus is – that he is Lord and God. It is Thomas who invites us to Adoremus: let us adore the one who is our Lord and our God.

Father John died on the eve of Adoremus, and he devoted so much time and energy to promoting that Eucharistic pilgrimage – for Southwark and nationally – that it seems unfair he was deprived of seeing the fruits of his labour. But while we looked upon the sacred host, John had already moved on to witness so much more, as we pray in Eucharistic Prayer III in the Mass for the dead:

  • For seeing you, our God, as you are,
  • we shall be like you for all the ages

That is Father John’s true destiny:

  • For seeing you, our God, as you are,
  • he shall be like you for all the ages...

Finally, if I may share a consoling thought on death.

In 1910 while the body of King Edward VII lay in state at Westminster Abbey, Canon Henry Scott Holland, a priest at St. Paul’s Cathedral, preached a sermon on death. In the sermon, he offered this profound Christian meditation. When I hear this I hear Father John’s practical voice:

    Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. 
    Let my name be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

Eternal rest, grant unto him O Lord…

Fr Denis McBride CSsR