This morning, the Archbishop of Toronto presided at the funeral of his predecessor, Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic. Archbishop Thomas Collins delivered the following homily to the congregation of over 1000 faithful who attended.
[singlepic id=168 w=400 h=300 float=right]As we gather to mourn Cardinal Ambrozic, and to celebrate this Funeral Mass for the repose of his soul, our consciousness of the Providence of God, and our faith in the Risen Lord, brings us consolation and hope in this time of sorrow.
Death reminds us all of the fragility of earthly life, and of our need to place our hope in the Lord alone, he who guides us on our pilgrimage through this vale of tears to the house of the heavenly Father. When we come together in the solemn rites of mourning of the Church, of our family of faith, we are ourselves strengthened through the Word of God, and through the Eucharist, and through our renewed awareness that when the time comes for each of us to die, we too will come before the Lord supported by the prayers of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Cardinal Ambrozic died the day before the feast of St Monica, the mother of St Augustine, patron of the seminary which was such an important part of his life. In his Confessions, Augustine writes of the death of his mother, and tells us that as Monica was dying, she made only one request of her son: “One thing only do I ask of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord, wherever you may be.”
Today we remember Cardinal Ambrozic at the altar of the Lord, offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which he himself offered as a priest for more than 56 years. The Christian wisdom of St Monica guides us today, as it has guided Christians down through the ages. We are not simply left bereaved, with only a memory of one whom we have loved; our Christian faith, the faith of Monica, dispels illusion, illuminates the reality of death, fills us with hope in the resurrection, and invites us to express our love effectively through prayer, especially in the Holy Eucharist, at the altar of the Lord.
In each Eucharist we are joined to the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ Our Lord; at a funeral Mass we are especially conscious that because of that death and resurrection, the stark and painful reality of death, which none of us escapes, is revealed to the eyes that see reality more clearly through faith, to be not a wall at the end of our life on earth, but rather a gateway to new life, to the fullness of life, in the kingdom of God no longer hidden, but experienced with the communion of saints in the heavenly Jerusalem.
It has long been the custom of Christians to mark the passage of time, morning, noon, and night, during our daily pilgrimage towards the new Jerusalem, with the Angelus, the prayer that speaks of the coming of the Lord into our midst, and of our response in obedience to His will. The Angelus ends with the words:
“Pour forth, we beseech you O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we to whom the incarnation of Christ your son was made known by the message of an angel, may by his passion and cross be brought to the glory of his resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.”
Amid the turmoil of this world, and our own struggles to find our way home to the house of the Father, we need sure guidance, a vision of the world beyond this life, and of the way in which, step by step, we can take up our own daily crosses and follow Christ to the glory of his resurrection. As a faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus, Cardinal Ambrozic followed that path to the resurrection, a path that at times meant a share in human suffering, as Our Lord himself endured suffering during his own passage through this world, in order truly to be for us Emmanuel – God with us.
But Cardinal Ambrozic was called not only to be a disciple, but also to be an apostle, and a pastor of God’s people, to serve them day by day through wise leadership and through stewardship of the vision of Divine Providence which gives us hope, and inspires us to love. Without vision, the people perish. We need vision, especially because we live in a world of great turmoil, and of much suffering, and of many distractions, where it is at times hard to see the hand of God.
Isaiah lived in such a world as well, and in the first reading of today’s Mass we hear how in his day, so many years ago, God gave him the vision to fulfil his vocation as spiritual leader of his people by helping them to see beyond their sorrows to the hope which is found in God’s provident love:
On this mountain, the Lord Sabaoth will prepare for all peoples a banquet of rich food. On this mountain he will remove the mourning veil covering all peoples, and the shroud enwrapping all nations. The Lord God will destroy death forever; he will wipe away the tears from every cheek.
These words console us in this time of sorrow, but they also remind us of the mission of spiritual leader which Cardinal Ambrozic so faithfully exercised for so many years in his vocation as priest and bishop.
Today we thank God for the blessings of his ministry among us, as he shared the vision that gives meaning to life, and that gives hope on the earthly journey. Through his apostolic ministry, in a world that often does not pay attention to the divine message of salvation, the Cardinal, like Isaiah, proclaimed: “See, this is our God, in whom we hope for salvation.”
For a disciple of Christ, and surely for an apostle of Christ, the vision of hope is made manifest above all in the love of Jesus. The Cardinal chose as his motto the simple ancient Christian proclamation: “Jesus is Lord.” In Jesus we find consolation in sorrow, and hope in the midst of the daily struggle.
As St Paul says in the second reading of today’s Mass:
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus Our Lord.
One who lives by the motto “Jesus is Lord”, as did the Cardinal, as should we all, is given a perspective that makes it possible to see clearly what is real and what is not. All the stormy waves on the surface of the sea cannot overwhelm one who is governed by the deep conviction that “Jesus is Lord.” From that conviction comes the wisdom to see the truth, and the courage to proclaim it. Life, even a long life by earthly standards, is too short for any of one of us to waste it on what is superficial. The Cardinal was deep, not superficial, because of his simple dedication to Jesus, the Lord.
He once wrote:
It is Jesus to whom we look.
It is Jesus whom we imitate.
It is Jesus whom we follow.
It is Jesus who is with us so we can be with him.
Yes, we work with others.
Yes, we learn from others.
But in Jesus we find our ultimate identity and purpose.
He is the Alpha and the Omega for each one of us and for every human being.
As we celebrate this Holy Eucharist, and at this solemn moment reflect more deeply than we usually do, amid the distracting bustle of life, on the things that matter, and on the things that do not, on what is profound and on what is superficial, we do well to ponder the guiding principle of Cardinal Ambrozic’s life: “Jesus is Lord.” He lived according to that as a disciple, and proclaimed that as an apostle and pastor. It is the simple vision of the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus Our Lord.
That vision is expressed bluntly in the opening words of the Gospel of Mark, most straightforward of all the Gospels, to which Cardinal Ambrozic specially dedicated his scholarly work: “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” There is nothing fancy in that, but in those words we find direction for life. In dutiful service, we are daily to follow Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Cardinal received many honours during his life, and played an important role in the universal Church as a Cardinal, most notably in his participation in the Conclave that elected Pope Benedict. In 2002 he welcomed the world to Toronto at World Youth Day. But the vision of hope that he lived and proclaimed was expressed more quietly and more profoundly through a life of daily fidelity to his mission as disciple, pastor, and apostle. He once wrote of what he expected in a priest: “I look for a simple readiness to sacrifice, a simple readiness to give of oneself .” Whatever one’s vocation, that simple spirit of unobtrusive fidelity is the best way to proclaim: “Jesus is Lord.” The Lord is found not in the thunder or in the lightening, but in the still small voice of a sacrificial life.
In today’s Gospel, from the Gospel of Mark, we read of the way in which Jesus the Lord ended his time on earth in suffering, but as Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome sorrowfully approach the tomb to offer him the customary rites of burial, they see a young man who confounds and comforts them with the words: “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” Jesus is Lord, not a past memory but a living presence, he who rules the universe and pleads for us before the Heavenly Father as our great High Priest to whose service Cardinal Ambrozic dedicated his life.
Today we pray that as we sadly ponder the reality of earthly death we may gain wisdom of heart, to see more clearly how we should fill each precious moment of our own brief passage through this world with the love of God and of neighbour, with quiet, faithful service, every step of the way.
We pray for Cardinal Ambrozic, for God’s mercy upon him, and for the repose of his soul. We thank God for the gift of the Cardinal’s earthly life, for his love of family and friends, for his sacrificial service as a priest of Jesus Christ. He does not merely live on in memory, for he is with the Lord, but we do remember him with love, and seek to live more truly as Christians by imitating his selfless dedication.
Eternal Rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.