Homily at the Requiem Mass of Fr Michael Phillips, OSB Ampleforth Abbey
20 August 2021
From the cards, emails and letters that we have received since the death of Fr Michael it is clear that he was held in high regard as a teacher of physics, a leader of expeditions, a coach of tennis, a parish priest who was dedicated in his pastoral ministry and not least a friend.
While all this is edifying, at this very moment what is important is not what he did - our achievements are not the most significant thing about us - what is important is our/his faith in Jesus, the doorway to eternal life.
We gather today not to remember Michael but to pray for him. This is what we do as Catholics. We do not have these 'self-referential' memorial services that seem to place all the emphasis on the deceased, which end up simply saying nice things about them, almost canonizing them. The Mass which we participate in today is not a memorial service but an entrance into the sacrifice which Jesus offered for us. The pledge of our gift of eternal life.
Today, as in every Mass, we enter and participate in the liturgy of heaven. For just as the grave could not hold Jesus Christ, because of this, it cannot hold all those united to him.
The Word of God that we have listened to points us in the right direction. Daniel in his great vision reminds us that the dead only appear so they are destined to everlasting life. Paul highlights our confidence - the mercy of God who will, in Christ, bring us, as the Gospel announces, to glory. You see, because the Resurrection was so much more than the resuscitation of Jesus' dead body- because it was, in fact the glorification of his humanity the Resurrection makes possible the glorification of all humanity. It offers all those who die in Christ the promise of rising like Christ.
As ever, it is instructive to let the liturgy speak for itself. How we treat the deceased in our Catholic liturgy highlights what dignity we give to each person not because they have achieved anything or been successful. Therefore, the homily on such occasions does not rehearse the c.v. of the deceased monk, for what purpose? In fact, how very sad it is when Christians and monks put more store in other people's opinions, in their so-called worldly reputations, than the supreme gift of being a carrier of the image and likeness of God.
We pay respect to the deceased because of what God in his great mercy has called us to be - sharers in His life and love - inhabitants of heaven. That we pray for the dead is our Christian duty and we learn from this liturgy today exactly where our priorities ought to lie. The one thing certain is that one day each one of us will be in the state that Fr Michael is in now.
We learn therefore to live our life now as an anticipation of heaven. Born for glory, we decide not to settle for a life half lived. Rather we embrace the gift of eternity that this Eucharistic banquet gives to us. To receive Jesus in the Eucharist is to receive the resurrection into ourselves. Here is our hope, this is our faith.
Abbot Robert Igo OSB