For seven of the thirteen years that I was assigned to St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish in Beverly, I lived with a wonderful priest named Fr. Edward Geary. Fr. Geary was a great priest with whom to live and work. I had intended to write something about him, but the homily at his funeral Mass--given by his good friend Fr. Francis Conroy--was so beautiful and was so accurate a portrait of Fr. Geary, that I will simply provide that homily here instead. It was a privilege to know Fr. Geary, to minister with him, and to live with him.
Father Edward Geary was a man of deep faith, sharp mind, and quiet strength. He carried out his ministry quietly and effectively. He never took center stage or promoted himself. He and I lived in the same rectory for 20 years – most of those years as a team ministry in North Reading and Marblehead. We both smiled at the coincidence that our fathers, although unknown to one another, also worked in the same place. We were brother priests, and we were friends. It was a grace to have been stationed with him.
Edward was a quietly remarkable man. He was a totally approachable priest for almost five decades. These five decades have seen great change – through all this change, through all these seasons, he remained priest, servant, and disciple of the Lord. A poet has written,
The awful daring of a moment's surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed
[T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land]
Perhaps the most public moment’s surrender in Father Geary’s life was on February 6, 1964, when he was ordained a priest. That moment’s surrender has been reaffirmed faithfully for these five decades. Pope John XXIII said, Do not walk through time without leaving worthy evidence of your passage. The worthy evidence of this priest’s passage is abundant. It has been a singular grace for each of us to have known him.
These last few years have been difficult for Father Geary. With the strong and admirable support of his family, he moved through these difficulties with typical dignity and grace. When the effects of the treatment became unacceptable and there was little hope of improvement, he discontinued the treatment and prepared to die. As usual, his preparation was thorough and complete. He did not back into death – he faced it with both deliberation and preparation. He has shown us how to die.
This morning we gather in memory of Jesus and we celebrate Father Geary’s place within that larger and stronger memory of the Lord. It is important to keep this focus in mind. The Church teaches us that we are not the center – Christ is the center. Our greatness is that, beginning in Baptism and continuing in Eucharist, we are more and more oned with Christ – Christ alone is forever. Notice! The Church surrounds Father Geary’s remains with reminders of his Baptism – the white pall, the Paschal candle, the holy water at yesterday's service. In Baptism his life became a pilgrimage to the Absolute – it is our hope that his pilgrimage is now complete. Today the Church celebrates a funeral Eucharist – the Eucharist was his way of life, and is his way of death. The Eucharist is, as one of the prayers after communion in the funeral liturgy tells us, food for the journey. The Church places Edward deeply in Christ. How strengthening that is for this moment. Alone no one of us is a match for death. Oned with Christ we are forever. Father Geary’s deep faith gives us reason for hope that his death marks his transition into eternity. That is our hope, we who have known him, we who continue to walk by faith, not by sight [2 Corinthians 5.7].
The second reading speaks of faith’s courage within suffering.
…although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory....
The Hebrew word for glory is rooted in the notion of heaviness, weightiness. Faith trusts that the weight of affliction will be light by comparison with the weight of glory. Faith looks not to what is seen but to what is unseen for, as Paul tells us, what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.
The Gospel passage is from that section of John’s Gospel often called The High Priestly Prayer. Within that prayer Jesus says, Father, my disciples are your gift to me. The Gospels clearly show that the disciples are far from being a perfect gift – the Gospels show their flaws and even their betrayal. Even with their flaws and betrayal we call them all, with the exception of Judas, saint – and the Church has ongoing hope for Judas. Jesus says that the disciples are the Father’s gift to him. With all their flaws, with all their limitations, Christ recognizes them to be gift. What does he see in them? Perhaps it is their generosity, perhaps it is their desire to be with him, perhaps it is their openness through which some of the Gospel reaches others, perhaps it is simply that they keep showing up – whatever it is, Jesus recognizes them to be gift from the Father. Today we remember a man whom we know to be a disciple of the Lord. We do not claim that we have seen in him a flawless man. We claim only that we have seen in him one who pointed to Christ. We have experienced in him an invitation, not to follow him, but to be with him in following Christ. That invitation is the greatest gift anyone could ever be for another. Father Edward Geary has been that gift for so many.
More than 900 years ago Saint Bernard said this on the death one of his brothers in the monastery of Clairvaux.
We can never lose one
whom we have loved to the end.
One to whom our soul cleaves so firmly
that it can never be separated
does not go away,
but only goes before.
Father Edward Geary has been respected and loved to the end and beyond. He has not gone away – he has gone before. With faith in Jesus Christ and with hope in the resurrection, we commend him to our good and compassionate God. We give thanks for all the gifts God has placed in his life, gifts through which God has enriched and blessed our lives and our archdiocese so abundantly. We pray for his peace. May God be good to our brother, our brother-in-law, our uncle, our grand uncle, our nephew, our cousin, our priest, our pastor – may God be good to Edward Geary, our friend – for all eternity.