Homily at the Requiem Mass of Fr John (Malachy) Clune O.P.
The Road to Emmaus: Luke 24:13–35 | Fr Robert Eccles preaches on the Friar Preacher’s friendship with one another and with the Risen Lord who is our Friend.
The way of the missionary disciples sees them walk together in the company of their Risen Lord, known but not yet knowing. As all believers who will come after them are to walk by faith and not by sight, not yet seeing face to face. Already at every step, the risen Saviour teaches them little by little all the things that concern himself. He is with them as one known and yet not fully known. There is all the tiredness, heat and thirst of the journey (this life can be a long journey, seven miles to Emmaus, isn’t it, and seven is biblical shorthand for, the whole thing). Those disciples know what it is to walk in disappointment and sadness. Who can tell the pain of bereavement at the hour of parting? We can never have enough of those we love and too soon they may be taken from us. It can be puzzling to find how God treats even his friends.
Doesn’t the story of what happened to them on the road touch us in strangely familiar ways? These two had endured so much, still without making sense of it. When he first came to them it was in an hour of confusion and discouragement. Why does it matter that they were two, not one all on his own? Cleopas and his friend… there always does have to be another to be alongside, nobody undertakes the way of discipleship without a friend. Just what a novitiate is about, incidentally, the fellows need time to become friends. Not just any friend will do, this is personal, just as we know Cleopas by name. You never heard of a novice having the idea to take for his new name, Cleopas – I suppose they’ll all want to do it now!
We are known to one another and given one another for friendship’s sake and Christ who enters into this human friendship comes to make a third, indeed he wants to enter in to all our relationships. He comes to wipe away the bitter tears of grief and give that spring of water welling up to eternal life. This is the work of the Spirit, the Spirit who “is not” until the paschal mystery is complete and its fifty days are done. What happens when Christ steps between us? When someone leaves home and family to follow him, as Father John did all those years ago, what a sense of separation, the wide ocean was even wider then. But did not Christ give him back to you? Didn’t he renew your love for one another in a wonderful way? “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren.”
The risen Christ came a stranger to those who had been his friends and talked to them along the road until their hearts burned strangely within their breasts. He appeared to be going further, there would always be so many more for him to meet, but they prevailed on him to turn in with them for supper, he took and broke the bread and they knew him then; the friend who had been a stranger had become a friend again, in the breaking of the bread.
The Order of Preachers is a friendship because only friends can witness to the love that is most like friendship, the divine love. Disciples are sent two by two for in that way they can best witness to the care God has for those who are weary of the road. This gospel about the veiled companionship of the risen Lord speaks to me today because John Joseph Clune, Malachy, was a wayfarer all his life. Dominicans must pack their bags a lot and move on. This one came amongst strangers and wayfarers across the face of the earth to offer them the friendship of our Lord. He travelled light, there was nothing much he ever needed or kept for himself, I think. A wayfaring life made up of brief encounters and enduring loyalties, a confession heard, a need to pray, a cheerful encouraging word, a call for help in time of trouble, a haven for the stranger in a hard time, can you imagine? Some people we meet perhaps only once but they are unforgettable, some personalities light up the room. Nobody who met that quizzical eye will easily forget him. The eyebrows were fierce, but the smile was gentle.
The gospel of the road to Emmaus speaks to this dusty restless life of our discipleship. We so much want to be at the truth of things, but the search for truth is such a struggle, indeed it is for the preacher, from whom people expect the truth. Ours is a lifelong wrestling with the Word, a constant assault on the Scriptures to bring forth their sense. Yet the toughness of the Bible is not the real problem, but our own reluctance and sluggishness to be teachable and receive the Word of Life. How slow of heart are we to believe all that the prophets have spoken! But the Spirit of the Lord is here and he is leading us into all the truth. The Easter Jesus sets before the pilgrims the table of the Word to prepare them to find themselves companions at the table of the divine presence where Christ is truly known, as we are known to him.
We saw something particularly touching in Father John. You know just what it is because you waylaid him to hear your confession, or you wouldn’t leave the room without asking his blessing. Would you? We were humbled by his gratitude. When every other thing in life had slipped through his fingers he never lost his prayerfulness, his sense of the presence of God. And nothing is more worthwhile than to be God’s friend. So he goes on before us towards the eternal Easter with the Lord.
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