The below text is the Homily of Bunbury Bishop Gerard Holohan from the Funeral of Rev Dr Russell Hardiman.
We have just heard St Paul reminding us in the Second Reading of this Mass that the Holy Spirit moves believers to serve others in different ways, giving different spiritual gifts through which God works. Today, we think especially of the gifts given to Fr Russell Hardiman.
St Paul wrote in another place: ‘The life and death of each of us has its influence on others’ [Romans 14:7]. We have gathered in this Cathedral for this Funeral Mass around the mortal remains of Fr Russell because we have all been influenced by his life and death as he used his gifts for the good.
We gather as his family and brothers in the priesthood; as his friends and colleagues; as his former parishioners and former students; as others who were inspired by his talks in parishes and other settings. Others will speak Words of Remembrance about his life within his family, his parishes and his tertiary contribution in no less than three universities from 1981 to 2012, as well as to other adult faith education bodies.
A giant figure
Physically, Fr Russell was small in stature. But he was a giant figure in Western Australia and beyond in advancing the renewal of the Church by the Second Vatican Council.
Initially, he was on the team for the Movement for a Better World which was promoting in the early 1970s what was called ‘The New Image of Parish’. This image was based upon the Council’s teaching on the Church as the People of God.
Fr Russel certainly gave himself selflessly for others. The major area of implementation of the Second Vatican Council Fr Russell was involved in, however, was liturgy. For this, he spent himself tirelessly over decades. I am reminded by this of the words of St Paul: ‘For none of us lives for himself’ [Romans 14:7].
First: a faithful priest
However, great though his achievements might be, his most important was to live as a good and faithful priest. His vocation was the engine which drove all that he did. This was the foundation for his relationship with the Lord.
The core of Fr Russell’s priestly spirituality was what is called the Paschal Mystery. Two of his six books were about this mystery and its celebration in liturgy. Their titles are:
- The Heart of the Liturgy: An Essential Guide to Celebrating the Paschal Mystery in Years A, B and C
- The Year of Years: The Paschal Mystery Celebrated in Worship.
Personal experiences of God we can never fully comprehend
In its religious sense, ‘mystery’ refers to the deeply personal experiences of God through Jesus Christ which are beyond our capacity to fully understand. To the extent that we enter into them, these experiences never stop deepening over a life time. The word ‘Paschal’ refers to the Jewish Passover feast, during which Christ died and rose again from the dead.
The term ‘Paschal Mystery’, therefore, refers to personal experiences of Christ which he made possible by his death and resurrection. The first recorded use of the term was in a homily by Melito of Sardis around 130 years after Christ.
My point in mentioning this is that the disciples of Jesus and Christians for at least 100 years after his Ascension knew the experiences of this mystery before ever the term was first recorded.
The theology of the Paschal mystery came only after Christian reflection on the experiences of Christ it celebrates. We must never stop at the theology to the neglect of the experiences.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains these experiences [Catechism of the Catholic Church 654].
The Paschal mystery has two aspects, by his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life …
Christ liberates us from sin
St Paul reminds us that there are two senses of sin. There is sin before the law and sin after the law [Romans 5:13].
Liberates from sin before the law
‘Sin before the law’ refers to human mortality and the other consequences of the Fall of our first parents on the human condition. Jesus began revealing himself as Redeemer by demonstrating his power over ‘sin before the law’ through his miracles.
We can experience the power of the Paschal mystery every time today that we open our hearts to Christ through liturgies, especially the Mass, which Fr Russell taught about. For example:
- every time we bring our life hurts to him seeking the healing power he showed by curing the sick. This includes healing from fears which prevent us from seeking professional help if we need it;
- every time we bring to Christ whatever cripples our efforts to live as he calls by seeking the power he demonstrated through enabling cripples to walk and the maimed to use their limbs
- every time we bring questions about God, ourselves and the challenges in our lives to Christ because we cannot ‘see’ (or are ‘blind’ to) answers, opening ourselves to his power to give sight
- every time we feel depressed and at an end, and seek from Christ the renewing power he showed by raising the dead
- every time we feel weak in the face of temptations to sin and seek from Christ the power he showed by casting out demons.
We experience Christ liberating us from sin ‘before the law’, therefore, every time that we experience his power as healing, liberating, enlightening, renewing and strengthening against temptations.
We are gathered around Fr Russell’s remains as people of faith who believe Christ’s promise that he will raise us all again on the Last Day.
Liberates from sin after the law
Jesus showed his power over sin ‘after the law’ by forgiving sins of disobedience against God’s commandments as taught by him [eg Matthew 5:17-48]. He cured the cripple to prove to the Pharisees that he can forgive sins.
Ultimately, he showed this by instituting what we now refer to as the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, which Fr Russell also taught about. We experience the Paschal mystery through this sacrament, therefore, every time we experience Christ liberating us from sin after the law by forgiving our sins.
By his Resurrection he opens the ways to a new life
What is this new life? It is the life of God or what Jesus called ‘eternal life’ [eg John 17:3]. This is the life Jesus was referring to when he taught why he came [John 10:10]
I came that they may have life and have it to the full.
This is the life Jesus taught that we receive through Baptism, which Fr Russell taught about. Jesus made clear that, for this life to strengthen within us, it needs to be nourished by the Eucharist, which Fr Russell also taught about. We remember Jesus’ words [John 6:53-54, 56]
In all truth I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person.
The divine life Jesus came to share with us empowers our efforts to think, speak and act like Christ himself in our daily lives. It is with faith in this power that we can strive daily to become ‘more Christ-like’:
- to love like him, even those we do not care for
- to forgive like him, even those who may have hurt us deeply
- to be just like him, even though it may be to our disadvantage
- to be compassionate like him, even though we might find it hard to resist being judgemental against someone
- to be merciful like him, even though we feel a deep desire for vengeance in our hearts
We experience empowerment through the Pascal mystery, therefore, every time we have a Christ-like thought or say a Christ-like word or perform a Christ-like deed.
The Catechism also reminds us that we are brothers and sisters with and in Christ because each of us here shares this life [Catechism of the Catholic Church 654]. Because he is the one who unites us, we are drawn spiritually closer every time we participate fully in the Eucharist.
My first encounter with Fr Russell was when seeking his advice about something I was writing in relation to liturgy. I was stressing the need for active internal participation.
Most significantly, Fr Russell added the word ‘heart-felt’ to internal participation. For him, participation in liturgy had to be ‘heart-felt’ if it was to be experienced as fruitful for our lives.
The sacred silences in the liturgy enhance this for these are the moments when we reflect with the Lord on our personal lives. For example, in this Mass, as the General Instruction invites [General Instruction on the Roman Missal 45]:
- we paused in the Penitential Act to remember with Jesus ways we failed to live as he taught
- we paused before the Collect Prayer to name the personal intentions we would like him to make his own
- we will pause after the homily to reflect with Jesus upon what the Word of God is calling for in our lives
- we will pause after Holy Communion to adore and pray to Christ within us.
If sacred silences are rushed, heart-felt participation will be weakened. These may be reasons why so many today say that the Eucharist is irrelevant to their lives.
As we reflect on the heart of Fr Russell’s ministry, which has affected us all, let us recall Jesus’ joy in the Gospel [Matthew 11:25]
I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children
The ‘children’ Jesus was referring to were his disciples, who were growing in faith. Like Jesus, let us ‘bless’ God for the insights he gave Fr Russell Hardiman, insights Fr Russell shared so freely with so many as he worked so hard to promote the renewal of the Church, especially its liturgy, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.
And, following his teaching, let us take a few moments with the Lord in our own hearts, remembering the experiences his first followers knew before ever the term ‘Paschal Mystery’ was coined. Let us open our hearts to these experiences through this Mass by asking ourselves:
- Where in my life might I need healing or help with other limitations of the human condition as a result of sin ‘before the law’?
- When might I need forgiveness as a result of my sins ‘after the law’?
- Where in my life might I need empowerment by the new life of God Christ shares within me so that I can love, forgive and be just, compassionate and merciful more like Christ himself?
Let us place our answers now before the Lord so that our participation in this Funeral Mass will be heart-felt.