St Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore, 2 May 2016
HOMILY: Before I begin I would like to thank Monsignor John John Kallarakal, Counsellor of the Apostolic Nunciature in Canberra for his presence with us this morning, and for conveying on behalf of the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Yllana, a message of condolence from His Holiness Pope Francis. The message, forwarded by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, reads as follows:
“The Holy Father was saddened to learn of the death of the Most Reverend John Steven Satterthwaite, Bishop Emeritus of Lismore, and he sends his condolences to the priests, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful of the Diocese. Recalling with gratitude the late Prelate’s many years of service to God’s people, Pope Francis joins you and all present at the Funeral Rites in commending his soul to the tender mercy of our heavenly Father. To all who mourn Bishop Satterthwaite’s passing, the Holy Father cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of consolation and strength in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State.”
His Excellency Archbishop Yllana, who was present with us recently for the dedication of the cathedral altar, sends his apologies with the following message:
“I also express my sentiments of communion with God’s people of Lismore as they pray to the Lord to grant Bishop John Steven Satterthwaite eternal rest and peace in his heavenly kingdom.”
My dear brother bishops and priests, Bishop John’s family and friends, all present in this assembly, and the many others who have been unable to come to Lismore, including Bishop John’s sisters Joan and Pat, and many of his brother bishops, but who nonetheless wish to join us in remembrance and prayer:
Yesterday was the forty-seventh anniversary of the ordination of Bishop John Satterthwaite as a bishop, here in this Cathedral, by l Norman Thomas Cardinal Gilroy. Not long before, the the Rector of the seminary of the Marist Fathers at Toongabbie in Sydney cautioned the students to keep the house quiet over the next week because a Father Satterthwaite was coming to make his retreat in preparation for his episcopal consecration in Lismore. In fact we did not see much of him but I do recall his slim figure in a black soutane pacing each evening the long front drive of the seminary, his hands behind him telling the beads of his rosary. No one could have imagined that, thirty years later, that student then approaching diaconate, would be called to succeed him as bishop, and on this day it would fall to him to be speaking these words at his Mass of Christian Burial.
In fact, as many of you might guess, he probably would prefer that no words were said at all. He was never one for eulogies, and his own homilies at funerals were known for their brevity and their focus not on the one who had died, about whom everyone knew anyway, but on the wonder and the truth of what Christ has made possible for us through His defeat of death, and the consolation which His resurrection alone can bring to the burden of those who mourn.
He was not the only bishop who worried about all the nice things, however true, it is tempting to say in eulogies. One recalls the late Cardinal Heenan of Westminster who said in advance that he wanted none of this, no gilded words, since people might get the impression that there was no need to pray for him as he faced the judgement. What he wanted more than anything else, the most charitable and necessary thing that Christians can do, was that everyone would pray and offer Masses for him, the most beneficial sign of their love and esteem. I believe Bishop John would prefer the same. So I will follow his example by being brief and to the point, remembering what he once said that, if he were to have a long purgatory it would not be because of any long sermons.
Such is the passing of the generations that those approaching or past their middle years will be those who best remember Bishop John’s years in Lismore. The people of Port Macquarie of course will best remember him in the fifteen years to the time of his passing. One way or another in this past week we have all felt a sense of loss. The priests who worked closely with him in the times of change and uncertainty in his early years, the older men ordained by Bishop Farrelly, the 45 priests he himself ordained will feel a special loss; and those of us who have come since: we all came to love and respect him for his good sense, his sharp mind and balanced judgement, and his faith, simple, straightforward and unafraid.
The priests, the brothers and sisters in consecrated life, all worked with him readily because he was vitally interested, and encouraged them, in their work. Everyone knew that his leadership was directed to the good of the Church, the Church first and above all. It was not easy steering the ship of the faith through the rips and tides and undertows of those two decades following the Second Vatican Council, and it was due to Bishop John’s stable judgement and steady leadership that the Church in this Diocese weathered the time so well and built up a new generation to face what is now upon us.
Aware of his own limitations, Bishop John drew from among the faithful men and women of the Church those who could advise and assist him in various areas. He trusted them, and they responded in placing their professional experience and acumen at the service of the Diocese, to build up its resources for mission, to ensure that the works of education, charity and health care could be extended in the name of Christ. This collaboration was built around a leader whom they knew placed the good of the Church and her work in Christ’s name above all other considerations. Recalling their close association with Bishop John in that foundational and enduring work will I am sure bring to those men and women a particular sadness at his passing.
But because we are followers of Christ we do not let ourselves simply dwell with memories of the past, going home after a funeral to let time heal our sense of loss. St Paul reminded us that the troubles and and sad partings of this life, which of its nature falls constantly into decay, are there to train us for the carrying of a weight of eternal glory which is out of all proportion to them.
When Bishop John was ordained a priest it was to preach the Good News of Christ’s Kingdom which is not of this world, to train the eyes of believers to see past what is visible, the things that last only for a time, to rest upon the invisible things that are eternal. Through his hours of early morning prayer day by day in this cathedral, in this house built by human hands as a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem, his determined faith in the house built by God for us in the heavens must surely have been nourished, to be given in witness in his ministry to guide others safely homewards.
For this reason we cannot be sorry that Bishop John has been called home by God, nor would he want us to be. It is for us now to thank God for his life and ministry, and join together in prayer, invoking the intercession of our Blessed Lady and all the saints, to speed him happily on his way. Eternal rest grant to him O Lord . . .