No one excluded from the reach of his love
A year on, Paul would be well pleased. On seeing this full church, he would think, 'I can still draw a crowd.' On seeing the sanctuary, he would think, 'They need one Jesuit and two diocesan priests to replace me.' Welcome to you all, and a special welcome to Monsignor Tony Doherty and Fr Brian Lucas.
I flew in last night from Coffs Harbour. On Friday evening, we had a great event up there hosted by the Council of Churches reflecting on Aboriginal, refugee, and environmental issues. On Saturday, I had a working lunch with the Sawtell Catholic parish's social justice group. As I was flying in here, I thought, 'What would Coleman have to say about these meetings?' It would go something like this: 'It's all very well talking about these things, but what are people actually doing? We don't need to be setting up our own structures for dealing with social and political issues. We just need to encourage in faith those who have the expertise, those who actually know what they're talking about and those who have to make the decisions.' You'd be left in no doubt that Paul knew what he was talking about and he sure hoped you did too, but he had his doubts.
At breakfast yesterday morning, the family I was staying with tried to convince me that I should stay on for an extra day to enjoy the wonderful beaches of Sawtell, watching the whales as they made their way back south. I said I needed to be back here for this morning's mass. The wife recalled the wonderful Fr Coleman, that fine priest, who even when he was dying visited her husband in the Mater Hospital and brought him communion. Wherever you go, there is a story about the pastoral ministrations of Fr Paul Coleman who was always there at the bedside and at the altar offering sacramental largesse to all who sought it, and even to some of those who did not.
A year on, we can see that it was very considerate of Paul to die in Spring. Michael Leunig has just published his ode To Spring:
The spirit rises from its tomb.
The weary soul is coming into bloom.
We've made it through. We will survive.
The soil is sweet and love is still alive.
The bell of happiness is ringing.
A little bird inside your heart is singing.
Think back a year ago when we were all in mourning. Michael Kelly summed it up in his funeral eulogy: 'We don't just bury the mortal remains of Paul Coleman today. We bury something of ourselves.' Individually and as the worshipping community, we felt that part of us had died. I daresay that over the past year, each of us has worked through a cycle moving from our winter of discontent with the questions: How could we do it without him? What would he do? We have moved to the springtime affirmation: Paul is with us. Now we find ourselves saying: I can hear him telling us just to get on with life, get out there and do something, make a difference.
In death as in life, Paul is always telling us that Christ's love is for all. His was and is a ministry of inclusion — a ministry to be practised by all, and a ministry to be extended to all. You know how we Jesuits are committed to charity and truth, especially when it comes to assessing the strengths and weaknesses of our brother Jesuits. At the funeral Michael Kelly said, 'The most extraordinary thing about Paul, given how prissy and precious he could be at times, was that he was absolutely inclusive.' In his inimitable style, Mick said that for Paul, no one was too high or too low, too fat or too thin, too egocentric or too self-deprecating to be included within his circle of ministry and care. No one was excluded from the reach of his love. David Strong summed it up this way: 'Paul's fame increased as he engaged with anyone in need, or not.' Seeking a place for everyone in our world and at the table of the Lord, Paul did not break the crushed reed nor quench the wavering flame.
He accompanied so many of your relatives, friends and fellow parishioners on the last stages of the journey of life. When I last visited him in the Mater, he said that he was now seeing life from the other side of the lake. The ever independent Paul had fought the good fight to the end. He had run the race to the finish. He had kept the faith. Now it was his turn to surrender all depending totally on his God. As we now look back on his many years of active ministry, his work and presence take on added significance as we perceive them through the prism of his own dying and trust in the Lord.
Like Jesus, Paul is now asking each of us, 'Do you love me?' And if you do, do something about it. 'Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.' Make a place for everyone at your table and in your world. Don't exclude anyone, no matter how high or low they be, no matter how fat or thin, no matter how egocentric or self-deprecating. We are all gathered here one year on, in all shapes and sizes, with all types of dispositions, but united in our desire to be sustained by the bread of life. No matter what freedom we now enjoy, each of us knows that an integral part of our journey will be the surrender when a belt is put around us, taking us where we would rather not go. But Paul is there having gone before us. Like Rumi, he is saying,
I can't really explain what it's like where I live
But someday I'll meet you there
Gamble everything for love
We Jesuits have a little book called the Ordo which lists the scripture readings of the day, the saint of the day, the Jesuit birthdays, and the anniversary of the Jesuit deaths. The Australian Ordo now lists three Coleman brothers in death, Michael, Gerald and Paul. They are brothers and brothers in Christ. We thank God that they are sharing the crown of righteousness reserved for those who have longed for his appearing. Let's go forth as inclusive ambassadors of light and freedom sustained by the promise:
I have taken you by the hand and formed you;
I have appointed you as covenant of the people
and light of the nations, to open the eyes of the blind,
to free captives from prison,
and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.
Frank Brennan SJ is the CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia.