Homily – Fr. Cyril Elkington

My dear friends in Christ.

I count it a great honour to have been invited by dear Father Cyril to preach the homily today.

Not leaving anything to chance he prepared his obituary except of course the date of his death.  This is printed on the back of the Order of Service.

“Remember me as loving you”.

This is a quote from Fr. John Powell SJ and is printed on his memorial card.  It captures the man and brother priest, I have come to know and cherish as friend.

I have come to know him very well since I was appointed as parish priest here in Bromley over 10 years ago.

He gave me a warm welcome, wise council and a quality of friendship that I treasure.

But it was back in 1988 that I first came to appreciate the quality of the man and the priest.

The occasion was our Archdiocesan summer school on the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

This was a very significant event in the diocese when bishops, priests and lay people from across the diocese gathered to explore how the church now wishes us to welcome and initiate new members into the church.

During the course of this week long event I came to recognise in Fr. Cyril a priest who had thoroughly embraced the thinking of Vatican II.

He was prayerful and had a love for the scriptures and the liturgy of the Church.

He had a great gift of friendship.

He simply loved people with great warmth and graciousness but like Pope Francis he shunned all forms of clericalism.

This was all reflected in the way he went about his pastoral work and in particular the initiation of new members into the family of the Church.

For Fr. Cyril the initiation of new members into the Church was the responsibility of all the baptised, laity and clergy alike.

His pastoral approach was that of collaboration with all the baptised – all equal in dignity and action.

Fr. Cyril specifically requested that the funeral pall should cover his coffin in death, as the white garment enfolded him at his baptism.

He saw himself as sharing with all the baptised in his parish, in the life and mission of Jesus, priest, prophet and king.

His ministry as ordained priest was to be their servant, shepherding the flock of God.

His great passion was to foster in them a deep awareness of their baptismal vocation.

As priests they were to offer worship to the Father;

as prophets to witness to truth in word and deed, and as kings they were to be foot washers with Christ the servant king.

With Saint John Paul, Fr. Cyril would say that the most important day in his life was the day of his baptism.

Every year Fr. Cyril, even in his retirement, would gather a group of people from the parish to take them through a ‘Life in the Spirit Seminar’.

In addition he used to gather groups to explore one of the several books by John Powell SJ.  The titles of some of them are:

  1. Why am I afraid to tell you who I am?
  2. The secret of staying in love.
  3. Unconditional Love.

His objective was to form and nourish his people in the journey of discipleship.  It is not surprising then that Fr. Cyril chose the words of John Powell for his memorial card “Remember me as loving you”.

He believed that the Spirit was poured into our hearts at baptism and is a living vital reality in the lives of all the baptised as we grow more and more in the likeness of Jesus.

One essential is required,

we need to be open to this wellspring of God’s life in us.

He loved the words of Pope Francis.

“The Joy of the Gospel fills the minds and hearts of all who encounter Christ”.

This was particularly evident in the life of Fr. Cyril.

Following the closure of St. Raphael’s Nursing Home where he used to celebrate Mass every Sunday, Fr. Cyril came to the 9.15am Mass here.

He would arrive latterly in his wheelchair assisted by one of our parishioners at ten to nine and get ready to concelebrate, right up to a month before he died.

He would reach out with both hands to greet me and with a radiant smile say “Peace and joy in the Lord be with you”.

This was a real encounter every time, and the joy of God in him was manifest.

Many will remember Fr. Cyril as a very intelligent and gracious man.

Full of fun stories.

People found it easy to be in his company.

I will share with you just one of his many stories.

Three people having a brandy after dinner were discussing what was the oldest profession of all.

One said God took a rib from Adam’s side to form Eve.

That required the skills of a doctor.

So the oldest profession must be a doctor.

The second said God created order out of chaos.

So the oldest profession must be an Architect.

The third said that the oldest profession must have been a liturgist, since only a liturgist could have created the chaos in the first place.

You may be doubly amused to note that on the back of your Order of Service Fr. Cyril lists among the many roles he filled in the diocese, that of Chairman of the diocesan Art and Architecture Committee. Interestingly they had responsibility for the shaping of liturgical space in our churches.

More significantly he was also Diocesan Director of the now defunct Priests Eucharistic League.  It is important that we note its aim.

“The primary object of this confraternity is the frequent and prolonged worship of the Blessed Sacrament by priests.  As Christ is truly “God with us” in the Eucharist, it is His desire that priests should appear often in His presence and remain for reverent and affectionate encounter.  From this close intimacy a higher spiritual life must ensure.”

Fr. Henri Nouwen was once asked what was the starting point for him in his life and ministry as a priest.  He responded with one word, ‘Communion’.

Everything that a priest does flows from his communion with God.

The dignity of each person formed in the image of God is central to our approach to ministry.

Working towards being in the right relationship with God and God’s people is to be the constant disposition of a priest.

Building trusting relationships is essential to our ministry and flows from the eternal hunger for Communion.

Nouwen says “What I want most to say to you is that living in deep intimate relationship with your Lord Jesus will allow you to be a source of healing for many people as you walk through life full of contradiction, conflicts and violence.

I also want to say to you how important it is to be surrounded by good, caring friends who will hold you close to Christ by their affection, care and encouragement.

I recognise all of this and much more in the priest and man I have been privileged to know and cherish as friend and brother priest Fr. Cyril.

He took meticulous care to prepare every detail of the liturgy that we celebrate today.

On the Thursday two days before he died I went to visit Fr. Cyril.

He was conscious but not speaking.

With a small group of friends we celebrated the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Anointing and Viaticum – food for the final journey.

I prayed the prayer of Simeon given to us in today’s Gospel.

“Now Lord you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised; because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel”.

I feel confident that he made this prayer his own as he approached death.

On the Saturday just a very short few minutes before he died we prayed the prayers for the dying adding the prayers of Brother Charles “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.  Do with me what you will.  Whatever you do I thank you.  I am ready for all.  I accept all.  Let only your will be done in me and in all your creatures”.

Fr. Cyril didn’t find it easy to be dependent on others.

But with advancing age, infirmity and declining health he learned with great humility, grace and humour to abandon himself into the hand of those who cared for him with patience, gentleness and love.

Even then he would crack jokes with the nurses.

Always grateful for their help.

All of this helped to prepare him for the final act of surrender into the hands of the Father on Saturday afternoon at 2.50pm.

His breathing was becoming more shallow.

Around his bed were people who loved him and cherished his friendship.

Again we prayed.

Ending with a decade of the rosary while contemplating the death of Jesus on the cross and His surrender into the hands of his Father.

Now we pray that he is being drawn evermore deeply into the communion of life and love that is the Trinity –

three personed God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We pray that Fr. Cyril has met his Patron Cyril of Jerusalem.

The feasts of Saints Patrick, Cyril and St. Joseph follow one another on the 17th, 18th and 19th March.

He used to chuckle with mock complaint that his feast falling between St. Patrick and St. Joseph didn’t get the breathing space that he deserved.

We pray that he now delights in the company of all three, as together they glorify the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

May he rest in peace and know the joy of the Lord.