Homily preached by Bishop Nicholas Hudson at the funeral of Mary Craig at St Francis de Sales, Wash Common on Friday 3 January 2020.
I’m told Mary chose almost every element, every detail of this liturgy. I’m not surprised, because she was someone to whom words meant a great deal. The words she’s chosen for us to hear tell us so much about her journey, so much about her faith.
The words of the psalm sung by Mark and Tim speak eloquently of that yearning, a yearning for truth, a yearning for God, which was at the core of who she was. How consoling to know that that yearning has now been realised, now that she is with God. Of this she wished us surely to be reassured when she chose, as well as that psalm, the first reading which preceded it, from the Book of Wisdom, words of such consoling reassurance: “The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God; they are in peace.”
I find it interesting that, in choosing this passage, she chose also, whether consciously or subconsciously, a reading which includes the idea of holocaust. The author of the Book of Wisdom speaks of holocaust in its most positive sense, in a way we can understand Mary to have understood it as the self-offering she made of her own life, when he says, “God has tested the virtuous like gold in a furnace and accepted them as a holocaust.” Mary, more than most, knew what it was to be refined in the refiner’s fire. But there’s another reason I find it interesting, because of that other holocaust, the Nazi Holocaust, to the survivors of which she gave so much of her life to helping and to helping them and others make sense of.
It was Mary who introduced me to an outstanding holocaust hero, St Maximilian Kolbe, in her fine work entitled simply Six Modern Martyrs. She said to me on a number of occasions, “I know Six Modern Martyrs is your favourite of my books, isn’t it, Nick? You were particularly struck by Kolbe and Romero, weren’t you?” I was amazed she remembered.
Many of you will have experienced this same quality in Mary, little conversations about books of hers which she remembered had touched you. They will have covered the whole range, from Blessings to The Last Freedom, from Crystal Spirit to Cry for Tibet and so many more; and you will have been touched by the way she remembered which book meant the most to you. It was part of her interest in people, her gift for connecting, as she had a gift for sharing too, sharing about herself and her family.
And I trust you find a resonance with what you know of Mary and her family in the other inspired words of Scripture which she chose for our celebration of her life. Not least in her choice of Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, where she and St Paul remind us, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal ... If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Because Mary knew herself to be appreciated as a public speaker, and I think many of us found her to be outstanding, actually, but she wanted and wants us to know that having that sort of gift means nothing if I am without love; nothing whatsoever.
By her own admission, public speaking wasn’t something that came to her naturally at first. Something of the tough journey which she made to embrace this and so many of the other challenges with which life was presenting her seems to be caught in her choice of St Paul describing his own path to maturity: “When I was a child, I reasoned like a child,” writes Paul. "When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection, then we shall see face to face.”
Her story is nothing if not a story of maturing both personally and in faith. That process of maturing is beautifully captured in the Postscript she chose to add to Blessings. I’ve never forgotten it: “The older I get, the more I am convinced that it is not what happens to us that is really important; it’s the response we make to it.” What wisdom and insight: “The older I get, the more I am convinced that it is not what happens to us that is really important; it’s the response we make to it.”
The faith which underpinned such candour (and, by the way, I always found Mary’s candour about her struggle at times to believe deeply touching), the faith into which she eventually matured she expresses powerfully in words chosen from another saint, this time Julian, Julian of Norwich. Julian wrote, says Mary, “He (God) did not say, ‘You shall not be tempest-tossed, you shall not be work-weary, you shall not be discomforted.’ He said, ‘You shall not be overcome’.” ‘You shall not be overcome’.
And Mary was not overcome. No, quite the opposite. All that she experienced, for all that it made her question, ultimately deepened her faith, to the point that she could say, as the last word of The Last Freedom, “One day there will be a resurrection. I am absolutely certain of it.” She made of her life, to coin that marvellous phrase of Mother Theresa’s, “Something beautiful for God”. I have no hesitation in saying, today we celebrate a woman who made of her life something truly beautiful for God.
She often remarked herself how many people who suffer still seem to find room for joy in the midst of and after all they have endured. It gives us joy, surely, in the midst of our sadness, joy and consolation, to imagine the stream of people who will have been waiting to welcome her at Heaven’s door when she let go of life on 3 December: at their head, surely, Paul and Frank; but then as well so many other friends and relatives whom you could name; as well as the countless ‘Bods’ and others helped and encouraged by Mary’s coming alongside Sue Ryder all those years ago; and all those people inspired and deepened by her writing and speaking.
How eloquent of Mary to choose, of all the words Jesus spoke in his life, the Beatitudes, as a way of expressing all that her life has meant; not only her life but the life of so many whom she inspired simply to keep on living. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are the gentle: they shall have the earth for their heritage. Blessed are those who mourn: they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for what is right: they shall be satisfied. Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
These words of Jesus I find to be marvellously amplified in the words with which Mary chose to end her Blessings postscript. And it seems right to close with these two sentences since they sum up, I feel, what has been and will continue to be her enduring witness. Mary having reflected, as we heard a few moments ago, how “the older I get the more I am convinced that it is not what happens to us that is really important; it’s the response we make to it”, Mary adds these last two sentences which are given, I believe, for each of us to hold onto and make our own. So it is that, after all she’s recounted of her life’s journey, her conclusion is this: “We can turn in on ourselves or we can grow. The choice is always ours.” Simply this: “We can turn in on ourselves or we can grow. The choice is always ours.” Thank you, Mary, for your wisdom and witness.