Friday, September 26, 2014
[Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24; 1John 4: 7-16; Matthew 11: 25-30]
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way:
God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. (1John 4:7-9)
At some point in his life, these words from St. John really hit home for Father Mike. They clarified for him the meaning and purpose of his life and gave it definitive direction. So deeply did they impact him that he dedicated his entire life to making this beautiful and exciting truth known to others. Indeed, he adopted from that passage its three central words as his personal motto: "God is love." The Church in this Archdiocese has received a wonderful gift from God in the person and ministry of Fr. Michael Mireau. The gift that he has been for us can only be fully appreciated when we remember that he was all about announcing that "God is love," and that this love has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ. How have we learned this from Fr. Mike? I would like to suggest three principal ways.
The first was through his uniqueness. Calling Fr. Michael Mireau unique is a masterpiece of understatement. I must confess that, after my arrival here, as I was gradually introduced to Fr. Mike and his ways, there were more than a few times when I could feel my eyebrows go up. The first time, I remember, was at the sight of the ponytail. What do I make of this? The eyebrows were just beginning to return to level when I learned that this priest had named himself after a fish, a fish, moreover, known to be rather prickly and hard to handle. They rose yet again, and in fact shot up to mitre height, when I saw a picture of him dressed as Superman. It really didn't help matters that I saw that photo on the front page of the Journal.
Not surprisingly, many say that God broke the mould with the creation of Fr. Mike Mireau. Yet, I soon learned that the reason Fr. Mike shared his uniqueness so openly was in order to help all realize that God breaks the mould every time a new human being is fashioned. Each and every man, woman and child is loved uniquely by God for who they are uniquely. We share many characteristics, certainly, in virtue of our common humanity. At the same time, each person is uniquely the apple of God's eye, loved by God for who they are. By sharing his uniqueness, Fr. Mike invited us to appreciate and celebrate our own as beloved children of God in whom our Heavenly Father delights. As a priest Fr. Mike wanted to share this message with everyone, of course, but it was his particular concern to have it take root in the hearts of young people. He reached out to them, so they would each know that, in the eyes of Jesus and his Church, they are uniquely "willed, loved and necessary"
(cf. Benedict XVI, inaugural homily as Pope).
This leads to the second principal way that Fr. Mike proclaimed the love of Christ, namely, through connection. He had an unmatched ability to connect with our beloved young people. He went where the young are to be found and entered their world. He used analogies from superheroes and Star Wars characters to speak of the truths of faith. He reached out to our young people through his various social networking tools. Perhaps most effectively, he was always in the company of his beloved Nemo, who helped Fr. Mike in yet one more way to touch the hearts of the young and connect with them.
Yet it is very important to remember that the connection Fr. Mike was seeking was not with himself. He wanted the young, he wanted every parishioner he had ever served, to connect with Jesus Christ. In his ministry as a priest he understood himself to be an agent of the invitation we heard Jesus speak in today's Gospel: "Come to me, all you that are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest." In Jesus, and only in Jesus, do we have true rest, authentic peace, and real hope. Why? Well, as Jesus says in that same passage, he is the eternal Son who reveals the Father to us. In other words, in Jesus Christ, God has connected with us to give us life. Therefore, every connection that Fr. Mike made was at the service of facilitating our connection with Jesus. He lived from that connection in his own life, and from it drew real joy. This is why his constant refrain to young and old alike was this: if you seek happiness and joy, follow Jesus. Stay close to him and never let yourself be separated from him. Only connection with Jesus can grant us the fullness of life here on earth. Since he is our crucified and risen Lord, only connection with him can lead us to eternal life in heaven.
Here we are brought to the third, and perhaps most compelling way that Fr. Mike proclaimed the truth of Jesus Christ. I am referring to the manner by which he faced his death. For quite some time Fr. Mike was well aware that his condition was terminal. We all prayed fervently that it would not be so, but he was the first to tell us that this was entirely in God's hands and that he would surrender peacefully to his will. As it became clear that the Lord was indeed calling him to himself, Fr Mike and I had some wonderful conversations. Among them, the one that stands out to me was the last we had before he entered palliative care. He shared with me how much he wanted to make of his death a gift to others. The recalling of that wish of his places before us a rather arresting question. How do we today receive his death as a gift? That's what he wanted. Naturally, we experience it as a loss, a great loss. But can we receive it as a gift? He would want that answered in particular by the young people who were so dear to him.
Fr. Mike made of his death a gift to us by being remarkably open before others about his journey. He spoke in our schools, at camp, in parishes and in the media about his dying and the hope that comes from faith. This caught everyone's attention and made them think. We receive his death as a gift when we do as he did: living joyfully as Christians, putting into daily practice the faith we proclaim, and sharing freely with others the happiness that comes from being a disciple of the Risen Lord.
The Book of Wisdom teaches that God has created us for eternal life. Our Christian faith proclaims that God has made that destiny possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that he has done so precisely because "God is love." Today we are deeply grateful to God for the priest who wanted nothing more than to make this beautiful truth known to those whose lives he touched in his unique, connecting and hope-filled way, the creatively faithful priest we have been blessed to know as Father "Catfish," as Fr. Michael Mireau. We offer thanks to the Father for this extraordinary gift, and pray that our loving and merciful God grant to our beloved brother eternal rest, light and peace. Amen.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton
September 26, 2014