Every Requiem is an act of faith
Homily at the Requiem Eucharist for the repose of the soul of The Revd Dr Colin Peter Holden; Tuesday, 2 August, 2016
The Right Reverend R David Farrer, former Vicar of St Peter's
Every Requiem is an act of faith. This Eucharist today, for Fr Colin, is one such act of faith. Through the Mass we place our trust in God and in God's mercy; we trust in the welcome, which God extends to those who love Him; we trust in His loving Providence in our lives.
From this act of faith, we draw great comfort and consolation, especially at this time of mourning.
We draw strength as a Church and family — and I extend my condolences to family and those especially close to Colin. We draw consolation from our faith. Every funeral is an act of remembering. Today we celebrate a life which has been an unfolding of the Providence of God.
We have been privileged to hear in the eulogies some part of the life and remarkable output of a true polymath or as one person I was speaking with described him as an eccentric genius.
I am grateful for all that we have heard. He stands out for me, as for others who have known him well and worked with him, as a profoundly compassionate man in an awkward suit.
Few people could move from Ephraim, the Syrian 4th Century Theologian and Hymnographer, to Charles the First and the Caroline Divines to the art of Van Dyke and Rubens and the poetry of Donne and Herbert and, as Bishop David Robarts has said, "join all the dots".
I have on my desk a pile of Colin's books, from 'Ritualist on a Tricycle' to a wonderful devotion on the Stations of the Cross. I have commissioned works from him and lived day by day with the writing of the history of this Parish, 'From Tories at Prayer to Socialists at Mass' as well as that little gem, 'Awful Happenings on the Hill'. I have been Vicar in two parishes and a Diocese where Colin has written the histories and have amply shared the joys and frustrations of his endeavours.
All that and all we have heard about his University work, his wide knowledge of the Arts and Literature, his curating of exhibitions, is daunting. (Among his curating, I remember well his Lionel Lindsay Exhibition and the amazing exhibition in the basement of the Treasury Building for the sesqui-centenary of this parish.)
Colin Holden's most special and telling gifts lay in his pastoral gifts and his compassion.
Often physically awkward and poorly co-ordinated, he did not drive a car but in his ministries in Woodonga, Bunbury, Perth, and here at St Peter's, he managed to visit the sick and the distressed by public transport, dragooned drivers, bicycle (not especially successful) and on foot. Those of us who had him working as a colleague can each attest to his supportive loyalty and his one-to-one pastoral gifts. His faith and his priesthood defined him despite circumstances that eventually limited the full liturgical practice of his priesthood. Described to me by someone the other day as a "Lefty, liberal, Conservative", Colin was difficult to categorise. He certainly struggled with the Church as many do.
Colin had a great confidence in God's goodness that is the key to all the rest. What upset Colin about the Church was that in his time as a priest it seemed to have grown narrower and meaner and less loveable. He saw unkindness in the way people were treated when their views did not conform to the contemporary PC position and he found the hard end of traditionalism equally difficult. For him such attitudes made God look narrow and mean and unlovable; which for Colin was a sort of blasphemy. He wanted the Church (and indeed, the community) to be big-hearted and warm and generous and kind because that's how God is, and if we don't reflect that how are we going to show God to the world?
On his battle with illness he said, "some people have been shocked by the seriousness of my illness, and some have asked 'Why you?' Well, why not me? We believe in a God who creates a world with freedom for life, and freedom means the potential for going wrong." Other people had said to him "It's not fair". His response to that, "We rely on mercy, not fairness". Confidence in God's goodness was at the heart of Colin's faith.
I am keenly aware of Colin's confidence in God's forgiveness for each of us through the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of Jesus assures us of God's forgiveness, power, and ultimate triumph. It enables us to face our past ... confident of God's forgiveness through him who died for our sins and was raised; to face our present ... confident of the sufficiency of God's power; and to face our future ... confident of God's final triumph, of which the resurrection is the pledge. The resurrection, precisely because it was a decisive, public, visible act of God, within the material order, brings us firm assurance in an otherwise insecure world.
Colin would, I believe, be happy for us to reflect with one of his literary heroes John Donne, the Caroline Divine and poet who served as Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London. In Holy Sonnet 10 he brilliantly captures the relationship we have with death in the light of the reality of the resurrection:
- Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
- Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
- For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
- Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
- From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
- Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
- And soonest our best men with thee do go,
- Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
- Thou'art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
- And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
- And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
- And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
- One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
- And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
This Eucharist, which Colin wanted, demanded even, sums up the message of the man and his priesthood. In the Communion of Christ's Body, death does not divide us. And as we pray for Colin, I don't doubt he is praying for us that we might have the same confidence in God's goodness that he had, and go out from here to be more big-hearted and more truthful and less scared ourselves. For him we are put together in Christ in the Eucharist day by day.
[To quote a Victorian poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins,
- Enough! the Resurrection,
- A heart's-clarion! Away grief's gasping, | joyless days, dejection.
- Across my foundering deck shone
- A beacon, an eternal beam. | Flesh fade, and mortal trash
- Fall to the residuary worm; | world's wildfire, leave but ash:
- In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
- I am all at once what Christ is, | since he was what I am, and
- This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
- Is immortal diamond.]
In his book The Divine Milieu, Teilhard de Chardin wrote this:
When the ill that is to diminish me or carry me off strikes from without or is born within me...above all at that last moment when I feel I am losing hold of myself and am absolutely passive within the hands of the great unknown forces that have formed me; in all those dark moments, O God, grant that I may understand that it is you...who are painfully parting the fibres of my being in order to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance and bear me away within yourself...It is not enough that I should die while making my communion. Teach me to make my communion in dying.
Lord Jesus, open our eyes in the breaking of the Bread.
Apologies Christopher Wren but, Si monumentum requiris, circumspice. 'If you want a monument, look around you.'
Thank you Colin for everything you have given us. May you rest in peace.
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.