Amen - Chris Gleeson SJ
In early May I had the privilege of celebrating the Mass of Thanksgiving for the life of Peter Daniel Kelliher. Man of great faith, happily married to the wonderful Lesley for 47 years, father of seven, agricultural scientist and friend to many, Peter suffered a very severe stroke in 1994 that brought many challenges to him and Lesley in his final years.
Our Opening Prayer for the Mass beautifully captured Peter’s spirit: ‘Loving God, you gave us the gift of your son, Peter, to inspire us to live life to the full and not draw back in the face of challenge and difficulty. In the midst of our sadness for our beloved Peter, may we also remember the joy that he brought into our lives through his ever attentive love and courage.’
One of my fond recollections of Peter is his shuffling down the aisle at Newman College Chapel in early January 2009, his face radiating pride and love, as he handed his daughter, Clare, into the care of her soon-to-be-husband, John. It was a moment of great tenderness, of prayer. As Ron Rolheiser reminds us in Forgotten Among the Lilies: ‘We need to pray by picking up the tender moment and letting its grace soften us. What constitutes the tender moment? Anything in life that helps make us aware of our deep connectedness with each other, of our common struggle, our common wound, our common sin, and our common need for help.’
Peter Kelliher had a great love for the Eucharist. Indeed, Lesley told me that on the day before he died, Peter received Communion in St Vincent’s Private Hospital, raised his right arm to begin the Sign of the Cross, and said very audibly: ‘AMEN’. That was his last word, and how fitting it was! AMEN is the great YES to life, to the God who is life, to courage, to hope, to fidelity, to love, to nature and creation, to family, and the spirit of truth. Peter’s ‘Amen’ was his great ‘Yes’, his stamp and seal on all that he held dear in life.
All of us, I am sure, have seen the ubiquitous Optus advertisement in recent years on television and billboards everywhere. It is very clever advertising with its use of just one word—‘Yes’. It says so much! ‘Yes’ is all about life, about affirmation, about hope for the future, about unity and harmony, about being positive. This is what the gospel story of the Annunciation is all about too—Mary saying ‘Yes’ to being the Mother of God and beginning a new life of hope for all of us.
When you think about it, Mary’s ‘Yes’ to becoming God’s Mother was quite remarkable. First of all, she herself exclaims, ‘How can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ She was a simple peasant girl, familiar with the Scriptures. Second, she was a member of the lower class, the exploited people, a woman living as a Jew in a territory occupied by the Roman army and subjugated by their laws.
Nine months later she gives birth to her son in Bethlehem and fulfils the Roman law to go to their town of birth to be registered for the census. Is there any wonder, then, that Mary should have a little apprehension about saying ‘Yes’, that the Angel should encourage her with the words ‘Do not be afraid’? Yet Mary’s ‘Yes’ is full of faith and courage: ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to me.’
Mary’s ‘Yes’ in the gospel story and Peter Kelliher’s ‘Amen’ are of a piece. They model for all of us the way we should live our lives. James Cavell, the American novelist, said once that ‘the optimist proclaims we live in the best of all possible worlds; the pessimist fears this is true.’
For ourselves, we are constantly saying ‘Yes’ to the important elements of our life. Every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we say ‘Yes’ to the importance of our Catholic faith. We say ‘Yes’ to the friends and loved ones in our lives—through our words, our gifts, our keeping contact with them. We constantly say ‘Yes’ to our commitments as married people, as professional and business people, by being faithful to our promises in the daily living of our lives. We say ‘Yes’ to helping those in need by giving our time, our money, and our resources towards making a better life for them.
In all of this saying yes, Mary is our shining light. From the outset, her huge leap of faith to say ‘Yes’ to being the Mother of God at the Annunciation was her platform for all the difficult times of disappointment and rejection in Jesus’ public life, culminating in the final suffering and humiliation of his passion and death. It was her ‘Yes’, her ‘Amen’ to God’s plan for her. She is the ultimate model for us of what it means to be faith-full. Mary is a kindred spirit with us. AMEN to that!