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Homily for Frs. Reilly and Geitner 2018-06-18

Memorial Mass for Frs. Reilly and Geitner, 3 PM, Sat. June 16, 2018 by M Sloboda
Rom. 8:31-39, Ps. 122, Jn. 11:17-27

Dear Supervisor, Principals, Bro. Joe, managers, teachers, alumni and students:

Tomorrow will be Fathers’ Day. Happy Fathers’ Day in advance to all the Fathers here! There are biological fathers, adoptive fathers, and also spiritual fathers. A Maryknoll priest [Jim Fitzgerald, 1903-1993] went to China many decades ago. A farmer said to him, “There are 2 things which a man must do in life: have a son and plan a tree.” The priest asked, “Can I plant 2 trees?” That farmer echoed traditional culture. He did not say, “Have a child,” but “have a son.” Even today, some people mistakenly value boys more than girls, a big mistake!

I have something for show and tell. Every year Maryknoll publishes a booklet. It’s dated Nov. 2, All Souls’ Day, and it lists all the deceased men and women who had MM after their name. It’s thicker now than years ago. About a decade ago, the number of deceased fathers, Brothers and Sisters exceeded the number of those still living. In ancient Rome 2100 years ago, Cicero coined the term “the Silent Majority” to refer to previous generations. Cicero realized that the current generation was vastly outnumbered by all the people who had been born before his time. Fr. Peter Reilly passed away 24 years ago, and Fr. John Geitner joined him 4 months ago.

So this year we now have 2 Maryknoll priests to remember with affection. The alumni who are 30 years old now were not yet in Primary One when Fr. Reilly passed away. Our school is only 60 years old. The vast majority of our alumni are still in this world, but not necessarily in HK. Our school will celebrate 100 years in 2057, God willing. By that time, many more MFS alumni will have joined the Silent Majority. Catholics pray for the living and the dead.

This memorial booklet lists 3 founders at the beginning, separately from the rest. Bp. James Anthony Walsh (187-1936) and Fr. Thomas Frederick Price (1860-1919) founded the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in 1911. Their coworker, Sr. Mary Rogers (1882-1955) organized the Maryknoll Sisters in 1912. Founders play a unique role. There are 5100 Catholic bishops in the world today. The number was smaller in earlier centuries. A little math tells us there have been at least 100,000 bishops. Bishops are successors of the 12 Apostles, yet the 12 Apostles are in a class by themselves. Fr. Peter Reilly will remain in a class by himself. Yet this year, we also recognize the contribution of Fr. John Geitner.

In the first reading, St. Paul tells the Christians in Rome that the love of God is more important than life. That reminds me of Chapter 10 of Mengzi, 孟子 [Mencius]. The most famous disciple of Confucius 孔子 said, “I love fish and I love bear paw 熊掌. If I cannot have both, I will let go of the fish and take the bear paw. I love life, and I love righteousness. If I cannot have both, I will let go of life and take righteousness.” Mengzi knew life was good, but staying alive was not the best choice under all circumstances, not the highest priority. St. Paul did in fact die as a martyr. Proudly admitting that he believed in Jesus was more important to him than living longer in this world.

This is HK in the 21st century. We still eat fish, but we no longer eat bear paw. Most of our students probably don’t want to eat shark fin soup. We have low crime in this city, plus a great deal of freedom. People in HK live in safety, and most of us will live a long, long time. Even so, we teach our students that long life, money, popularity and pleasure are not the most important things in life. For the sake of Truth and Loyalty, we will have to make some sacrifices from time to time.

The psalm mentions going up to Jerusalem, where the one and only Jewish temple was located. Almost 3 years ago, a group of pilgrims from Rosary Church to Israel. We went up twice, once from Jericho and a couple of days later from the Dead Sea. I can still see the steep road from the desert in the east, with more and more green grass and then trees on the hillsides as we got closer to the Mediterranean Sea. I’m glad we rode in a bus; I did not want to make that long climb on foot. I did not think I would be thrilled at my first glimpse of Jerusalem, but all of us were excited. So much teaching and revelation has come from that small area and spread around the world. Today, many parents are excited when their child gets admitted to our school. To some parents, a good primary and secondary school are more important than God, sad to say. We want all our students to be excited about learning, and to learn more than just what is in the books. In the big picture of life, truth and loyalty are more important than 5** on the GSE.

The Gospel verses are part of a longer passage. Read all of John 11 and notice that Jesus cried at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, who was still a young man. Jesus had and still has a divine and also a human nature. As Son of God, he raised his friend from the dead. As Son of Mary, he was sad at the bad news.

I was away from HK during the summer of 1994. I missed the funeral of Fr. Peter Reilly. Some of you attended the Mass and went to the cemetery. Maybe you cried. I saw people crying in February at the funeral of Fr. Geitner. I did not cry because he was 90 years old. He went quickly, after only a day and a couple of hours of suffering. I felt more surprised than anything else. Dead is not the end. We trust that both of them have now moved to a place of light, happiness and peace.

Since I do not speak Cantonese, I cannot make the same contribution to MFS as those 2 senior priests did. I am not even on campus for as many hours a week. Yet in our own way, each of us can support this school, encourage the younger generation, and continue the mission of Fr. Peter Reilly and Fr. John Geitner. We pray that the work which was begun on this campus 60 years ago will continue both here and on the primary campus for many more years and decades. In the final analysis, it’s not the work of this or that priest, supervisor, principal, teacher, or all the alumni together. We all have a share in the work of God, and we pray that we will do our part faithfully, just as Frs. Reilly and Geitner did.

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