Queensland Police Service chaplain Pauline Father Columba Macbeth-Green officiated at the funeral service of slain policeman Detective Senior Constable Damian Leeding at the Gold Coast Convention Centre on June 7. This is the homily he delivered to an estimated 5000 mourners at the centre
WE come here today to farewell a husband, a father, a son, a brother, uncle, mate, colleague and brave police officer – Detective Senior Constable Damian Leeding.
On behalf of Damian’s wife Sonia, their children Hudson and Grace and his parents Julie and Stephen I would like to thank you for your support.
Today friends we have a hard task before us.
We are all here as a result of an evil act.
We are here full of grief, anger, numbness or probably all of the above.
The solemnity of a full police funeral is an outward show of the honour and respect that we have for Damian as a police officer who paid the highest price.
The eulogies in the service pay tribute to Damian, the husband, father, son, brother and mate.
In them we get a glimpse of Damo the man.
We are celebrating his life and mourning our loss.
Sonia told me that Damo would want this ceremony simple and light – I think “simple” is a bit beyond us at this point, Sonia – and as for “light”, we might have to settle for a mixture of laughter and tears.
I have a reputation for not preaching about “fluff”, “airy fairy stuff” … I follow the “no nonsense” approach – after all, I’m a police chaplain.
A police officer asked me what I was going to talk about at Damo’s funeral?
I said: “I’d like to talk about something positive.”
He replied: “What could you possibly talk about that is positive at a police funeral like this one?”
I answered, “LOVE”.
“You’re kidding! That sounds a bit too ‘touchie feelie’ for coppers,” he said.
“No, I’m not kidding and, for the police record, I’m not going ‘fluffy’.”
The word “love” seems to be used by most of us in many different ways.
We love our football teams – some people even love the Broncos (sorry Damo).
A good number of us here today would probably say they love a cold beer on a hot day or any day.
We love ice-cream, cats, sunsets, you name it, someone will say they love it.
Now the Love that St Paul speaks of in today’s reading is different to all those other “loves” that I have just outlined.
He calls Love a “higher gift” that should permeate everything we do.
If you like – love should be like the operating system of a computer through which all tasks are performed.
St Paul says no matter what we do, how good it seems on the surface, if we do it without love then we are nothing at all.
Love, then, seems to be pretty important in God’s plan for all of us … but what is it?
Well we know it exists, but you can’t touch it.
There is no part of the brain that produces love – it is not something rational – not part of the intellect.
If Love is not something material then it is something spiritual and spiritual things are found in the soul, that spiritual part of a human being that doesn’t die.
If the soul doesn’t die then neither does our love.
Love never ends.
We Christians believe that we humans are made in the image and likeness of God and when we love, we resemble God who is Love.
People ask “where is God in a tragedy like this?” I answer that we can find God when we find real Love.
“Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is Love.” 1 John 4:8
All we have to do now is identify this real love or “higher gift” of love.
I think the following three points are characteristics of real love:
– Love reaches out, it is selfless, it always wants the best for another person.
– Love is proven by a willingness to sacrifice.
– Love feels the pain of loss (of the beloved).
Ancient Greek philosophers identified some different types of real Love that can be found in these tragic circumstances:
Brotherly love or the common love of humanity that is manifested by care and compassion for others, even strangers.
Damian’s tragic passing has brought this kind of love out in our community again.
The many floral tributes, letters from children, people thinking about the Leeding family and police in general have shown a common concern.
This concern is backed up by sacrifice.
People donating money to the Leeding family and going out of their way to “pay their respects” are all little acts of generous sacrificial love of the public.
The reaction of the public shows they feel the pain of the loss of Damian in some way.
Last Wednesday morning as I arrived at Gold Coast hospital – a beautiful young nurse came up in tears and gave me a big hug – wishing myself and all the police her very best.
I reflected later that her little sacrifice was probably giving me a hug.
We owe thanks to Damian for reminding us that we are human beings and human beings are supposed to love one another.
Another type of love: family love. This love is formed in a special family bond of affection, nurturing and protection.
I have witnessed Damian’s family’s profound grief for the past week-and-a-half and I have been privileged to see that family draw closer together, supporting each other even as they themselves were hurting.
Around Damian’s bed in that hospital you could feel the grief and sadness, but you could also feel the love and that was truly beautiful.
Friendship love is another type.
The blokey way of saying this is mateship.
This love is forged through common interests and marked by loyalty.
Some of Damo’s mates were often in the hospital.
It seemed you couldn’t get rid of them – it would’ve been a brave man that tried.
These mates were yearning to help but felt powerless.
For a lot of them their sacrifice was going to see Damo in that hospital bed, disfigured and clinging to life – that cost a lot.
Damian’s mates pulled together, thought of each other and brought out the Damo stories – there is a few of them.
They tried to keep a sense of humour as Damo would have wanted.
Their love brought them together.
I want to add to the great ancient Greek philosophers with another type of love.
We hear a lot about the Police Family – well a family has got to have love doesn’t it? I think there is a special “Police Family love”.
When a person becomes a police officer it is generally because they want to “make a difference”, to “uphold the law”, to protect the community or just to lock up crooks.
These motives all can be summed up simply by saying that they want to do some good for others.
When an officer makes their oath or affirmation and holsters a weapon, they are aware, at least in the back of their minds, that they might have to back up those fine motives with sacrifice – long hours, pressures on relationships, physical and mental injuries and, as in Damo’s case, with your life.
By the look of police here today, feeling the pain of loss for a colleague is pretty obvious.
Police family love is always there but the public rarely gets to see it. Well they have now.
Agape is total self-giving love.
On the front of the Order of Service you will read “Greater Love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends”.
That quote is from the Gospel of John and was said by Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Jesus backed that statement up by giving his life for his friends, you and me.
Death, though, was not the end of the story – after three days in the tomb he rose again, and He promised that we would too. He gave us blessed hope.
Damian gave his life for his friends, you and me, law-abiding citizens.
We pray today that God will reward Damian’s noble sacrifice of his life for the community with the crown of glory in Heaven.
Damian was but a pilgrim on this earth.
Out of love God created him, out of love God sustained him.
God gave Damian to us to be a blessing in our lives by the love he showed for others.
Now he has been called home to rest in God’s love.
Each of us must now continue on our pilgrim way and I pray that the love that has surrounded Damian’s death may continue in our lives to make the world a better, safer and more peaceful place and be a sign of God’s presence in our world.
Let us really take to heart those words of St Paul:
“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love does not come to an end.”