Brodie McGovern died recently at the age of five as a result of a condition called hollow viscous myopathy, and a large crowd attended his funeral to pay tribute to him and to support his parents Celena and David McGovern. Celena gave a eulogy and David delivered a homily. This is an edited version of David’s message
FROM the outset, let me say that I have mixed emotions in standing before you today. On one hand, I am humbled by the number of people who have come to help us celebrate the life of our son, Brodie.
On the other, it breaks my heart to think that if a child can touch this many lives in the space of five years, imagine what he could do over a lifetime.
But such ponderings are, ultimately, pointless.
As the Responsorial Psalm reminds us, our days are numbered. We come into this world, as part of God’s divine plan and the time of our departure is known even then, by the God who created us.
Brodie lived the life he was meant to, for as long as he was meant to. He was the child of a God who loved him deeply; and Celena and I got to care for him, as our child, and also to love him deeply too!
In the five years (and two days short of three months), that he was with us, Brodie showed an immense passion and hunger for stories. So it seems only fitting that I spend the next few minutes reflecting on the readings we have just heard and their significance in the “story” that was Brodie McGovern.
The first reading came from the Genesis account of Noah and the Ark. This was one of Brodie’s favourite Bible stories.
Besides the obvious fact that he had a Little People ark set, complete with matching pairs of animal “dolls”, what was it about the story of Noah that struck such a chord with him? I believe it was the sense of hope that pervades this story.
When Noah built the ark, when he loaded the animals into it, when he finally released the dove in a search for dry land, Noah was demonstrating mankind’s immense capacity to remain hopeful!
I think Brodie, Celena and I always felt that no matter how bad things were, no matter how high the “flood waters” got, we would not only survive, but thrive! We always maintained a sense of hope!
So it’s hardly surprising that one of the more powerful images we will always associate with Brodie is the natural phenomenon of a rainbow.
The rainbow represents God’s covenant with Noah, and indeed the entire human race. It is a reminder to us all that no matter how severe the storms, eventually the waters will recede. At times like this, when we are “flooded” with emotions of loss and grief, we naturally look to the sky in the hope that, eventually, God will keep His promise and a rainbow will appear!
The Gospel reading represents a natural segue, or link, from the first reading account of Noah. In this part of the Gospel of John, Jesus has risen from the dead and appears, unrecognised, to Mary Magdalene.
It is a wonderfully captivating encounter and one that points to Brodie’s abiding fascination with the entire Resurrection story. Again, I have found myself wondering why?
Perhaps Brodie instinctively understood that the Resurrection is about being given a body that is not bound by human constraints. I think that idea might appeal to our son.
Perhaps Brodie recognised, in a way that some of us may either choose to ignore, or be unable to get our heads around, that in our eternal life with God, we are, quite literally, transformed.
Is this why Mary didn’t recognise the person who stood before her? Perhaps? Or was Mary’s love for Jesus so powerful, and her grief so profound, that she simply couldn’t believe what her eyes were telling her: Jesus was alive? I think I understand such grief – every time I saw Brodie, after he died, my mind kept saying “He’s just sleeping, he’s going to wake up and ask you to change his DVD or read him a book”.
Some commentators make a lot of the fact that Jesus first appeared to a female disciple, rather than the men who were part of his group. I like the significance of this because my son certainly seemed to strike a chord with the opposite sex.
Besides Celena, who was a constant source of nourishment, inspiration, strength and encouragement, Brodie was surrounded by many women who showered him with unconditional love.
His grandmothers – Crazy Nan and Nanny Barrington; his aunts, and those who were aunt by default; the women I worked with and the ones Celena created craft with; and of course, the many women particularly (but not only) who cared for Brodie and provided him with a haven in the heart of the hospital – the women of Paterson Ward; those in Emergency, ICU and the various departments that crossed our paths and touched our lives.
The particular part of the Resurrection story we heard today is, ultimately, a story of love. It points to the love Mary had for Jesus, and the grief she felt in his absence; it’s the fulfilment of God’s grand plan, showing Jesus’ love for humanity in triumphing over death; and it’s a story of ongoing inspiration that we can each experience in our own lives, if we but open our eyes, and our hearts, to seeing what lies before us.
Some people have asked me, at different times, whether Celena and I did the right thing in having Brodie?
I understand the question; in some ways, considering the likelihood of the challenges he was to face, it’s not totally unreasonable.
But while I understand the question, I can only answer with a resounding “Absolutely”.
One thing I have never felt Brodie was lacking in was a sense that he was anything but deeply and unconditionally loved! He knew it, with every fibre of his being.
This didn’t stop him from being hurt of course. Far from it. It was precisely because we loved him so much that we often had to make calls that were far from pleasant.
When I carried him into the operating theatre, kicking, screaming and begging to be taken home, I think I had some sense of what God must have felt like as he saw Jesus stagger up the Hill to Calvary.
And yet, like Jesus rolling away the stone from his tomb, Brodie came through each procedure, each surgical ordeal, with strength, courage and a resilience that I think surprised everyone.
The third story we heard from the Bible today was an extract from a letter written by St Paul, to the people of Corinth.
This particular passage from the New Testament is quite famous, and is often used as a reading for wedding ceremonies.
I’m no theologian but I think we chose that particular passage today because it points to the three qualities that epitomised the life we shared, as a family. “Faith, hope and love … and the greatest of these is love.” I’ve already spoken about hope and love; let me touch briefly on the notion of faith.
We are gathered here today, celebrating a funeral in a Roman Catholic tradition. It is very much an expression of the faith Celena and I share, and have inherited from our own parents. We in turn did what we could to pass such faith on to Brodie.
One of the first forms of self-expression that Brodie mastered was being able to make the sign of the cross! When we could get to Mass, his interest in what was going on was acute. He loved making his way up to Communion, in the Big Red Car, and receiving a blessing, or watching me take the Body and Blood of Christ.
But these practices are, ultimately, just the outward expressions of a faith. The second reading is part of a longer passage that reminds us that faith, without love, is dead!
Our faith is only given meaning if we put it into action, if we test it and are tested in return. Life in our family was a constant source of testing, and being tested.
From the word go, Brodie was being told he was too sick, he had too much of this or too little of that. The doctors who said such things meant well but, like the people who laughed at Noah as he built the ark, they were missing something that Celena and I held onto – a personal relationship with a God and a conviction that He wants nothing but the best for each of us.
It was this conviction, this personal faith, that allowed me to walk into the neo-natal intensive care unit the day after he was born and pin to the inside of Brodie’s crib a series of affirmations about how he was “perfect, nothing broken, nothing missing”. I am pretty sure Psalm 139, which was our responsorial psalm today, also might have figured prominently in the pages I kept pinning to Brodie’s crib, then cot, and then his bed at home!
I mention these aspects of Brodie’s life because, as I have said, the qualities of FAITH, HOPE and LOVE were such prominent forces in his life, and the life of our family. And so my final message, on behalf of Brodie, is to ask each of you here today, how are these qualities expressed in your own life?
– When it comes to faith, where are you at? Have you found yourself walking away from the religious practices and traditions you may have been raised with or once held dear? If this is your story, I urge you to reconsider; God is a loving and gracious God and, despite what a priest may have once said, or what you think the Church might say about a particular issue, He does want to be in a relationship with you! Consider the places where faith can be nurtured and do all you can to seek such places out. I know for us, our family’s journey would have been much harder if we did not have the support, compassion and practical assistance of a wonderful worshipping community to draw upon.
– When it comes to hope, what do you do to help those who are without hope? Do you look for ways that you can bring hope to the unloved, those who have less, those who are oppressed or who do not have the good fortune to be born into a society that cares for them and can sustain them?
– And the greatest quality of all, LOVE? Consider those people you love, and who love you in return? Do they know you love them? Do you allow yourself to feel the love of others fully, unconditionally, without question or self-doubt? In terms of the life you live, are you doing what you love, for work or play? Finally, please ask yourself, how can you spread more love in this world?
In preparing this homily, I had to look long and hard at some of these questions. I will continue to grapple with them. I don’t pretend to have the answers but I know I need to make some sense of Brodie’s death.
However, like Noah, I am confident that one day, God will unveil the bigger plan.
In the meantime, with the flood waters rising around Celena and I, I hold onto the fact that, in this church, among you people here today, we have found some sort of Ark!
Some of you are in that ark with us – for that we are truly grateful.
Some of you may eventually prove to be like the birds that bring back signs of life; some of you may simply have to be the ones that help us spot the rainbows. When all is said and done, however, I pray that Brodie has joined his sister Amber in Heaven and that are they looking down on me with the same love Jesus looked upon Mary in the Garden.
And one day, I pray they will utter the words that my heart longs to hear: “Well done ‘good and faithful servant’. You’ve done a good job Daddy. You don’t have to try and protect us anymore – we can’t be hurt. It’s our turn to look after you.”
David McGovern is Brisbane archdiocese’s Catholic Mission director.
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