Homily at Funeral Mass for Fr. Julian Stead, O.S.B. (2023)

Prior Michael Brunner O.S.B.
Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Father Julian knew for weeks that this day was approaching. He deeply felt the call to move on. He really wanted to return to England and to be at Downside, but God was calling him to his true home. Jesus has finally extended this invitation to an exemplary Monk, Priest and Teacher: “Come, you blessed by My Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

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In our faith we can take great comfort in knowing this, not only because Father Julian is now released from the pains of the end of his life, and because the crosses he carried have been lifted from his back but also because we know of the very good work he did in life. Today Father Julian’s absence among us should provoke thoughts of gratitude for the 94 years he lived among us. We must be thankful for all that he gave us in that time and for all that he allowed us to give to him. So, we are gathered together today to say farewell for now, to entrust to God and to celebrate the life of someone who has slid past us out of this world, into the fuller life of God’s Kingdom in we which hope to share someday, but no doubt we hope not too soon.

Our life is a such a mystery to each of us, a gift of God that comes upon us unawares as our consciousness springs to life when we are little children, filled with wonder. And all we really know is that one day this life gift will return to its source, the Giver of Life. Living to a ripe old age, as Fr. Julian did, is in itself no assurance or mark of success in this enterprise of life. But rather for any person, of any age real success is understanding truth through trust God, and living with Him in love, and sharing that love with others as a just man. In other words, success is faith, hope and charity. God’s word in the book of Wisdom reassures us that the soul of such a man is in the hands of God.

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By this measure then, today we celebrate, truly celebrate, the culmination of a rich life, a life long and large in virtue and in merit, a life long in selfless love, a successful life. Both Father Julian’s patron saints were courageous martyrs: St. Julian’s perseverance so angered the Roman officials that they deliberately extended his torture over many days but according to St. John Chrysostom, at his final conviction a holy voice came from his mouth together with a light brighter than the rays of the sun. How appropriate an image for those of us who heard his voice, read his words or saw his smile. Now it takes a saint or mystic to speak of death as kind and gentle, as St. Francis of Assisi did. We are aspiring saints in progress and few, if any, of us are mystics, so we mourn. But Jesus Christ himself reassures us: Blessed…Happy…are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. He also tells us: Happy are the merciful, for God will show them mercy. Happy are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. And those words apply to Father Julian. Father Julian prepared well for his passing from this world by living well, by living the Gospel which gave him a window into God’s wisdom he shared with us all. We have heard from many alumni of the school recounting his acts of kindness, his interest in their well-being and his impact as coach, teacher and priest on their lives.

Homily at Funeral Mass for Fr. Julian Stead, O.S.B. (1)
Funeral Mass final commendation for Fr. Julian

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The writer Nikos Kazantzkis put into the mouth of Zorba the Greek words of wisdom: "Life is trouble, only death is not" For those who believe, death is not so much trouble, and Father Julian truly believed. So, we are not discouraged because, like Father Julian, neither anguish, or distress or persecution, or peril can separate us from the love of Christ, Who conquered death for us. St. Francis of Assisi, whom I mentioned earlier, said “preach the Gospel always, and if necessary use words.” Father Julian did both, but he had a gift for words. He used them powerfully and eloquently, but I think he let his own wonder, faith, trust, charity and manifest love of the people in his life do the best talking and preaching for him, which is how we will remember him.

The Eucharist we celebrate today for Father Julian is a living and perpetual reminder that death is not the end but a new beginning. By his works Father Julian sowed seeds of goodness that have sprouted, grown and lived on in his students, in all his friends, in all the people in this Portsmouth Abbey family and all the other lives he touched. He was a successful man whose success came to him not by his degrees or books, but by his integrity, hard work, his many talents and ability, put to work in building God’s kingdom. In all he did, he was teaching others how to live and love life, the greatest gift God has given us. At this point in time, so close to the joyful celebration of Christmas and so close to when he left us, our gratitude for his life and his impact on ours is naturally tinged with sadness. But just as seeds planted in the ground take time to sprout and grow. It takes time for our untinged joy in having shared life with Father Julian to blossom alongside the gratitude. But it gives us great hope for our own lives that one man can do so much good and leave a lasting legacy in other lives by being simply a good, persevering monk, by doing what God called him to do; and that is something we all can do. If our Christian faith tells us anything, it tells us two important things. One is that Father Julian’s spirit, his soul, is very alive, and no longer subject to time and space. His very spirit lives on with us, can help us and can be helped by us. This is the meaning of the communion of the saints. We pray for him and he can pray for us. As we saw and spoke to him via facetime on his 94th birthday, Father Julian’s last words to us were ‘Pray for me.”

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And secondly, that after we have passed over the horizon of death as Father Julian has, we shall see him again and rise together as Jesus himself rose from the dead. St. Francis de Sales said it so succinctly: Friendships begun in this world will be taken up again, never to be broken off. So, in the face of this great mystery of death, we too must rely on faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love, and love never fails. So, let us console one another with this knowledge. Rejoice and be glad, for Father Julian’s reward is…your reward will be… great in heaven. Until that day when we meet him again, we should do what Jesus asked us to do: to remember Him. We celebrate this mass, this banquet and sacrifice, in memory of Him. Whenever you gather as his friends, his former students or his family, remember Father Julian. Whenever we gather as Portsmouth Abbey, we will remember Father Julian. He will still be with us and you, watching, caring and loving in his own way,. We must remember and celebrate his life, and as with the Lord Jesus, remember what he has accomplished with his love, and keep building upon it.

I came across these very appropriate words, preached in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London by Rev. Henry Scott-Holland in 1910, words that Father Julian himself might speak to us today.

Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.

All is well.
Nothing is past; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before
only better, infinitely happier and forever we will all be one together with Christ.

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And so today we celebrate the culmination of a rich life. And at this Eucharistic Banquet, we raise a spiritual toast to life and to love….to Father Julian Stead! May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace and joy. Amen.

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