I warmly welcome you to our diocesan Mass for Monsignor Gerard McKay who last week died in hospital in Rome after a long battle with illness. Monsignor Gerard’s Requiem Mass was celebrated in the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Damaso, Rome and then buried in the tomb of the Pontifical Scots College. However, today gives our diocese the opportunity to gather with Monsignor Gerard’s family to pray for the repose of his soul.
Monsignor Gerard died only a few days after Christmas. At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Our Saviour when the divine took on human flesh in order to redeem us and enable us to be transformed so that we might be renewed as true Images of God. The Christmas Season is full of beautiful feasts, it is a time that invites us to wonder at God’s boundless love, to fill us with joy, to make us aware of the possibilities of the fuller life which God offers us but also of the challenges before this becomes a reality – am I willing to accept Christ or am I indifferent to Christ or even perceive his loving invitation as a threat to my comfortable lifestyle?
In our Gospel today Jesus declares: “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.” Ordinary bread and food in general are essential for us to live and strengthens us to go about our tasks. How much more is the living bread from heaven needed! Through the Eucharist Jesus spiritually strengthens us from within: “As I, who am sent by the Father, myself draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me.” Isn’t it beautiful that Jesus gives us life now, the strength not to escape but to overcome life’s trials and enables us to live life to the full by being transformed by Christ’s grace! The Eucharist creates intimacy with the Lord. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him.” Not that the benefits of the Eucharist are restricted to this life on earth alone. No, “Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.”
Gerard absolutely believed in Eternal Life. He requested that at his funeral the sermon must not focus on him but rather on the Resurrection. After all, trust in the Resurrection was his hope. Today our culture ignores and downplays the reality of death but Gerard didn’t. It may be easy expressing faith in an afterlife when we are healthy but it is a real test for the person facing death. When I learnt that Gerard was ill I visited him several times a year and I listened to his stories, his vision and his trust in God. I was inspired by Gerard’s faith and I have no doubt others were too.
Yet such hope is not wishful thinking but based on the reality of God’s love. In our First Reading Paul reminds us that our true homeland is in heaven. This is our destiny and what we have been created for – to be with the Lord in his glory and with each other forever. Paul also insists, that out of his great mercy, the Lord will complete our transformation. We are still sinners and we need the Lord to perfectly restore us in his Image. We recognise that Gerard too had his faults and sins and but with confidence, we ask the Lord to pardon them so that he will take his place in heaven.
We also ask the Lord to reward Gerard for his goodness. We think of his faith, his love of God. During Gerard’s funeral his friend, Cardinal Raymond Burke, preached on the important link between Eucharist and priesthood. Gerard understood this. He loved the Mass and believed very much in the grace of the Sacrament. Furthermore, by celebrating Mass he enabled others to draw life from Jesus.
When as a young boy he felt the Lord calling him he answered by attending Junior Seminary both at St Vincent’s College, Langbank and at St Mary’s College, Blairs. He then went to the Pontifical Scots College, Rome and latterly to the Pontifical Lombard Seminary, Rome. Gerard was a bright student and he finished his studies by gaining his Doctorate in Canon Law. In 1975 Gerard was ordained priest by Pope Saint Paul VI in Rome.
Throughout his priesthood, Gerard used his God-given gifts and talents for the good of the Church and others. This was most obviously recognised, but not exclusively, through his work in matters of Canon Law. He served in what was then The Scottish Catholic Tribunal and is now the Scottish Catholic Inter-diocesan Tribunal. This was important practical work for many ordinary people since much of his work, but not exclusively, would be concerned with establishing the validity of marriages when people were seeking annulments. During his years of service to the Tribunal, he also served the Parish of Saint Leo the Great and the Parish of the Holy Cross, both of which are in the Archdiocese of Glasgow.
In 1979, he was appointed Vice-Officialis of the Tribunal. In 1982, he was named Officialis, a position in which he served until 1985, when he was appointed as parish priest of the Parish of the Visitation at Taynuilt. While at Taynuilt he was Vice-Chancellor of our diocese and Secretary of the Diocesan Finance Council.
In 1992 he accepted an appointment to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Roman Curia, in its matrimonial section. In 1996 Pope Saint John Paul II named him a Defender of the Bond at the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota. In 2004 the same Pope named him a Judge of the Roman Rota.
He also served on several special commissions of the Roman Curia and was involved in the most recent English translation of the Roman Missal.
The smaller part of Gerard’s priestly ministry was spent within our diocesan boundaries but we are happy that as well as ministering within our diocesan Church he also served the Church nationally and universally. We are a small diocese but Gerard formed part of our contribution to the wider Church.
Gerard was a private person and this influenced how he coped with his illness. He withheld this information, which was his right, from public knowledge. For a long ti, me most people had no idea how seriously ill he was. However, I can assure you that he refused to give up. He faced cancer with faith, courage and resilience. After his early retirement due to illness, he still wanted to contribute – to spoke to me of researching two specific areas where he believed greater clarity of their complex issues was needed to help ensure justice. He also continued in translation work.
He was grateful to Pope Francis who gave him practical assistance after his retirement and we heard at his funeral that the Holy Father was moved at how he had handled his illness.
Gerard firmly believed that he would receive better medical care in Rome. However, this would still leave him a long way from home and the personal care which he would receive in Scotland. Therefore, I am grateful, as is his family, to his friends in Rome who cared for him so well.
Let us pray also for Gerard’s family: for his siblings Neil, James, Jack, Nicholas, Desmond, Mary Rose and Anne Marie. We ask the Lord to bring peace to all of his extended family and friends, who will now miss him. Let us pray that Gerard will be reunited with his parents, his brother and all whom he loved.
Let us also reflect on our own lives. The Christmas Season reminds us that God reaches out to us in a personal way seeking our love and transformation. Let us wholeheartedly accept the Lord’s invitation.
Let us pray for Gerard: that through the Lord’s mercy his transformation will now be complete and that all the promises of the Christmas Season will now be a perfect reality for him.
Bishop Brian McGee
St Columba’s Cathedral, Oban
7th January 2019