Father Ray Browne – RIP
Funeral Mass of Fr Raymond Browne PE – Homily of Bishop Kevin Doran (28th November 2020)
I am very conscious that, as well as the twenty five of us who are here in the Church, there are a great many more participating in this funeral Mass, all over the Diocese and indeed all much further afield. Even without the COVID restrictions, there is no way that this Church could hold the many people who would want to be here to give thanks for the life of Fr Ray Browne.
Through his sixty five years of priestly ministry, Fr Ray touched the lives of a great many people, often possibly without even knowing it. In the four years he spent in Calabar, or the fourteen years in Drumboylan, or the other fourteen years in Roscommon Town and his almost thirty four years in Kilbride; how many of you has he brought to life in the waters of Baptism. He has Baptised your children too. He has celebrated your first Communions, your marriages and the funerals of your family members and neighbours. It is one of the great privileges we have as priests, to be involved in the lives of so many people. People often think of priests as men who live alone, but the life of a priest, properly understood, is all about relationship. Relationship with God and relationship with God’s people.
As you all know. Fr Ray had a finger in many pies. He was a preacher and a sacramental minister, but he had a deep life-long commitment to building community. His vision included the young and the elderly, people with disability and people who didn’t want to go all the way to Roscommon for a newspaper and a carton of milk. Most of all, he wanted to facilitate the participation of others. As I was thinking about the parable of the bridesmaids, it struck me that he could have been the eleventh bridesmaid , the one who not only had enough oil for his own lamp, but who had arranged a delivery of oil for all the others, so that everyone could go into the banquet together. I suppose that is what being a good shepherd is all about.
In my own experience of him, Fr Ray had a habit of gliding gently into the middle of a gathering. But you always knew he was there. He was a small man, but a big presence. Now he has slipped out, just as quietly as he used to slip in and of course you are sad. How would you not be sad?
Our first reading from the book of Revelation, puts our sadness in perspective. “Happy are those who die in the Lord. They can rest after all their labours”. Ray would not have been unduly bothered at the thought of dying, because his focus was always on the Lord. As you know, he liked nothing better than a pilgrimage and, in the final analysis, life is a pilgrimage with its own unique destination.
One day, about a year after I came to the Diocese, I paid a visit to Fr Ray, to chat with him about the his own future and the future of the parish. I wondered if he had considered retirement and, quite clearly, the question had never crossed his mind. I said: “do you not sometimes feel that you need a rest from all this“. “Oh, if I need a rest“, he said, “I just go up and lie down for an hour“. Somehow, I think it will take him a while to get used to the idea of eternal rest.
The Book of Revelation tells us that, when people die “in the Lord” their good deeds go with them. I’m sure that is true, but when someone dies “in the Lord” there is always something that remains, something that inspires those who follow after. Our second reading is from a Letter, addressed to a young Christian called Timothy. It seems that St. Paul knew Timothy’s mother and his grand-mother and both of them were women of deep faith. Paul had seen that same faith in Timothy and invited him to share in his ministry. Now, as Paul comes to the end of his time on earth, Timothy is beginning his ministry as Bishop of Ephesus. Paul encourages him to always choose the right course, to be brave under trials and to make the preaching of the Gospel his life’s work. It must have been important for Timothy to have the example and inspiration of Paul’s life.
All of us can learn from the example of those who go before us on the path of discipleship. We build on the foundations others have laid. Or, as St Paul himself once said, “one sows the seed, another waters and God gives the growth”. Just as Timothy could be inspired by Paul, so perhaps, each of us can ask today if there is something about Fr Ray’s pastoral energy, or his encouragement of young people or some other think which might inspires us in our own discipleship. Perhaps some of us, like Timothy, whether we are fifteen or fifty, are called to take on the mission of pastoral leadership for those who are coming come after us.
One last thought. Modern Bridesmaids are busy people. They are not just meant to stand around and look good. In the run up to the wedding, there are all sorts of jobs to be done. A bride needs someone she can depend on; someone who will stay calm in a crisis and who is not afraid of a bit of work. But most of all, perhaps, the bride needs someone who will be there for her. The parable of the bridesmaids, which we heard in the Gospel reading is not all about running around doing things. It is all about being ready to welcome the Groom when he arrives. It is about being present. There must be some element of that is the life of every Christian. We are called to stand ready to welcome the Lord when he comes, and in whatever way he comes, in our lives. For all his own human frailty, a priest is meant to provide his parishioners with oil for their lamps. He does this through the Word of God and the Eucharist and by walking with them, even through the valley of darkness. Fr Ray may have gone into the wedding feast ahead of us, but his lamp has not gone out. It is burning brightly here in this community and it is entrusted to you, as we say in the liturgy of Baptism, “to be kept burning brightly”.
It is important, I think, to remember, that priests come from ordinary families and in many case it is in their families that their vocation and sense of mission first take shape. This morning, on behalf of all of the parishioners here in Kilbride and all of us in the Diocese, I offer our sympathies to Fr Ray’s sister Louise and his brother Aidan; to his brother-in-law Paddy and to his nieces and nephews Mary, Vincent, Rosemary, Larry and Louise and his many grandnieces and grandnephews. I want also to convey the sympathies of the Kiltegan Missionaries with whom Ray worked in Africa and with whom he maintained close links. I offer my own condolences to his fellow priests who will greatly miss him and, of course, to Deacon Seamus who worked so closely and so gently with him. May he rest in peace.
Fr Ray Browne was laid to rest in the grounds of St Brigid’s Church, Four Mile House, Co Roscommon