HOMILY MONS. BRYAN LONG’S REQUIEM MASS –
SACRED HEART CATHEDRAL, 21st OCTOBER 2015
The life and death of each of us has its influence on others, if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord, so that whether alive or dead, we belong to the Lord.
St. Paul was certainly in a defiant mood when he wrote these encouraging words to the Christians of ancient Rome. This morning we are also in a defiant and faith-filled mood as we celebrate this Requiem Mass for the eternal rest of Monsignor Bryan Maurice Long, Pastor Emeritus – henceforth known as Bryan – a dearly loved brother, brother-in-law, uncle, relative and friend, but above all, for each of us, a holy and faithful priest of the Diocese of Sandhurst.
As we pray for Bryan’s eternal peace, we also pray for the gift of God’s consolation for Bryan’s last remaining sibling, Des Long, and for Bryan’s extended family, and for each other - his many dear friends, parishioners and priestly brethren. Although we are sad and sorrowful, and our loss is real, our over riding emotions are those of deep gratitude and hope filled certainty.
The circumstances of Bryan’s death were exactly as he would have arranged it – quite, unfussy and matter of fact. Grateful for having just received the sacrament of the sick and Holy Communion from his bishop, still conscious of his surroundings and of those around him, Bryan gently passed into the arms of his Lord. No trumpet blasts, no memorable last words, no drama. Very Bryan Long.
It is, however, rather disorientating for us as a family, as it might also be for the parishioners of St. Kilian’s and for the wider Sandhurst Diocese, not to see Bryan here with us this morning. He was a dedicated funeral goer.
To our family, and to the hundreds of families he ministered to in Numurkah, Kennington, Benalla, Tallangatta, Cobram, White Hills and St. Kilian’s, Bryan always brought authentic consolation and deep gospel faith whenever bereavement and death struck - but again – this was always done in a quiet and understated way – pointing to Christ, not to himself.
Clergy know, it’s not easy to bury young people, the victims of horrific accidents, parents of large families, infants hardly a day old and in Bryan’ case many of his own siblings, a nephew and his much loved parents.
Throughout his 62 years of priestly ministry, we his family and his brethren witnessed Bryan’s uncomplicated and deep faith, gently but firmly, pointing us towards the Resurrection. His presence made real for us those words we have just heard from St. John’s Gospel: All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me, I shall not turn away.
Family functions and celebrations were highly cherished by Bryan. He never missed weddings, baptisms or significant family anniversaries and gladly looked forward to such invitations. Again, his was a gentle and unassuming presence.
We his nephews and nieces were always very proud that he was our uncle. Usually invoking our relationship with Bryan was enough to save you at school from impending disaster. This was especially effective if your teachers happened to be Nuns or Brothers known to Bryan. This didn’t always work, however. My sister Maureen tells the tale of how she overstepped the mark one day to be greeted by Sr. Sylvester’s stern reply, “I don’t care who your uncle is I’m still going to punish you.”
When we consider the pride which James and Mary Long felt in having a son ordained to the priesthood on 26th July 1953, we also see that such pride masked a deep sacrificial love which ensured that Bryan’s priestly ministry was founded solidly on the rock of authentic family love.
He was the humble, holy and effective priest he was because in the domestic churches of Knowsley and Heathcote he learnt beyond any doubt that he was precious and loved not only in God’s sight but in that of his parents, siblings, family and friends. Good and happy priests, must firstly be good and happy human beings.
Bryan felt an immense debt of gratitude to the Christian Brothers at St. Patrick’s Ballarat who fostered both his love of learning and his love of sport.
He also acknowledged the formation he received from the Jesuits Fathers at Corpus Christi College Werribee. The Jesuits introduced him to the wonders of the spiritual life, to philosophy, theology and to what was then an innovation – the lay apostolate so favoured by Archbishop Mannix and Bishop Stewart.
It wasn’t all plain sailing in the seminary, however: Bryan said he dreaded his monthly interviews with the rector, the legendary, Fr. Henry Johnson SJ. The shy, sports’ loving country boy from Knowsley soon exhausted areas of mutual interest with his rector. Bryan said he and Fr. Johnson would then just sit in silence until the allotted time for the interview was over.
If you look at photographs of Bryan’s ordination and first Mass celebrated all those years ago at St. Mary’s Heathcote, you will be looking into a culture and church life, which presented itself as permanent and self-assured: Yet during the last 50 years of Bryan’s priestly life such certainty and permanence largely dissolved before our eyes.
The post Tridentine Church, with its rigidly structured and finely disciplined model of church life, gave Catholics my age and older our faith. It was full of certitude, changelessness and energy. It had a strongly developed sense of group identity in the face of perceived threats: Protestants, Communists and the real bigotry, which often existed against Catholics seeking to take their rightful place in Australian Society.
This was the Church that formed the young Fr. Long. This Church served most of us very well although we now know to our immense sadness that human folly, sinfulness and weakness were also part of the story.
The historical context of 1953 gives us an essential insight into Bryan’s profoundly and ever evolving priestly spirit. Trained within the narrow seminary system of Werribee, celebrating Mass for 12 years in Latin without any lay participation, working within a structure where Father was always in charge, certain always about what was right and what was wrong, suddenly Bryan and the rest of us found ourselves in a world and in a church turned upside down.
I cannot think of any central doctrine or practice of the Catholic Faith, which has not been rearticulated, challenged, attacked, reformed or down right ignored during the last fifty years.
Throughout buth the trauma and signs of real life since Vatican II, Bryan Long remained faithful to his sharing in Christ’s priesthood. He was and shall remain for me, as I am sure he will for you, a man of profound prayer, priestly devotion and absolute integrity. His Breviaries are ragged and worn: his Rosary Beads tarnished and often repaired: his diary full of obligations.
Never once, even in the midst of the worst crises, did I ever hear from Bryan’s lips an angry word, a despairing word, a grieving word. He did not spread gossip or scandal. He respected confidentiality. Human weakness, tragedy and sin were approached without harsh condemnation.
Bryan never understood the partisan positions adopted by various groups either on the left or on the right within the Church. He reflected recently that he had always obeyed any request made by the various bishops of Sandhurst under whom he served – although he said he never wanted to be Vicar General – and certainly not for the length of time he was.
Bryan did not live in the past in some imagined golden age when everyone was happy and perfect, where people and priests alike were saintly and sweet. His was not the priesthood of Bing Crosby’s Going My Way but the priesthood of going the way of Jesus, the way, the truth and the Life.
External changes never seemed as important to Bryan as inner change. His style of celebrating Mass changed little over the years. He had a profound respect for the rubrics and a deep reverence at the altar. He wasn’t particularly gifted or interested in the finer point of liturgical music or creative liturgy. What always remained important was the simple question, “would this change deepen his parishioners’ relationship with the Lord Jesus?” Bryan’s priestly style preached Christ, not himself. Our first reading captures it perfectly: Blessed are those who die in the Lord! Now they can rest forever after their work, since their good deeds go with them.
Bryan’s life had clear and uncomplicated boundaries. Knowlsey and Heathcote were the centre of God’s universe. Bendigo and Gornong also featured in his worldview as suburbs of Knowlsey. Melbourne and Canberra were very distant planets where extended family lived, and as for overseas that really was better read about than experienced. His one trip overseas was as a migrant chaplain and was only made under obedience to Bishop Stewart, however, Bryan did return to Australia laden with gifts for all the family, including the first transistor radio we had ever seen. I don’t think Bryan ever moved much beyond that revolutionary form of IT.
Bryan loved sport and was a loyal and passionate supporter of the Sydney Swans. Local rumour has it that Bryan and Laurie O’Farrell had a standing Tattslotto bet whenever Carlton played the Swans. Laurie lost every bet over the last eight years.
Bryan also had an almost religious devotion to the 7.00pm ABC news. It was while watching the daily news that Bryan’s only vice was in evidence – his love of lollies and chocolates. Frs. Andrew Fewings, Vin Walsh and Denis Crameri could probably report more on this. I can add from the family’s point of view that Bryan was famous for visiting our homes with such goodies. Bryan was generous to a fault. His pockets were usually empty.
By nature Bryan was a shy and retiring person. Being in the limelight was an immense cross for him to bear. The office of Vicar General and other responsibilities weighed heavily on him. He often remarked in retirement: “I just wanted to go back to a small country parish.”
His shyness, however, made him a real blessing to the anxious penitent, the sick and the housebound. They especially will miss his unassuming visits and immense pastoral sympathy.
One thing unites us all this morning, a profound sense of gratitude that we had as a brother, a brother in law, uncle, friend and pastor, a priest so close to the heart of Jesus our merciful High Priest.
Dead priests are often respected and admired but Bryan was also loved. The love shown for Bryan by Bishop Les and the priests of Sandhurst, Margaret and the staffs at the Chancery, St. Kilian’s and the Cathedral, and the staff at Bentley Aged Care – and those of you who visited him so faithfully - is an immense consolation for us his family. We are indeed grateful for all you did for Bryan.
The God who gave Bryan the gift of life, who gave him the gifts of Christian Baptism and Priestly Ordination, and the grace of preserving so faithfully in humble and often unnoticed ministry, can now be further trusted to bring Bryan fully into the hidden splendours of everlasting joy. Our faith and hope assure us that God embraces Bryan with a love, whose depths and eternity, is beyond our comprehension.
So now there is but one thing left for us to do - we are doing what God's people have done throughout the centuries - we are commending Bryan into God's hands - we are praying for him and for each other - in and through the way which Catholic Christians believe to be God's sure and eternally effective remedy for each and ever human need - in this Eucharist - this Mass we are inserting ourselves and Bryan into Christ's perfect sacrifice, made once and for all upon the cross, but now made real and effective for us and for Bryan upon this altar-table.
Here God embraces Bryan in death, as he did in life, and into God’s mercy we commend Bryan with the absolute assurance that God is doing for him - and for each of us - despite our feelings of sadness - greater things than we can ask for or even imagine.
May Bryan Long’s gentle, priestly soul rest in peace and may our hearts discover afresh the precious gifts of God’s unfailing consolation and peace.
Bishop Leslie Tomlinson