27/2/06 Homily at Funeral Mass for Bishop Williams

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EMBARGOED: 5.45P.M. 27/2/06

Solemn Funeral Mass for
Titular Bishop of Summa
Emeritus auxiliary Bishop of Dublin

Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland
Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 27th February 2006

        I remember on one occasion when I was back from Rome on holidays, calling to visit Archbishop Dermot Ryan.  He asked me to stay for lunch and as we entered the dining room the then Monsignor Des Williams was standing at the table.  “You know Des Williams”, Archbishop Ryan said quickly as we sat down.  I had to answer that I did not.  Immediately, Archbishop Ryan replied “you must be the only one who doesn’t”.
        Bishop Des Williams was universally known because he touched the lives of so many people, in so many ways, in so many different contexts.  

He had worked in Archbishop’s House for many years and one would have expected then to meet one of the establishment or a Church bureaucrat.  Des Williams was anything but.  He was a loyal and discreet co-operator of many Archbishops.  His administrative achievements were enormous.  He reorganized the financial situation of the Archdiocese.  He was the architect of the Common Fund for the equitable remuneration of priests.  He set Share in motion to ensure that Churches and schools would be rapidly built in the many developing areas of a growing diocese.  He was unfailingly available and kind to priests as they faced challenges in their parish development and building projects.

He was a man who saw what was going on around him and he saw beyond it.  His contact with priests in developing parishes was never just about bricks and mortar.  The contact kept alive in him his concern for people, especially people who were disadvantaged.  Rather than being a distant administrator, he was a man with a heart who quickly saw and cared for human needs.  He shared the Gospel in word and deed.

        He was never a nine-to-five person.  After a long day’s work in Archbishop’s House he was out and about every evening with his many favourite projects.  He founded St. Kevin’s football Club in Whitehall and helped it expand into one of the largest of its kind in Europe   In 1980 he became chairman of the Catholic Social Service Conference, now Crosscare, which he modernized, updated and expanded providing vital programmes to the poor and marginalized.

Crosscare saw its mission as helping the poor to realize their human dignity and potential, and empowering them to speak for themselves and change the society of which they are a part.  Bishop Williams had a special pastoral concern for Travellers and helped to develop Trudder House, a residential home for travellers at Newtownmountkennedy.

He was ordained titular Bishop of Summa and Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin in 1985 and in that capacity showed remarkable pastoral leadership.  Sadly his health began to deteriorate.  His hearing difficulties prevented him from enjoying his pastoral contact with people.   In his retirement, he moved to Holy Family Residence Roebuck and he discretely found ways to continue his ministry of care and thoughtfulness right until last Friday evening when he died.  Any time I met him he stressed just how happy he was in Roebuck and we are truly grateful to the Little Sisters of the Poor for their care for him.

On Friday morning last, Bishop Williams celebrated Mass for the last time.  He chose a votive Mass of the Holy Cross.  He had not been too well and may have had the intuition that his life inevitably was drawing to a close.  

When Archbishop Ryan said to me: “everyone knows Des Williams”, he was right and he was wrong.  There is a sense in which Bishop Des did so much and quietly encountered so many people that no one could possibly have fully known the extent of his goodness.

There is also the fact that Des Williams was the most private of private people.  He never looked for any publicity or fanfare. For relaxation he was happiest when with his family, nieces and nephews or a few priest friends.  He was someone who followed Jesus intensely but with discretion and without show. He accepted his illness and growing physical weakness with admirable patience.  He was so appreciative of any gesture of help.   He understood his life as a following of Jesus on the way of the cross. 

The mystery of the Cross is the ultimate demonstration by Jesus Christ of how great God’s love for us is.  Jesus came into the world to witness to us of the love of the Father.  That witness was always a sacrificial love, a love that was self-giving, gratuitous and saving.  He came to save us from the powers of evil and to take us in his powerful, saving hand up into the very love of God himself, the intimate life of God.

Jesus spent his life preaching, revealing the Word, teaching the truth about God’s love, always associating his preaching with the care of the sick and the weak and freeing of people from the burdens which entrapped and possessed them.  In his ministry Jesus emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant.  Indeed he achieved Lordship, the “name that is above every other name”, though living his sacrificial, self-giving love until the end, even to death of the cross.

Being a Christian, means opening ourselves to the invitation of Jesus to accept his saving love and to reflect in our lives, in season and out, that love which springs from the inner life of God himself.
Love is the criterion by which we can judge whether our life has been successful or not.  We have heard the message of the Gospel.  Jesus is not encountered as a distant judge.  Jesus and his judgments are encountered every day in the way in which we encounter the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoners. 

Love must be the norm of our life, a love that in its turn helps others to realize their God given abilities and to live their life with dignity, to realise their creative talents and to live with others in harmony and justice.

Bishop Des Williams worked all his life for that vision of Church and society. I do not think that I would be wrong in saying that he would have been appalled by the sort violence that appeared on our streets on Saturday last, just yards away from the Pro-Cathedral.  He worked for a better, more just, more tolerant, more respectful society.  There is something frightening in seeing organized violence on our streets, in seeing young people urged on by anonymous faces to show hatred and disrespect for others.  There can be nothing farther from the message of the Gospel.  I join the calls made for all to publicly distance themselves from such violence.  Such senseless violence is not the way to build our Ireland of the future. Such senseless violence will not break down the barriers of history.

Bishop Des Williams spent much of his life helping those who were disadvantaged and who at times had the right to be angry with society.  He helped the marginalised, however, to make the most of their lives, to grow to realise their capacities, to be good citizens, through honest hard work and genuine family concern.   

We thank the Lord for the life of Bishop Desmond Williams; a witness to the love of God, lived in the context of the Mystery of the Cross, one who loved the poor and won the love of us all.

May God reward him for his goodness, may he free him from his sins and rejoice as Bishop Desmond Williams takes as the heritage of his love of the poor, a share in the eternal kingdom of justice and love.