Remembrance Service for the late Judge Michael Reilly RIP

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Inspector of Prison

 Notes for the reflection of  Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin


University Church, St Stephen’s Green, 11th May 2017

“In my earlier life before becoming Archbishop of Dublin, I worked in the area of international life and international organizations.   One of the people I learned to greatly admire was head of a major UN organization.  He had two deputies, one a Muslim and one a Jew.  He himself was a Catholic.  His deputies would say to me: “our Director is a Catholic and we know that his faith means so much to him.  It is not that he tries to convert us, but we all know that his faith brings an added quality to the work that he does”.    That comment brought home to me the fact that there is more to professionalism than just technical expertise.

The comment came to mind vividly when I began to read something of the late Judge Michael Reilly whom we remember this evening. What struck me was how Judge Reilly’s life was marked by certain clear principles of commitment which went way beyond what we might call narrowly professional qualities or technical ability. People who have genuine principles of commitment in their lives – whether religious or otherwise – are the ones who carve out in their life and work precious added professional qualities. They are the ones who change the world around them; they are the ones who break through all the barriers of bureaucracy and professional clubishness,  which can easily become the seeds of sterile institutionalisation.

Every bureaucracy has within it an inbuilt temptation towards a one size fits all mentality and a sense that things can well be done as they always have been done.  The wonderful first reading we have heard reminds us, however, that all our lives are marked by different situations requiring different responses.   All of us go through different moments of planting and uprooting, of weeping and laughing, of tearing and minding, of silence and speaking, and of mourning and dancing.  One size for all is never the measure of any human being.

We know ourselves how important those people are in our own lives who welcome and embrace us is all our personal ups and downs.   All of us have to learn that art which is fundamental to being truly human of knowing how to welcome and embrace others not only in their strengths but also in their weaknesses and failings.

Judge Reilly was a highly qualified, specialised, and successful lawyer of the highest professional calibre, but had a heart which took him beyond the technical and showed how his personal humanity could touch and change people, with enriched professionalism. We are here to recall and celebrate that humanity.

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine who told me that she had just met Pope Francis.  The person who introduced her said to the Pope: “This lady has a son who is very troubled”.  She was expecting the Pope to ask her what the nature of that troubled personality was.  Instead, she was stunned when the Pope asked simply: “What is his name?”

Judge Reilly had that remarkable ability to see before him as a lawyer and as a judge not just an accused or a plaintiff but someone with a name, with a personal history with ups and downs, with failures and aspirations, perhaps with a troubled history or a history of failure and a history of having been failed.  But he saw in the first place a person with a name and an identity which was open to change and be changed and even if they might not be able to put in into words a desire to change.    Commitment and a sensitive heart can bring not just a vague added quality to our professional life, but can change every encounter with those whom we encounter in our professional life.

Judge Reilly combined that concern for the individual with an understanding of structures and organizations and he saw the need to change and humanize structures and organizations especially in the penal system.  The principal instrument in his passion to humanize the penal system was his own humanity.  His own humanity gave him insights into situations where humanity could not flourish.  His own humanity gave him a passion and a determination to bring about change and that same humanity was what touched others to understand his passionate commitment and to respond to it in a way in which  finger-pointing and denunciation alone would not have achieved.

Complex relationships with people who would naturally be hostile to the officialdom he represented were changed by encountering a human being who saw that, even with the worst offenders, it is possible to bring out the best in their humanity. In fact, he would probably have been cautious in using the judgemental term “worst of offenders”, because he was able to see even in complex and dark personalities elements of goodness, which deserved to be treated with dignity.

He was passionate about issues, such as   investigating the roots of death by suicide in prison, where again his heart reached out to the myriad of people such deaths touched.

The Gospel reading which we have heard recalls one of the first public appearances of Jesus himself.  It is a self-presentation of his own identity and of the God he came to reveal.    He was the anointed one of God:  anointed however with a power and an authority which was distinctive: the power to bring good news to the poor and the excluded, to free those weighed down and trapped in the burdens of human failure, to give sight and insight to those who feel it hard see a real future of hope.  We believers have received the command to use any power and authority we exercise with that same purpose and spirit.

Judge Michael Reilly was one who threw his rich humanity fully into the realisation that justice was not just about judgement and condemnation.   Justice is also about healing and enabling those who have failed to be restored in their humanity.  Judge Reilly was ever aware of the call to share the wealth of humanity which he was fortunate to have received with many in our society who were less fortunate.  He shared that same humanity and human warmth also with many who are here with us this evening.  Those who knew him are proud to have been his friends and all of us together – family, friends and colleagues – thank God for the gift of the life of a good and kind man.” ENDS