Fr Peter Confeggi Homily for Mass of Christian Burial for Fr Peter Woodward
Introduction for Funeral Mass for Rev Fr Peter Woodward, Holy Name of Mary Church, Rydalmere, Thursday 26 June 2014
Welcome all to this Funeral Mass for Rev Fr Peter Woodward, priest of the Diocese of Parramatta and resident of this parish. It has been a very sad week for our Diocese as we have lost two priests, still young in age and in priesthood. I was blessed to be able to attend upon Peter, to pray with his family, to absolve him and give him the Apostolic pardon and plenary indulgence just moments before he died. Today we grieve his loss and commend him to God with “a sure and certain hope” in God’s mercy and with great confidence in the merits of Fr Peter’s service.
I welcome and express my sincere condolences for especially Fr Peter’s siblings and in-laws, many of whom were there to send him off to God on that morning that he died: John and Gai, David and Sue, Paul, Jenny and Peter; his nieces and nephews, Sally, Andrew, Matthew, Lauren, Emma, Rochelle, Christopher, Michael, Stephen, Elle, Abby and Max.
Fr Peter was of course hearing impaired and for many years he served the hearing-impaired community of our Diocese and of the Archdiocese of Sydney. I welcome Mr. Stephen Lawlor, Director of the Ephpheta Centre, and Mrs Nicole Clark, who will translate for us; and other members of the deaf community.
I acknowledge the presence of: the Bishops Emeriti of Parramatta, Most Rev Bede Heather and Most Rev Kevin Manning; the Vicars General of Parramatta, Very Re. Fr Peter Williams VG EV and Very Rev Fr Christopher de Souza Vg EV; the Vicar General of Maitland-Newcastle, Very Rev Fr Brian Mascord VG; Fr Peter Lamont, Parish Priest of this Parish; Fr Peter Confeggi, who will preach today’s homily; and other concelebrating priests from the Diocese of Parramatta and beyond.
Fr Peter’s vocational path was an interesting one. Only 58 when he died, he had been a Benedictine brother before discerning a vocation to the diocesan priesthood. He was eventually ordained a priest of the Diocese of Parramatta in 1997 by Bishop Bede. After appointments at Toongabbie and Windsor, his principal work was as Director and later Chaplain to the deaf community at the Ephpheta Centre, where his Benedictine love of prayer and the sacred liturgy was a great gift to the community.
Fr Peter was given many trials by God, especially in respect of his health: the loss of his hearing, diabetes and heart failure. He waited long on the transplant queue but his deteriorating condition took him before such an intervention was possible. Amidst much suffering, he persevered in his vocation and ministry, a testament to his strength of character. Towards the end, he knew great calm, acceptance and peace. He will be sorely missed and we now commend his soul to our heavenly Father.
Homily given by St Patrick’s Blacktown Parish Priest Rev Fr Peter Confeggi at Holy Name of Mary Church Rydalmere, Thursday 26 June 2014
Travelling to Europe with Peter for a month last year and with him being on the verge of a heart transplant, meant just a few places and lots of rest.
Peter, like most of us, liked to be in control, and so had a hundred questions each week. With the third week, which involved an overnight stay, Peter had even more questions.
We left Paris and took a train to Normandy and then by bus to Mont St Michel. When settled in the hotel, I said I was going to walk up the mountain, knowing it was something that Peter could not do.
Well it is more a climb than a walk but what a wonderful experience – the trek of more than a thousand years of pilgrims.
On my descent, and to my amazement, I found Peter more than half way up the mountain. Typical of Peter – determined, or was it stubborn. As one fellow priest, you shall remain nameless, says stubborn as a mule.
If Peter wanted to do something, he did it! Equally, if Peter didn’t want to do something there was no way you could convince him to do it. He had a will of iron but then perhaps he needed it.
In the conversation over dinner that evening Peter came alive with the Benedictine dream. I was given a short history of the Benedictine movement; no, that is not true, no story was ever short with Peter.
Surprisingly, he had an extraordinary amount of information about Mont St Michel, though it was somewhat at odds with the guide book. But when Peter knew something …
Getting Peter to change his mind on something was never easy. This Benedictine conversation lasted for some days, though it was hard to know whether it was Mont St Michel or New Norcia.
When Peter, the young novice at New Norcia, in the words of our first reading first aspired to serve the Lord, he could only have been terrified by their forecast: My son, prepare yourself for an ordeal … be steadfast… not alarmed when disaster comes … accept it … so that you may be honoured at the end of your days. Peter could not have imagined how these words would prefigure his life journey.
As I listened to Peter’s sharing the Benedictine dream on Mont St Michel and beyond, I wondered, and I still wonder, how much his monastic formation was to prepare him for life.
So often God gives us an experience only to prepare us for a later experience! The challenge is seeing the hand of God in the journey of life.
I strongly suspect that, in the providence of God, the threads of monastic spirituality became a great gift in living out his priestly ministry beyond the cloister.
With increased hearing loss there was a lot of monos (aloneness) that is the root of the word monasticism, that desert spirituality that takes us to a place where we are alone with God, where we are who we are before God; that and nothing else.
Why there was even a certain monastic rhythm in his hour by hour attention to diabetes and diet! But Peter’s was an Un-elected Silence.
The young novice of New Norcia must have known those opening words of the Rule of Benedict: Listen carefully, my child, to your master's precepts, and incline the ear of your heart. How ironic that both Peter’s ear and heart were to fail.
When Mary Woodward’s boys, John, David and young Peter, unknowingly inherited MELAS syndrome from her, one was to be more affected than Peter.
While all three became hearing impaired the syndrome went on to take a greater toll on Peter’s body. With multiple medical difficulties perhaps he just had to be determined, stubborn or even mule stubborn. That determination I met half way up Mont St Michel.
Peter was determined to be a priest and when that was not possible in New Norcia he found a home in Parramatta, where he was graciously welcomed by Bede Heather, the then Bishop of Parramatta.
At the time there seemed every good reason to believe that Peter would have a full and active ministry among us. But then his hearing declined and he decided to have a cochlear implant.
I remember being at St Vincent’s Hospital when Peter had his cochlear implant. The doctor came to announce that the operation had been a success and he would soon be back in the ward. I rang his sister Jenny with the good news.
A short time later the same doctor returned to tell me it seemed Peter had had a heart attack. I rang Jenny again. Ironically, as the ear was strengthening the heart began to weaken.
While Peter so obviously carried in his body the mystery of the Cross, the second reading (Romans 8:14-23) gives us hope: What we suffer in this life cannot be compared to the glory that is to come.
Having seen the extent of Peter’s struggles over the years how grand must be that glory, that life to which he is now called.
The Gospel text (John 14:1-6) speaks of the diversity of rooms in the Father’s house. I suspect there is a dim reflection of that diversity in the community of bishops, priests and deacons of the diocese. There are preachers, and teachers, scholars and administrators, builders and pastors, saints and sinners.
Today we might ask: what was Peter’s gift for us? How do we hold his memory? He held no degrees, never became a parish priest or episcopal vicar.
He didn’t serve on committees. He does not leave his name on any foundation stone or monument. Increasingly, it was difficult for him to take part in clergy days.
His ministry with the deaf community and the Ephpheta Centre was often outside the Diocese of Parramatta. It was also a ministry of mixed blessing. It is almost as though he has been fading from us for some time, so unlike the sudden passing of Fr Dave Hume recently.
In many ways Peter was an icon of the passion, confronting us all with disability. And as disability always does, challenging us to face our own disability. In the end Peter taught us that it is in weakness accepted in faith that we meet the grace of God.
In the last 10 weeks, to us the image of the Letter to the Romans creation was groaning in Peter’s body, groaning with weakened heart, a stroke and surgery for clots in his leg.
In the last week it was not so much groaning as raging. When I visited him he had his bags packed. He was going home. He didn’t need to be in rehab – the food was no good, the staff were hopeless – everything was wrong. Take me home.
We came to a compromise. No, you are not going home but I’ll take you out for coffee tomorrow.
A few of us had hard words with Peter that day. I think it is called tough love.
When I called the next day I found a different man. I sent a text to Fr Chris de Souza: He is calm, resigned, peaceful but weak and not eating.
Says he can’t go back to Rydalmere. Says he can’t think of going out with me.
Just wanted me to put him into bed. Waiting for Bev. In all, a turn-around, a moment of grace.
Last Thursday night, Bev Hackett and I shared quiet conversation with Peter at Westmead. Peter was at great peace. There was the sense of saying goodbye though the word was not used. He died the next morning surrounded by his much-loved and loving family.
Today we join with Peter’s family – still grieving the loss of Peter’s sister, Anne.
We his family, the Ephpheta family and family of Parramatta join in commending Peter to the goodness and mercy of God.
Peter, may the Lord Jesus speak again that word that you have so often heard, and seen and said: Ephpheta, be opened! Be open to life eternal.
May you hear all the subtly of the voice of your God calling you home.
May the choirs of angels welcome you in decibels unknown to your ears. And in the corridors that link the many rooms of the Father’s house may you run into that ancient abbot who spoke when you first aspired to serve the Lord.
May you hear anew his ancient wisdom:
Listen carefully, my child,
and incline the ear of your heart.
Your new ear and your new heart
to the very heart of God.
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