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Homily for Fr. Peter A. Reilly, MM 2013-06-15

Memorial Mass for Fr. Peter Reilly, by M Sloboda
In secondary hall, Sat, June 15, 2013, 3:00 PM


Dear Principals, teachers, alumni and parents:

Today is the annual Mass in memory of Fr. Peter Reilly, MM (1912-1994), and tomorrow will be Fathers’ Day. So let me make 2 comparisons: first between a biological and a spiritual father, and second between a military battlefield and a school campus.

First, a Maryknoll priest who was even older than Fr. Reilly told me this story. Fr. Jim Fitzgerald was working in Guangdong. One day a man told him, “There are two things which a man has to do in life: have a son, and plant a tree. Fr. Fitzgerald asked, “Can I plant 2 trees?” Even though Fr.

Reilly did not have children in the biological definition of the word, he was a good influence on the younger generation. He led them to faith in Jesus as well as helping them make better citizen and better people in this world. He became a father in the spiritual sense of the word. I’m not sure if Fr. Reilly planted any trees during the first part of his missionary career. However, after he left southern China for HK, he established the Maryknoll Fathers’ School.

Second, when Fr. Reilly was a little boy, not old enough for primary school, World War One raged across Europe. The French army won some battles and lost some battles. French generals had a saying, “Victory has 100 fathers; defeat is an orphan.” After a victory, the commanding general, his subordinate officers, and even some brave soldiers who were on the field during the turning point of the battle, all boasted about their contribution. After a defeat, no one talked about where they had been during the battle.

Suppose the MFS had been a failure. Suppose after it opened its doors in 1957 this school had struggled for a few years to recruit good teachers and to fill the classrooms, but in vain. Suppose the Maryknoll Superiors back then decided to admit defeat, to sound retreat and to redeploy personnel and finances elsewhere in HK. If that had happened, we would not remember Fr. Peter Reilly today. We would also not express thanks for Mrs. Tong, the first principal, the early teachers, or the 100 later supervisors, principals, teachers and dedicated staff who have brought success and honour to our school. In their own way, they have been and still are fathers and mothers to our students. Given the huge role women play in education, victory on campus has 10 fathers and 90 mothers. However, defeat remains an orphan.

I met Fr. Reilly a few times, yet I cannot pretend to have had long conversations with him. After Mass, please tell me a story or two about him. I read where he was ordained in June 1940. He took a train from New York to San Francisco. Ships in those days sailed slowly across the Pacific, stopping in Hawaii and Japan before reaching Shanghai and then south to HK. The old way of saying “a lengthy trip,” was “a slow boat to China.” I do not introduce to the younger generation as myself as Fr. Sloboda, Fr. Slow Boat to China, since today we fly across the Pacific by fast jet. Once Fr. Reilly headed west to Wuchow [梧州] in Guangxi Province, he was out of contact with Maryknoll headquarters. In an emergency, he could have sent a telegram, which was expensive. Normally he wrote letters. If he wrote to New York for advice, he would get a reply in the mail in less than 3 months. There was no internet in those days for email and web searches. He had a few Latin books. So he had to rely mostly on what was in his head from his years of seminary training, and what was in his heart for love of God and the Chinese people.

That was during the Japanese invasion, the Eight Year War of Resistance. The Chinese slogan was zui hou shengli [最後勝利] Victory in the End. The Allies finally won World War Two, but at a heavy price. Several years later, Fr. Reilly and a million other refuges were in HK struggling to resume something like a normal life. Fr. Reilly made his contribution to the poor people in this area. Now, many of the children and grandchildren of those refugees are well established in life, and you in your turn are helping people in need.

In the first reading, St. Paul mentions the problems of life. From first-hand experience, St. Paul knew how difficult and dangerous life can be. He did not know Chinese, so he could not promise the new, small church in Rome bai zhan bai sheng [百戰百勝] 100 battles and 100 victories. Instead he encouraged them with a question: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” I cannot say Victory in the End in Hebrew, Greek or Latin, yet I can say we all need confidence in God as we confront serious trouble.

In the Gospel passage, Jesus knew when it was time to cry. Grown men are not supposed to cry, or so they say. Jesus had lost his friend Lazarus, and so he went to the tomb. In his human nature, Jesus cried. He did not pretend to be human; he actually had human flesh and blood, and human emotions. In his divine nature, Jesus performed a miracle and brought Lazarus back to life. Shortly afterwards, Jesus was arrested, condemned to a painful death, executed, and was buried. Then on Easter, he rose from the death. He won the victory over sin and death. A few centuries later, Pope Leo the Great wrote, “If our Savior’s had fought his battle outside of our human condition, then his victory would not have been of any profit to us.”

In conclusion, let me say to the fathers in this auditorium, Happy Fathers’ Day! I’ve seen second-hand how a biological father has a demanding and frustrating vocation in life. I am not going to give you any practical advice on how to raise children. There is a Chinese saying, zhishang tan bing [紙上談兵], on paper talk soldier (armchair strategist in English). With faith in God, and remembering our school motto, Truth and Loyalty, you will succeed in the long run. Victory in the End! Fathers, you will win some battles and lose some battles. When you suffer a temporary defeat, remember Jesus. It is better for a man to cry than to get drunk.

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Fr. Reilly Memorial Mass 15 June 2013

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