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'He lived his priesthood as a friend of Jesus'

Archbishop Wenski's homily at funeral for Father Anthony O'Brien

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the funeral Mass for Father Anthony O’Brien, 63, who died May 13. The Mass took place May 23, 2018, at St. Malachy Church, Tamarac.

The priesthood is part of God’s plan for the redemption of the world. Today, we gather to remember one priest, Father Anthony O’Brien, and we commend his soul to the mercy of our loving Father. This week he would have celebrated the 30th anniversary of his ordination.

Our condolences to his mother, Anne, and to his sister, Rita. They have traveled from their home in England to say farewell to their son and brother. There is nothing that I or anyone could say that could lessen a mother’s grief on the death of a child of any age. Parents rightly expect that their children will bury them — that’s the natural order of things, or at least it should be. But we are grateful that both Tony’s mum and sister are here, for while we can do little to lessen the weight of the cross of grief that they carry, at least they know — by the presence and prayers of both the priests and parishioners here today — that it is a cross that they do not carry alone.

A special word of thanks and appreciation to the pastor and parishioners of St. Malachy — Father Dominick O’Dwyer. Dominick, you were both a pastor and a friend to Tony. He did his best to serve you, Dominick, as your parochial vicar for these past seven years; but he also had his struggles and you did your best — and then some — to support him as he struggled with this terrible disease of alcoholism. You understood him — and you always cared about him — and you cared for him.

Tony was a gifted and talented priest. Here at St. Malachy’s, he attended to both the English and Spanish-speaking parishioners — he spoke Spanish very well; and he also was happy to use his French with the Haitian parishioners. Over 30 years he served God’s people here in the archdiocese: He served as parochial vicar in several parishes, he worked with young people, he worked with Catholic Charities, he was pastor of St. Charles Borromeo, he was a chaplain to Hallandale’s Police Department. We could go on and list all his assignments; we could talk about his virtues or kid about his shortcomings. But all we need to say is that Anthony O’Brien was a priest. He was a priest who lived his priesthood as a friend of Jesus: That explains his zeal for souls; that explains his devotion to his Church; that explains his love for Jesus.

God uses imperfect instruments to work his will so that we know that it is He who saves, and not we. Yet, like Tony O’Brien, every priest here is privileged to serve God and his people in this awesome vocation of the holy priesthood. And even though we carry this treasure in the “earthen vessels” of our frail humanity and sinfulness, it is a holy priesthood because as “other Christs” we share in our Lord’s own high priesthood in our ministry of Word and Sacrament.

For Father O’Brien so much of his daily life was centered in the Eucharist. This is true for all of us priests. In the Eucharist, Father proclaimed Christ’s promises; he accepted and believed the words of Jesus — that eternal life is the gift that the Eucharist brings.

Jesus said: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  The Christ whom he adored hidden in the host may he now contemplate face to face.

The priests here were associated with Father Tony in different ways and with varying degrees of friendship and fraternity. This is a special bond that unites us as priests — it is a bond that is “stronger than death” — for we were ordained like Melchisedek of old, priests forever. And since we priests know our own human frailty, we are not shy in asking for prayers for him — and when we die, we beg your prayers for us, confident that the love of Jesus Christ who gave us the gift of the priesthood is stronger than death.

Eternal Rest, grant unto him, O Lord; may his soul and the soul of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. 

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