Remembrances for our Deceased Brothers
Fr Hugh Arthur Mallia, O.Carm. (1931-2005)
Given at the Requiem Mass in Gort Muire, Dublin, on Thursday March 3, 2005.
As we have heard the message of St. Paul proclaimed in English and Maltese “The Life and death of each of us has its influence on others” (Rom.14:7). And so it is with mixed emotions that we gather together this evening to celebrate this Funeral Mass for Hugh. It is tragically sad when we contemplate the suddenness of his death and yet at the same time it is a time of hope and joy. Our love, sympathy and condolences go to Hugh’s sisters Ethel and Edwige and his brothers, Edwin, Walter, Edmond and Albert his nieces, nephews and the many, many friends Hugh was blessed with both here in Ireland and from literally every corner of the world. We the members of the Irish province of Carmelites where Hugh has made his home these past 17 years extend our prayers and support to the brothers in Malta. Malta, Hugh’s true home, and it is there that he will be laid to rest. We gather today at this funeral Mass for a number of reasons. First of all to thank God for the gift of the life of Hugh, Carmelite Friar, Brother, uncle, poet and friend. We truly need to thank God for this. Secondly, we gather to pray for him and to commend his soul to God on this day that the Lord may wipe away any faults and bring him quickly to into his presence. We also gather to receive the grace of consolation and strength from God and from each other his people gathered together in faith.
In the Beatitudes, the Gospel we have just heard we recognise in them the ideal, the way things should be, but we never really think that they might be referring to us or to someone we know. Happy are the poor in Spirit, Happy the gentle, Happy the merciful, Happy the pure in heart, Happy the peacemakers. These qualities and attributes are the hallmarks of what it is to be a Christian. We readily admit that the person who exhibits these qualities is very close to God, and their reward is as the Gospel says, the Kingdom of heaven. “Happy the poor in spirit.” Not the rich and famous, not the powerful and respected. The poor in spirit don’t run after wealth. They don’t grab power and control. They have another outlook. God is the center of their lives. They are dependent, on God. For us, this means two things. First, God does not need us to do anything special in order to work with us. We can be poor in spirit, we don’t need to run after things. There is nothing wrong with being in the background and living the simple life. It’s all right to struggle to get along, to be dependent on God. Second, we should make choices like God. Being content with ordinary while striving for the extraordinary. If somebody needs a helping hand, we should give it. Once we make that choice, the other beatitudes fall into place. Hugh preferred the back seat where he could see and observe everything, he was a good man, devoted to his family, his routine and his faith. In his own way in life Hugh was very close to God, he joked about many things but never his faith. For many, he was a very gentle presence with a willing and generous ear who lived his life in the Spirit of the Beatitudes.
Saying goodbye is always difficult and yet it is made easier because we know by faith that death is not the end. In the midst of all our sorrow, should we grieve? Yes, we should grieve; it is natural, because we have loved Hugh, he has touched and enriched our lives in so many ways. The Gospels tell us even Christ wept when His friend Lazarus died... and He wept even though He was about to bring Him back to life! (John 11). We as Christians grieve. But we grieve with hope. It is understandable that we are sad today that we do not see Hugh anymore as he once was, but it would be wrong to think we will never see him again. It is all right to grieve, but it is wrong to despair. Hugh knew this for a fact. For Christians, death, is not the final word on the human condition? The resurrection is. It is this knowledge that gives us comfort as we say farewell. While he may be no longer with us perched behind his desk or glued to the computer transfixed in a moment of translating or proof reading. Tinkering with some clockwork or mechanical object discarded by someone else, he is and will remain for us a powerful example of someone who loved God, his family and our Order. All his life he had a great capacity for enjoyment and fun. This combination attracted people to him like a magnet and there was always a visitor in his room. Family members saw him as their rock, reassuring, honest and capable. Throughout the whole of his life, he always took pains to share in family occasions phoning regularly and catching up when he visited at Christmas or during the summer holidays with his sisters.
Arthur Mallia was born in Msida in November 1931 and as a child lived through the Second World War an event that marked him deeply. He often recounted the hardships endured by his own family and the sacrifices his parents made to ensure he and his sisters and brothers had food on the table. Like so many young people in Malta he was a member of the SDC or the Museo becoming a fully incorporated member on Christmas Day 1949. Hugh liked to recall one of his meetings with Dun George (now Blessed George) the founder of the Museo who had occasion to refer to Hugh as that greedy little boy. However, the teaching of this wise and holy man influenced Hugh greatly and he took Dun George’s message of meekness, forgiveness and service, to heart. Hugh entered the Carmelite Novitiate in 1950 and was professed in 1951 he was ordained priest in Gozo in 1956. A period of studies then followed. He was a born teacher and taught Maths and Physics and even a little French for some time but his first love was poetry, with a particular passion for Dylan Thomas. A respected poet in his own rights, and published in Maltese, Italian and English he was inducted as a Member of the Maltese Academy. Hugh loved language and languages and had the gift to use it evidenced by the numerous works of translation he preformed. He was sought after as a proofreader and it was not unknown for him to offer some gentle editorial advice to any would be author or preacher. While in Rome, where he served the Order as secretary-general, bursar of St. Albert’s and director of the ongoing-formation program Hugh was a regular contributor on Vatican Radio and on RAI the Italian national broadcasting network. He was also an important collaborator in developing the Carmelite libraries and facilities at St. Albert’s.
The hankering for the contemplative spirit, (in the tradition of another poet John of the Cross) saw Hugh join the Heremitical community at Wolfnitz for a time. That was before the absence of his other great love music, especially the great choral works, opera and the beauty of the voice drew him back into the big bad world. Hugh often knew more than he should. He was easy to talk too and as a result he probably knew more secrets than most, yet he never let on. Integrity. He always enjoyed the company of others but chose his friends carefully. His favourite meal was a bid bowl mussels that he would devour with delight. Often noted for his firm and definite ideas. He was however compassionate, cheerful and approachable especially to the many students he encountered as bursar of the Milltown Institute who regarded him in a truly avuncular fashion. To his friends his empathy was legendary. While studying as a young priest in England he worked in a docklands parish, he loved the people and was much loved in return keeping contact with many to this day. He renewed many other friendships during his annual pilgrimage to Lourdes and the ever-faithful card remembering an occasion. At times he suffered from depression and loneliness, but it was his deep faith and the kindness and warmth of the many friends he was blessed with that helped him through.
In Hugh’s life we can catch glimpses of what it is to be a witness to Christ, of what it is to be a Christian in action. More than ever before we need genuine followers of Christ who will both embrace and live the Beatitudes in their daily lives. Rather like Hugh himself these Beatitudes are simple, and yet complex they can both guide us, and challenge us to live contrary to to-days popular values. The Beatitudes present us with the Christian way of life in terms of character. They paint a picture of calmness and courage even through the worst that life has to offer. Here is the kind of character that can handle the pressures and temptations of a world like ours, and yet maintain an inner sense of direction and purpose that can at times be missing from our lives. Living the Beatitudes can shape of our character and how we relate to God and to others.
As a Christian people we are a people of hope, hope in the promise of the resurrection at the last day. Those who have gone before us are with God, and we who are left mourn their passing and struggle on as best we can without then, but they are not gone from us they are with God and God is very near to us. This, Hugh believed. Today, as we say goodbye to our friend and brother whose warmth, enthusiasm, and ability to recognise goodness and to encourage I will miss most of all. His untimely death is a great loss to us in the province and I pay particular tribute to the wise advice and genuine support given to so many people. The shadow of his deeds is long indeed as we bid him farewell. We thank God for his readiness to see the good in us all and for the gifts he used so well for so many people. He made a difference to the lives of so many through his ministry of priest and friar through his poetry, his eagerness to cook up big pots of pasta and his quiet and often bittersweet observations. It was John of the Cross that said – “In the evening of life we will be examined on love”, our belief is that Hugh will not be found wanting. May his generous spirit, gifted with honesty and compassion, rest in peace.