Bastien Joseph Isaiah Madrill, 18 April 1996 - 26 April 2012It is always with a certain hesitation that I attend to a call like I received last Thursday evening, to visit a family's home after the death of a loved one. Although you have been invited, you are never quite sure what will await you when you arrive, and I am keenly aware of the sense of barging in and intruding on what has to be one of the most intimate and sublime experiences that any family will journey through. As the priest, you are not sure what level of faith will await you, or what level of antagonism or anxiety or anger concerning the church. When I was led into Bastien's bedroom and saw Joe and Claire and Michaela and Alexis gathered around his bed, it didn't take long for me to realise that I had been invited into a most sacred encounter.
The first thing that struck me that night was the extraordinary love that emanated from each member of this most incredible family. But as we began to pray and I offered the prayers after death, then it became clear that the evident affection and devotion that each and every person there had for Bas was founded in a deep faith and trust in the God of life.
After I had finished the prayers assigned to me, and we had prayed together for a few minutes, I tried to move into the background, and practice the very ancient tradition of the simple prayer of presence.
I hoped to allow each member of the family to continue to say goodbye, as I silently prayed as a member of St Paul's Parish in this sanctuary of the domestic church.
I prayed in silence and commended Bas into the merciful arms of our dear Lord Jesus; meanwhile the family prayed in a similar way, asking his guardian angel to escort him along this part of his journey.
Later that night, and then especially the next day, I began to get an insight into the enormous impact of the life of this young man - through the flood of tributes on facebook and then the silence and respect - along with the tears and the weeping of hundreds of students at Magdalene last Friday.
I have no easy answer to the question that has been asked so often since Bas was first diagnosed with cancer on 21 October, and especially since his death - why? As one girl asked me after Mass on Sunday - if God loves us so much, then why does he kill people? Why does he allow such suffering?
Of course, I do not believe that God is vindictive, or that God does kill people. I believe that God has created us in love as part of his natural order, but it is an order that is tainted by the wounds of sin and death. So yes, we experience the horrors of diseases such as cancer in this present world - but we are never meant to suffer them alone. We are always in the presence of a God who does love us unconditionally and who continues to lavish his love upon us.
When we suffer, Jesus is there suffering along with us. He did announce his name was Emmanuel - God-with-us. Not only that, but the place where the church should be most evident is when one member of the body suffers. It is then that the love of God's family should be most clearly experienced through the physical presence of the hugs and kisses, the touch and embrace, the love and grace of the body of Christ on earth. This is something that Bas so clearly received both implicitly and explicitly through the obvious love, faith and grace of his immediate and extended family.
Undoubtedly the reason that he touched so many peole with his love, was because he learnt a lesson that so many others can take decades to learn - if at all - the lesson of the gift. The lesson of grace.
Perhaps the reason that so many people were so deeply touched by the life of Bastien Joseph Isaiah Madrill, was because somehow he allowed himself to be touched deeply by God's love, and in so doing, he became a very sign and presence of the kingdom of God, here on earth. Somehow he discovered the secret of being a citizen of heaven much more quickly and with greater ease then so many thousands of others.
So why did Bas die so young? Because he could. Because he was ready for heaven and eternity in the new creation. Let us pray that we can learn to be citizens of heaven and allow the gift of love to mark our lives as well.
Bastien - rest in peace.
Play MP3 - Homily
Recorded at the Funeral Mass for Bastien. (5'36")
- Tribute - written by Joe and Claire Madrill for their son Bastien, which I read out during the funeral liturgy (20'48"):
- Play MP3 - Tribute letter