Archbishop Leo Cushley paid tribute to the faith and resilience of the late Fr John Morrison at his Requiem Mass today (Thursday 5 May).
He told mourners at St Margaret Mary's Church in Granton about and his faith as priest, his love of the Blessed Sacrament and his patience in enduring a long illness before his death last month at the age of 85.
Fr John served as a priest in Broxburn, Jedburgh and Loanhead before retiring at St Margaret Mary’s in Granton, Edinburgh. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1990 at the age of 53. Prior to that he had pursued a successful career in the prison service. He was laid to rest at Mount Vernon Cemetery.
Homily - Archbishop Leo Cushley
St Margaret Mary's Church, Edinburgh
Thursday 5th May
My dear friends,
A very warm welcome on this sad occasion to St Margaret Mary’s and to the funeral Mass for the repose of the soul of Father John Morrison.
The last time I was here, John was concelebrating with me, and he was a regular feature here, in health and in sickness and older age. He was very fond of the people here and of this place, and it’s fitting that we pray for him and remember him here, in this place so familiar to him.
He was a man with two distinct careers, in the prison service and as a priest. He was successful and distinguished in both, and was known to many, from infamous criminals all the way to senior royalty, and all of it he appears to have taken in his stride.
He was also respected and liked as a priest wherever he served. I remember how he himself was surprised by the fact that he completed a silver jubilee in the priesthood, and took a bit of encouraging to celebrate it.
I also recall how he liked to come to the Holy Hour and Confessions I held from time to time in St Bennet’s for the clergy. He was always there and at supper afterwards, with a small glass of red wine in hand, held court until it was time to go home.
He enjoyed the company and the camaraderie, but on these occasions he was also devout in his own quiet, serious sort of way, and an example to the rest of us who were older in priesthood, but younger in age.
He also was resilient in these last couple of years in spite of covid and his own health. For someone who enjoyed travelling the world and meeting new people, he remained cheerful, even as his life and his world became more and more confined.
I also remember meeting his sister, Margaret when she was visiting John in hospital, and how they cared for each other. When she died after a short illness, I went to see John, and when I condoled with him on her passing, he expressed sadness over his beloved sister, but also a little relief, in the sense that he himself felt he could now go in peace.
A modest wish, but one that was granted to him in the end.
I’ve chosen readings for today that I hope reflect a little bit of John, his life of faith and what I believe he might have liked to hear read over his remains.
Our first reading is an Easter one, a robust and joyful declaration of faith from the young Church, under the leadership of Peter. We are permitted to read this reading only in Eastertide, and it reassures us all that no matter who or we are or have been, Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Lord of all.
Whether we are alive or dead, Jesus is our Judge, but a benign and merciful one. Our soul thirsts for him, or it ought to, as we gaze upon him in the sanctuary, and as we long to know him and better serve him with our lives.
This joyful, straightforward declaration of Peter’s faith is one that John surely shared with all in his life and priesthood.
Our second reading, from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, speaks of the suffering that some of us must bear, and over an extended period of time, and of suffering that becomes very burdensome.
John had to endure not a few weeks or months, but a number of years of illness, with patience. I know that patience wasn’t perfect, but he certainly put a good face on it anytime I went to see him…! He perked up and had the air of someone who was cheerful in his situation, and in spite of everything.
He was ill, but he wasn’t letting that get him down. Rather, he believed, as we do, that the whole of creation still retains the hope of being freed from slavery to decay and death, to enjoy the same freedom and glory as the children of God. And we, with all creation, long to be set free.
Finally, in the Gospel, it seemed apt to take a passage from John 6, where our Lord makes a clear connection between what we do here at Mass and the life in Christ that the Eucharist betokens.
The Blessed Sacrament is at the centre of our faith in the risen Lord, and not for nothing did Father John find time to come every month to pray with his fellow priests before it.
It makes me wonder if it was a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament that drew John to the priesthood during his civilian career. Some of you will know that better than I, but whether it’s the case or not, I know that it was an important part of his spirituality as a mature man and a priest, and it was an example to us all.
Many more stories and tales will be told about John, I’m sure, but they are for another time.
Meantime, we give thanks to God for Fr John, for the civil good he did for society as a whole in his first career, and for all the spiritual good he achieved un many years of service as a priest.
And we ask the risen Lord to welcome him, with his sins forgiven, into paradise today: eternal rest, grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen