At a requiem Mass for the seventh Bishop of Christchurch, Bishop Basil Meeking, the tenth holder of that office, Bishop Paul Martin, SM, was generous in his praise of his brother bishop, while acknowledging the burdens and difficulties that he had experienced.
At the requiem at St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Christchurch on June 17, Bishop Martin said he was grateful to Bishop Meeking “for his support and care of me since I became the bishop”.
“He was very loyal and kind and I really enjoyed the times we were able to get together to chat. He didn’t ever tell me what I should do or that what I was doing was stupid or any of those things, and I really appreciated that,” Bishop Martin said.
Bishop Meeking died on June 11, aged 90.
In the last few months of his life, Bishop Meeking experienced a time of “trial and frustration” as the nation went into and out of lockdown, Bishop Martin said in his homily. It was a time of “purification” for Bishop Meeking, as he placed “his life in God’s hands for the final journey”.
Just before the lockdown started, he had been convinced to move into care, despite being keen to stay in his own place at St John Fisher House, Bishop Martin said, noting that Bishop Meeking had had “a couple of falls previously, and people were starting to get a little worried about him”.
Bishop Martin stressed that Bishop Meeking had previously made it very clear to him that he wanted Bishop Martin to be the homilist at the funeral.
“And I think that captures something of this man of faith. He wasn’t interested in eulogies and stories for the funeral. He wanted the liturgy and prayers of the Church for his soul.”
Bishop Martin added that “Bishop Basil planned his funeral down to the very last detail. This is a reflection of his desire not to burden others with the worry, and also to ensure that it is done properly”. This drew a ripple of laughter from the congregation.
Among the concelebrants at the funeral were the Apostolic Nuncio to New Zealand, Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa, Cardinal John Dew, and Bishops Stephen Lowe, Michael Gielen, Denis Browne, Peter Cullinane, Owen Dolan and Colin Campbell. Fr Gerard Aynsley, vicar general of Dunedin diocese, represented Bishop Michael Dooley.
In the homily, Bishop Martin said the readings chosen for the Mass (Wisdom 3:1-9, Psalm 62, Romans 6:3-9 and John 11:17-27) tell people about Bishop Meeking’s understanding of his life, his faith and his relationship with God.
With reference to the Wisdom text that referred to God testing the righteous like gold in a furnace, Bishop Martin said, “I am sure that Bishop Basil felt that he had been tested at times during his life”.
“The things that were asked of him were demanding and difficult. And he endured periods when he felt he was facing real threats and challenges. But he remained steadfast in his faith and his desire to do what God asked of him. He understood that he was here, not for his own self-aggrandisement and pleasure, but for the service of the Gospel and to grow in holiness.
“And he was willing to do that, even when it was not popular, or when it was not well received by those who were hearing it.”
Bishop Meeking “grasped and experienced the power of being in relationship with Jesus Christ”, Bishop Martin added.
“And that then directed his actions, his prayer, his concerns.”
While Bishop Meeking might have experienced aspects of his life and ministry as something of a burden, “he was able to laugh and enjoy moments of levity. He was kind to people, especially when they were struggling. At times, he may have been perceived as being a little stern, but that was not his inner disposition. There are many who will account for this in their interactions with him”.
“This was a man who knew that God had called him to certain tasks and to the life as a priest and as a bishop, and he wanted to be faithful to this call.”
Bishop Martin mentioned Bishop Meeking’s faithfulness and his love of the Eucharist, as well as his love of the priesthood.
“He endeavoured to share that love and understanding with his brother priests and with the people of the Church, so that it may be valued for what it is. And he took seriously the call of a bishop to be the teacher to his people. And he endeavoured to teach what the Church teaches and to help us understand why it teaches it as it does.”
Bishop Martin also recalled that, in his retirement years, Bishop Meeking “helped many in retreats and direction, using the fruits of his labours to guide and advise people, from the wisdom of his experience”.
After Communion, Bishop Martin again addressed the congregation, noting that he was wearing a pectoral cross Bishop Meeking had given him.
Bishop Martin thanked many people for the help they gave Bishop Meeking at various times in his life, and also noting some of Bishop Meeking’s other ministries and roles, such as his 18 years with the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome and his work in Chicago Archdiocese from 1997 to 2006.
Bishop Martin said he was grateful for the “presence and support of many other faith communities in our city”. He mentioned that the Anglican Bishop of Christchurch, Bishop Peter Carrell, was not able to be at the requiem, but had attended a vigil Mass the previous night, celebrated in Latin in the extraordinary form.
“[Bishop Carrell] did attend the vigil Mass last night, so he would have got the fullness of Catholic religion,” Bishop Martin said, again drawing murmurs of laughter from congregation.
Bishop Martin acknowledged the presence at the requiem of Dean Lawrence Kimberley from the Anglican Church.
At the end of his remarks, Bishop Martin mentioned that Bishop Meeking had made a generous financial contribution to the campaign to build a new Catholic cathedral in Christchurch.
“I think it was a measure of his character and his faith that, even though he loved the old cathedral very deeply, he was very willing and keen to support the [new one],” Bishop Martin said.
Details of how people could contribute to the “Bishop Basil Meeking Fund for the Catholic Cathedral of Christchurch” were listed in the Mass booklet for the requiem.
Bishop Martin finished his comments by noting how consoled Bishop Meeking would have been by the number of people praying for him, as shown by the attendance at the funeral.
After the requiem, Bishop Meeking’s mortal remains were interred at Bromley Cemetery.