9th November 1999
R.I.P. Mary Kirk
"We [shall] attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
It has been well said that, whereas growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional.
All of us, surely, must have met people of whom it may be said that, at some stage in their lives, they ceased to grow up as they grew older; or if you prefer another metaphor, we know those whose maturity has failed to keep pace with their age.
It's altogether rare to know someone in whose life the two processes – growing up and growing old – have advanced pari passu, step by step with each other.
Among my acquaintances there is no better example of such a rare person, in whom age and maturity walked hand-in-hand, as Mary Kirk.
Today we come together, as God's People, not only to lay her body to rest, nor yet simply to offer our condolences to Geoffrey and others who have been bereaved, but also, and more significantly, to celebrate something quite remarkable – a person who, by God's grace, had come to resemble our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
It was by and through Jesus Christ that such grace was bestowed upon her, with the result that throughout her life, like our Lord, she "increased in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man."
Besides that passage in his letter to the Ephesians, there are many other places where Saint Paul, like other New Testament writers, stresses the importance of growth in the Christian life. We are to be "no longer children"; we are to "grow up"; we are to learn to "partake of solid food"; we are to "mature in Christ" and to "grow with the growth that is from God".
Let's look for a moment at that word stature @helikia in Greek, from which derives our words helix, a coil or spiral.
It suggests, does it not, a particular sort of growth. Not just a matter of getting everlastingly bigger and bigger.
The kind of growth it suggests is a controlled and orderly growth, as opposed to a haphazard one, and the image which it conjures up in my mind is that of a coiled spring.
In its "natural" or "free" state, that is to say when it is uncoiled, a spring can achieve nothing. If it breaks away from its moorings it degenerates into an unruly spiral, as impotent and useless as it is ungainly.
It is only when an agency outside itself acts upon such a spring to bring its component coils into a close and tight-fitting unity, that it is transformed, from being something lifeless, into a source of enormous power and energy.
Like such a well-wound spring, Mary Kirk became a source of power and energy to everyone whose life she influenced. "A power for good" is the phrase that it suggests.
But such a growth in stature, such empowering of a spring, never happens of its own accord, nor can it be achieved without tribulations. For just as we know that Jesus "learnt obedience through the things that he suffered", as the writer to the Hebrews reminds his readers, so we should expect that our empowerment, (our "Helical-enhancement" as it would no doubt be described in some circles today) will involve both discipline and suffering.
Certainly Mary, as a lifelong Christian, understood this perfectly well.
As someone brought up on the Catechism she had learnt that she was a member of Christ, and that when the Body of Christ suffers the members of that Body must necessarily suffer with it, and vice versa; knowing herself to be the child of God, she understood the truth that no child grows in stature without the need for discipline; and, as an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven she was well aware that its Crown, which adorned the brow of its King, was a crown of thorns.
And now at last, by God's mercy, the earthly part of the growing process and its attendant growing pains for her, are at an end. From henceforth, as St Paul said, "there is laid up for [her] a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge will award to her, and to all who have loved his appearing, at the Last Day."
Tetelestai! It is finished! The spring has been fully wound. Another Christian soul has grown into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
For the which, let us bless the Lord – Thanks be to God!
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