FATHER MICHAEL RAISWELL
Foreword by Fr T. Boylan
printed in the booklet ''St Joseph's Church'',
published to mark the centenary of the Church in 2000.
It was suggested to me when I was asked to write this foreword that I should try and predict the future of the parish over the next hundred years. I was toying with the idea, and reflecting on preparations being made in the Diocese to cope with the shrinking church attendance and other related matters. To try and forecast how the parish will fare over the coming decade seemed beyond me. I was in the midst of these reflections when we learned that Fr. Michael Raiswell, assistant priest in St. Joseph's, had taken his own life.
I have never known any event in the life of a parish or of the Diocese which caused such shock and distress. Michael was a quiet, dedicated and conscientious priest. To read his article in this history of the parish on the Centenary of the church will give you a flavour of his academic ability and his approach to his faith. His life was totally centred around his priesthood. There is a sense in which it is true to say that his devotion to priesthood cost him his life.
It was good to see how the priests and the people of the Diocese rallied together and celebrated his Requiem here in St. Joseph's and in his home parish of Crewe with tremendous faith and dignity. The homily preached by Bishop Brian in Crewe is printed here to reflect the mood of that time. We saw a parish and a Diocese drawing strength from a shared faith in a loving and compassionate God.
Homily given by Bishop Brian Noble
at the Funeral Mass of
Father Michael Raiswell
St. Mary's, Crewe
Friday 21 August 1998
The death of one with whom we've shared our lives never leaves us untouched, unmoved and all the more so when that death is sudden, unexpected and tragic. This last week has been painfully difficult for all of us - in the first place for you Tom and for you Helen, Patsy, Philip, Christine and Tony. But painful also for the larger families of which Michael was an important part - his parish of St. Joseph's, this his home parish, the Diocese and especially we his brother priests. Over these days we've found ourselves bewildered, deeply sad, perhaps even angry and probably guilty. At times like this, the cool voice of reason is powerless to rein in feelings that we could have done more and that things might have been different if only....
But sadly things are not different. And an important part of our coming together today is to help us cope with the reality of what is. And that being so, we can do no better than turn to Scripture and, with humility, allow its words to address us: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still and trust in me... There are many rooms in my Father's house... I am going now to prepare a place for you...so that where I am, you may be too..." (Jn 14:1-6).
So often, the events of life and death become the questioning, the unsettling of faith. But here, Jesus urges us not to let our hearts be troubled; not to allow our faith to be dislodged, but rather to strive to see our sorrows and perplexities as the opportunity for a new and deeper trust. Remember, He says, there is more to life than death.... "1 am going to prepare a place for you...so that where I am, you may be too." Death is no falling asleep but an awakening from life to Eternal Life.
And as, like you, I've thought so much about Michael these past days, it has been the idea of his awakening that has assumed increasing significance for me. I suspect that Michael regarded himself as one of the most ordinary men. I doubt whether those of you who knew him best would agree. At school, here in Crewe and in Stoke-on-Trent, he was anything but ordinary. He was a good sportsman - excelling at soccer, rugby and athletics; he was good academically, going on to study economics in Birmingham and theology in Rome. His knowledge and love of the Church's Liturgy was evident, not only in his teaching at Oscott College, but more importantly in its prayerful celebration in all the places where he worked. His attachment to his family was deep and solid - days off were normally days to go home - and you especially Tom have our sympathy because Tuesdays will never again be quite the same.
Yes, he was perhaps unusually quiet and reserved by temperament but this didn't prevent him from forming some long and lasting friendships. And certainly it in no way, hindered a deeply effective pastoral ministry. Letters and conversations over the last week have made very clear how much quiet good he did, how much faithfulness to his ministry there was and in what affection he was held. Michael was by no means just an ordinary man.
Yet sadly, I think it has to be said that he was unaware of it and unaware of the gifts he had. Most of us know from our own experience that there is often a gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us; how we feel about ourselves and others feel about us. I guess that in Michael's case that gap was very wide - which brings me back to his "awakening".
Having passed from life to Eternal Life. I've no doubt that at last Michael will have awakened to the full realisation of the gifts so generously given him and the total love for him of the One who gave them. Now I'm sure he will know the truth of Job's words in our first reading: "This I know; that...after my awakening, he will set me close to him He whom I shall see will take my part; these eyes will gaze on him and find him not aloof" (Job 19:26)
So thank you Michael for what you gave us and may you now rest in peace.
ST. JOSEPH'S - A TEMPLE OF LIVING STONES
by Fr. Michael Raiswell
The Centenary of a church building is a time for thanksgiving and reflection. For a hundred years, God has been worshipped in this place, and the people of God have grown in holiness through celebrating the sacred liturgy together, drawn into Christ's perfect self-offering to the Father.
This occasion invites us to look back in gratitude for the past generations of parishioners of St. Joseph's whose faith and Christian witness has been nourished and strengthened by hearing God's word and by welcoming God's loving presence in the sacramental signs given to us. The faith is a gift we receive from God through others, and which we in turn pass on. The house of God stands as sign of the generosity of the countless benefactors who have contributed over the years to the building and maintaining of this place of worship. Those who have gone on before us, marked with sign of faith are remembered in our prayers at the altar.
A centenary also invites us to reflect on where we have reached in our pilgrimage of faith, as we journey towards the heavenly city. How is the Holy Spirit leading us as individuals and as God's family to build up the kingdom of God in this place? The church needs to look at how effectively she is carrying on the mission entrusted by Jesus Christ to the apostles to 'proclaim the Good News to the whole world'.
St. Joseph's church is a house of prayer in which God blesses his family with his presence. Here we are nourished at the two tables of God's Word and of the Eucharist. As the word of God is proclaimed and preached to us, Christ himself speaks to us of God's marvellous deeds. And as we gather as the body of Christ around the altar, we celebrate the memorial of the saving death and resurrection of Christ for us and receive the holy gifts of His Body and Blood to be our spiritual food and drink.
The local Christian community forms a spiritual house, made from 'living stones' in which the Holy Spirit dwells. And so the church building is a sign that here God is building his people into a holy temple in which he is pleased to live.
For a century, within our church, God has revealed himself to his people through sacramental signs. From the waters of the baptismal font God's children have received their rebirth to everlasting life and been welcomed into the family of the church. The gift of the Holy Spirit has been bestowed upon many through the anointing with Chrism and the laying on of hands by the Bishop in Confirmation. The healing power of the Spirit has brought forgiveness and reconciliation in the Sacrament of Penance. And from the church, the blessed oil has been taken to homes and hospitals to relieve the sufferings of the sick in the healing Sacrament of Anointing. In the Sacrament of Marriage, men and women have given themselves to one another to be signs to one another and others of Christ's love for his people and to build up God's family. And in this church, men have received the Sacrament of Holy Orders and offered their lives to serve God and his people in the ministerial priesthood. As the Christian's pilgrimage of faith on earth reaches its journey's end, the faithful soul is commended to the loving mercy of God in the church's funeral rites.
Just as the heavenly city is the place of face-to-face encounter with the lord, in our church we daily meet the One who reveals himself to us in word and sacrament. Above all, as we gather around the Lord's table, which is the altar, by sharing in the Eucharist we become temples of God's presence and the home of his glory. As one of the prayers of the church's liturgy says,
May we, who have known the joy and power of God's blessing in our lives, renew the gift of ourselves to his service and the service of his people.
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