Fr Peter Sprague – Homily given by Canon David Hopgood
It is something that we do often – even without thinking! Yes, one of the great traditions of the church invites us every time that we enter the Church building we dip our fingers in holy water and make the sign of the cross.
Before Fr Peter was baptised- a priest traced a simple sign of the cross upon his forehead – as indeed happened to us all!
What this says in the clearest way possible – that those who chose the way of Christ will not be spared the pain and suffering that can come to all human beings…….It suggests that we can learn much from the way Jesus met his own suffering and death and at the same time retain his trust in God the Father.
But like us all Peter Sprague never sought suffering - and found it hard to bear. The Cross is first and foremost a sign of hope – hope even in suffering. Perhaps that is why St Timothy in today’s first reading encourages us to put up with difficulties – more that that! He calls us to accept the strength that comes from God – because the Lord will show us how to understand it all! In these last few months the Lord did show Peter how to understand it – he gave him a peace and acceptance that, dare I say, surprised some!
Peter, like all the priests here today have been privileged to administer the sacrament of anointing of the sick. The prayers of this Sacrament speak of and implore God’s healing power to come to the one to be anointed – so where was this healing for Fr Peter and so many others who received this sacrament ….why do they not rise from their beds of pain as did so many in the Gospels when Jesus healed them? Where is their healing
Healing is not going back to what was before ……. It is a growing on to a new stage of being. Fr Peter was healed and so could prepare for a new stage in his life that would lead him through the death and the cross to the resurrection.
Peter loved the diocese of Portsmouth. I first met Peter when I was a Deacon in his home parish of Shirley and he was growing up under the watchful eye of canon Mac- who inspired him greatly. After leaving school he had various jobs around Hampshire and it was during this time that he went on a vocations weekend in Plymouth! These days helped Peter discern his vocation – but it was to Portsmouth this he applied and was accepted for training to the Priesthood. Peter served as a Deacon here at the Cathedral before Bishop Crispian ordained him as a priest on the 6th of June 1992 in his home parish of Shirley.. His first appointment was to Guernsey for two years, then back to Portsmouth for three years – but this time to serve as the hospital chaplain to the QA – over my years in the city I have meet numerous people who were touched and strengthened through his ministry in the hospital. Then further north in the Diocese to Yatley where he was to the parish Priest for 10 years. The improvements to the Church and the designing and building of the new parish centre helped this community to develop as a spiritual and social centre.
Peter’s health began to deteriorate and so to Porchester he moved and from 2007 underwent three difficult years of various types of treatment for the cancer. Always cheerful and full of hope – but slowly those words of Jesus in the Gospel began to take on a new meaning in Peter’s life: Come to me all you who labour and I shall give you rest – shoulder my yoke and learn from me…
Yes we return to that cross traced upon his head prior to baptism!
For it is also a statement of a more subtle and challenging kind – for it says ‘the sign that I have come of age as a Christian will be when I begin to understand what Jesus meant when he said that anyone whom clings to life will lose it – you cannot truly live unless you are prepared to die ! Having celebrated the great feasts of the incarnation and Epiphany – Peter came of age as a Christian and put that total trust in Christ.
We are not commending or burying a plaster saint! Sam showed me ones of Peter’s daily prayers that seeks the strength to make the best of every day and most especially God’s forgiveness for all that is not pleasing.
I feel sure that the lord did forgive him, and so peter died fortified by the rites of the Church – a Priest who despite his flawed humanity had ministered well.
As well as praying for our deceased brother and Priest – let us pray for ourselves that we might embrace more fully the cross that was traced upon our foreheads at baptism.