Maryknoll, New York, USA
February 25, 2021
I want to join Father Phillips in offering my heartfelt condolences to you, the family of Father Ed Hayes. Ed was a mentor and a guide to me and I would say he was one of the most influential mentors I have had. What I learned from him has been a lasting influence on me and my teaching and understanding, in Tanzania and here in the U.S. And it is truly an honor to have this moment to say to him publicly, one last time, on behalf of all of us who were inspired by him. Ed, Asante sana!!!
Ed lived his life in mission for over 60 years, and has, after a very prolonged wait, gracefully and quietly left us. He is now in the company of the ancestors of his family, friends, and relatives including his cousin Maryknoller Father Joe Avery. He is with his other Maryknoll brothers and sisters who were so much a part of his early life in Tanzania: Sisters James Florence, Paul Mary and Agnes; Father Brendan Smith, and Father Joseph “Chacha Mwita” Reinhart his first pastor. And most importantly, he is now with all the abasubi and Abagaaka who christened him omogaaka — the household elder.
His long but gentle exit was reminiscent of his placid but persistent presence in mission. And even though he said he was getting tired of saying goodbyes to us, his final goodbye is the gift of the readings that he chose for this liturgy. Readings that defined him as a missioner and that offer us an opportunity to reflect on ourselves and our own living out of our mission vocations. Like Jesus and Paul in these readings Ed is saying to us, this is who I am, remember me.
The first reading from Ephesians is one of the most comprehensive missionary texts in Scripture. In it, Paul lays out his understanding of mission. It is an inclusive understanding that balances the mission of God, the apostolic mission of Paul himself and the mission of the Church. In the reading, the mission of God is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things. The mystery of God hidden in creation. Paul’s apostolic mission was, as he said, the gift that was given to him to preach the good news to move everyone to be able to see that hidden mystery of God in their lives and culture. Finally, that through the church (the mission of the Church), the wisdom of God in its rich variety could reach its cosmic end.
Like Paul, Ed in his long missionary career strove to combine these three elements into his life. At his 25th anniversary celebration in Keisangura, based on the scripture reading about light and darkness, he was praised by someone as bringing light into the darkness. When his turn came to speak, he reacted strongly and vocally saying that God was the light and that God had been there long before he came and that it was through the people that he discovered the true meaning of that light. That reaction witnessed to his profound belief in God’s active presence in the people and culture of the Bairegi. His life was dedicated to immersing himself into that culture, learning its language, its values, its customs and its rituals. Inspired by Father Dave Stang, he stood out among us all as the one who tried to incorporate those rituals into Catholic practice.
But besides the rituals, Ed was someone who really believed that he went to Tanzania to become one with a new family in the Bairegi, by clothing himself in their culture. An example of this happened when Ed first came back. At that time, we were talking about his sickness and the prognosis and I asked if he wanted his ashes returned to Tanzania. He looked at me with a stunned glance and just said, “John, I have so many children and grandchildren named after me there, I will live on in Tanzania through their names. I should be buried here.” This was a sharp reminder of the cultural value of naming, remembrance, and eternal life. And the way it flowed so naturally out of Ed was a reminder of how that culture was so much a part of him.
Similar to Paul, Ed also felt and vocalized his belief, that even though unworthy, he had been given a tremendous gift, the grace of a vocation to preach the Good news of Christ. While he would admit to making mistakes, you cannot but admire the dedication of his living out of that vocation serving the people in a parish that stretched from Nyamwaga to the Serengeti to the Kenya border and to the Mara River in the Rift Valley. On Sundays he would celebrate liturgies in outstations traveling for hours often on roads of that terrible red clayish mud of Nyamwaga. During the week he worked with the catechumenates scattered throughout the parish, he not only visited the sick but often times drove those who needed more drastic care to the district hospital. He not only buried the dead but wept with the family members all of whom he knew.
Together with this he had such a deep admiration of President Nyerere and participated in all the village political and development activities which he believed was integral to preaching the Good News. He danced at weddings, drank local beer from a pot with a reed beer straw at feasts and funerals, argued with the elders and laughed with them. And in the end, he could listen with gratitude when the abasubi would say, we may not be baptized but our children and grandchildren will be baptized and Christianity is our religion. This was the fruit of the apostolic mission of Mogaka Edwardi, the conversion of a people.
About the church, Paul in this reading says, “so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made
known,” Ed saw all that he did as culminating in a church that could witness to the wisdom of God in its rich diversity. For him, the Catholic Church was a household, an extended family. With that in mind he served the Diocese of Musoma as a dean and bishop’s consultor and his family Maryknoll as a Regional Superior and on the General Council. He admired, counseled, and supported all the bishops with whom he worked. He waited patiently for the first priest vocation to come from among the Wakuria. When it finally happened, he celebrated it as another milestone in the development of the church. But in all of this, his one main point was that the church of the Bairegi remain their church, reflecting their rich culture that grows out of the creativity of God. This section of Ephesians is a digression in the overall body of the letter, and scholars claim that it seems to reflect Paul’s need to justify how his being imprisoned did not reflect a weakness of the God revealed in Christ. Paul’s enemies argued that “If Christ Jesus is exalted to the position of cosmic supremacy over the powers ruling the present evil age, then why is Paul in prison? Why has the exaltation of Christ resulted in the defeat and humiliation of his servant?” And this moves us to reflect on the counterintuitive valuation of weakness and vulnerability in our Christian faith.
It was in these final days of Ed’s life that he appeared so weak and vulnerable. And it was in these days of waiting and waiting that who Ed truly was, became so much clearer. Throughout Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John, Jesus’ actions and words increasingly disclose who he saw himself to be. In the beginning of John 6, the crowd concludes that Jesus is the prophet and possibly even the Messiah. Yet, Jesus’ own identity claims develop from being the “Son of Man” who is sent from heaven, to the “bread of life.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. … All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of God who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me but raise them up at the last day.”
In these final days, all of Ed’s life came into focus in these words of the Gospel. Ed witnessed to his deep faith in these words. He waited and waited feeling tested but never doubting that God’s loving eternal embrace would come. He truly tried in his whole life to do the will of God and joked in these final days how playful that will of God could be. He looked upon his vocation to mission as a gift of grace. He did everything in his power not to drive away any of those who God brought to him. He loved them, he cherished them and he defended them as family. And in these final moments when he appeared so weak and vulnerable his strength of faith hastened him to joyfully embrace his passing to eternal life. He said, “I have done my best, it is now time to go home. Ed you have finally returned home.” Dance with the abasubi, enjoy your friends and family once more, and pray for us.