The Requiem Mass for Bert Newton AM MBE took place at St Patrick's Cathedral on Friday 12 November. Read the homily of Archbishop Peter A Comensoli below.
As you enter the Newton home, just off to the side, there is a recently renovated room. It’s not quite set up as intended, as it is missing a bed; but it still has much of the items and decorations intended for it. In this room is a decent sized TV, surrounded by cabinets with various photos and items of memorabilia. Most notably, there is a shelf fully of Logie statues (I’m told significantly less than what should be present), and a great plaster bust of the ‘one-and-only’, with a fez hat on top and a Marist Brothers’ crucifix hanging around its neck. This room, Patti tells me, was meant to be the room where Bert was to spend his last days – in his home, among his family, and surrounded by memories. Sadly, this was not to be; Bert never made it back home before he died. But he knew of where he was to be for his final days, and of the room his wife and family had prepared for him.
This room – while beautiful and full of love – was never meant to be a permanent home for Bert. It was a temporary place, a place of sojourn for a pilgrim’s weary body, before the final pilgrimage to eternal life. As St Paul once put it: “When the tent that we live in on earth is folded up, there is a house built by God for us, an everlasting home not made by human hands, in the heavens.” (2 Cor. 5.1) For an entertainment man, a man who made millions laugh and smile and sometimes cry, Bert was at heart a man of humble faith, of family love and of unassuming care for the least. These characteristics are each features of a Christian life. Of the three things that last – faith, hope and love – Bert had, in his own particular way, found a way to make these the truths of his life.
We who knew him for his public life, perhaps these virtues may not have drawn our attention, but to those close to him, away from the camera and the stage, they are the elements of a good life. Was he a sinner, in need of mercy and forgiveness? Indeed, he was, like all of us. But what makes someone close to God is not notable words or publicised deeds; it is a sinner who has been found by God. From an early age, and through the ups and downs of his life, this was Bert Newton: a man found by God who lived accordingly, in unassuming and extraordinarily generous ways.
Jesus promised Bert, as He promises us all, to prepare a room for him in Eternity. As we heard Jesus say on the night of his own final day on earth, “There are many rooms in my Father’s House, … and I am going now to prepare a place for you.” This was a promise Bert believed and trusted in. This is not the room from which Bert was to spend his final days, though that room in the Newton’s home was – and is – a room of love and life and personal tenderness.
The promised room, long prepared for Bert by Jesus, is a room similarly of love, though unconditional; similarly of life, though eternal; and similarly of tenderness, though uniquely divine. And it is especially, and very personally, Bert’s. Just imagine what it looks like!
But even more than a promise of a place for eternity, it is a room where Jesus himself will be. As he said, “Where I am, you may be too.” Our promised eternal home is home with Christ.
As we gather to farewell Bert Newton, sorrowful yet grateful, might we not take to heart our own calling to not dwell solely in this world, but to learn to live for the world to come. As our own St Mary MacKillop once said: Remember, we are but travellers here. May the Lord welcome Bert to the room long prepared for him, and may we who linger learn from our friend how to live the life to come in faith, hope and love.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord
And may perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace.
Images by Fiona Basile for Melbourne Catholic.