Funeral Sermon by Bishop Eero Huovinen at the funeral service of former Prime Minister Harri Holkeri
In his heart Harri Holkeri was both a patriot and a cosmopolitan. Finland was to him a precious, beautiful land. He received this legacy from his home, his parents, and from his early interests. The Toijala Boy Scout troop used to end its evening meetings with the words of the hymn we just sang, Beautiful Saviour*. The same hymn was also sung by the local Girl Guides, including Marja-Liisa Lepistö, his future wife.
Love for his country coloured Harri Holkeri's thoughts and activities. In his obituary there is a poem by Aleksis Kivi, the Finnish national poet, which gently portrays Finnish national values.
To fall asleep in your embrace,
Land of our dreams, what bliss,
O you our cradle, you our grave,
You the new hope we ever crave,
Peninsula so beautiful,
Finland for aye our all!
Harri Holkeri regarded Finland as a gift and also a responsibility. We have to work for this dear land so that it might remain good for all its people. Among many other important values, Harri Holkeri's life was guided by a sense of duty. All talents were to be pooled together to build up Finland and to advance the common cause. When the good of the country called for it, no obligations or commitments were to be avoided, nor could they be, even at the cost of popularity and support. Personal preferences had to be pushed aside. Resources had to be concentrated on what was important for the whole. Harri Holkeri knew life made sense when we realise we are here for one another. We have to be ready to listen to others and to appreciate also those whose views we do not share.
Harri Holkeri's sense of duty meant a willingness and readiness even for personal sacrifice. In the face of daunting tasks, he had a clear awareness of calling and commitment. Many of us remember how he, when facing difficult situations, would say: We have to get moving now!
Yes, Harri Holkeri was a Finn, but he was also ardently international. Especially during the last fifteen years he contributed his experience and expertise to the global community, particularly in Ireland, the United Nations and Kosovo. He came face to face with dire need, extreme poverty, loss of security, war and turmoil. Back in the early 1960s when he participated in the Finnish Delegation to the United Nations, Harry Holkeri understood the significance of international responsibility. He drew on the resources of these early experiences and on his core values when new posts and tasks came his way at the turn of the millennium. Finally, Finland and the world were one and the same area of responsibility.
Above all, Harri Holkeri contended with himself, challenged himself. He knew that he had to live as he taught, so that at the end of his life he could, with good conscience, join in the words of the Apostle Paul: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Embedded at the centre of Harri Holkeri's values were Christian convictions. Like so many Finnish men, he was cautious to expose or explain what he meant by that. In his important policy speeches, the phrase Christian worldview was a recurrent theme, but he did not make an issue out of it. Perhaps the strongest foundations of life are a mystery, and they ought to remain that. Sacred reality should be allowed to remain sacred reality. It should not be talked about excessively.
In explaining his experiences in Northern Ireland, Harri Holkeri talked about how religion could become a destructive force in conflicts between communities and individuals. Yet he retained the confidence that faith, and in his case, the Christian faith, could also be a real support amid crises.
Both in politics and faith, the same wisdom holds true which the Apostle Paul put into words in his Epistle to the Romans: For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself. Politics, economics, culture and all areas of shared human life call for the understanding that we do not live solely for ourselves. If we forget this wisdom, and only think about our own situation, then we are on the path to disunity and discord. The road to freedom starts with learning to live for others.
The words of the Apostle Paul express the basic truth of the Christian faith. If we live for ourselves, we drift away from our neighbour and from God, and we stray away from hope and the future. Paul does not say that our security is in our own strength, but in God. Therefore, he can state with a singularly restful and carefree air: For if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord.
The one whose life is steered by Christian concepts can feel secure even in the face of the greatest losses. The future does not depend on our own strength and our capacity to believe. It is sufficient for us human beings that we trust in God's goodness and rejoice over His gifts, life, this country, the world, and, in the final analysis, in the grace and forgiveness He has granted us. Mercy and pardon will help us to meet death. Death is for all of us a burdensome reality and a strict schoolmaster, but it also helps us to understand our own limitations. And, as promised in the words of the Psalm, it can afford us a heart of wisdom.
While death is a something uninvited and unknown, it is also a gateway to something new. In the midst of all our yearning and longing, we can calmly and peacefully think like the Apostle Paul: Therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lords. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Almost exactly ten years ago, after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, Harri Holkeri held a speech in the Church of Ylistaro. He ended his talk with the prayer of St Francis of Assisi. These words can give comfort and solace to us as well.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Scriptures, in order:
2 Tim 4:7
*In Finnish the hymn begins: The land is so fair, the Lord's sky so bright.
**Translation by Keith Bosley