Aaron O’Neill; Son, Brother, Our Student (TU Dublin) and Friend

Aaron O’Neill R.I.P.

Funeral Mass

St Brendan’s Church Coolock,

May 19th 2019

Introduction:

It is with a heavy heart that I welcome you here this morning as we share this liturgy with Brian, Esther, Evan and Ben. We are laying to rest one who was beginning to dip his toe into adulthood in a very energised and exciting way but he was stolen from us. On behalf of the family I welcome you the extended family, neighbours and friends, school pals for Scoil Neasáin and Coláiste Mhuire. Though we’d love to have Aaron back amongst us we pray now that he’ll be received warmly into the arms of God. We gather to show support to this beautiful family in their hour of need and promise to support them in the days, weeks, months ahead. We are encouraged by the word of the beautiful Irish poem Ag Críost an Síol –   ó bhás go críoch, ní críoch ach athfhás  telling us that death is not the end, but for us humans who remain it can seem frighteningly final.

 

Is trom atá mo chroí istigh ionam ar maidin agus mé ag fearadh fáilte romhaibh anseo inniu chun an liotúirge a cheiliúradh le Brian, Esther, Evan agus Ben. Táimid ag ligint chun suain ógánach a bhí díreach tar éis blaiseadh a fháil ar shaol an duine fásta, ach a sciobadh uainn go tobann.

Thar ceann an teaghlaigh cuirim fáilte romhaibh go léir:  gaolta, comharsana, cairde ó Scoil Neasáin agus ó Choláiste Mhuire.

Cé gur bhreá linn go mbeadh Aaron ar ais inár measc arís, táimid ag guí anois go nglacfaidh Dia na Glóire chuige féin é le grá agus le féile.

 

Táimid bailithe le chéile chun tacaíocht a thabhairt don teaghlach álainn seo in am an ghátair agus chun a léiriú go mbeimid ann dóibh sna laethanta, sna seachtainí agus sna míonna atá romhainn amach.

 

Ardú meanman dúinn na focail seo ón dán Ag Críost an Síol:

“Ó bhás go críoch, ní críoch ach athfhás” a chuireann igcuimhne dúinn nach bhfuil an focail scoir ag an mbás, ainneoin go gceapaimid a mhalairt  ar uairibh.

 

Homily:

One day last week I travelled between two funerals. One of a man who did some work for us in the Chaplaincy and another of a colleague from TU Dublin. The first was a typical Irish Catholic funeral; the second funeral I attended took place in the Muslim cemetery in Rathcoole. As I stood talking to many of the Muslim men we chatted about death illustrating our ideas from our various teachings. For some of the conversation I stepped outside both of our traditions and spoke about our Irish Celtic understandings of the cycle of life. Many who listened were intrigued by the wisdom of our ancient culture. I explained one of these. Fiche bhilain ag fás, fiche bhlain faoí bhlath, fiche bhlain faoí neart agus fiche bhalin ag dul ar ais. These few words are a comprehensive understanding of the cycle of human life broken down into four stages of twenty years each. Twenty years growing, twenty years flowering, twenty years growing in our spirituality and understanding of life, and twenty years going back to that which created us.

 

Five months ago this week I bade farewell to my mother in this Church. Her coffin occupied that spot where Aaron’s coffin now stands. I didn’t like to let her go but truthfully she was at that stage of ‘ag dul ar ais’ or, of ‘going back’. It helped me get my head and heart around the loss. Today we stand around a coffin of a young man who was just stepping into the world of ‘faoí bhlath’. He was just coming to the tail end of the period of growth referred to as ‘ag fás’ and we were beginning to see the buds of his time of flowering. Those involved in his education could see a committed, sincere, motivated student who had found his niche and like a flower popping it’s head through the clay he was catching the sunlight and was heading in a direction that was filled with opportunity, growth and enjoyment. He loved his college – he loved his course. His attendance and his work are evidence of this and it was only going to get better. In biblical sense his seed fell on fertile soil and it was taking  strong roots and beginning to grow and bear fruit. That soil was well prepared by the learning communities in his primary school, Colaiste Mhuire his secondary school, and especially in his wonderful home with his gran, mam, dad and two brotherS.

 

Like any child or teenager he fought his demons as he grew through his formative years. Some of those demons came from within his own soul and others came from outside him. However, as Brian and Esther agree, in facing these demons Aaron succeeded in making himself a stronger person, and a more sensitive person. His brothers Evan and Ben can testify to this. His sensitivity is seen in the way he protected them and watched over them and also in the manner in which he cared for his gran who many of you know suffers with dementia. Aaron continuously stepped into her world and made her feel comfortable in that world. Rather than dismiss her as illness became worse as some might; he only loved her more.

 

The tragedy of today, in the perspective of our ancient Celtic understanding of life, is that we have someone –‘ag dul  ar ais’ before his time. I attended a funeral in southern Ireland and the priest said something quite profound. He said that when your husband or wife dies you are a widower or widow, when your parent dies you’re are an orphan but when your child dies there is no word for it. To create a word gives this type of occurrence a place in the natural order…there is no word as it is outside the natural order for you Brian and Esther and for us all in lesser ways.

 

With this in mind we are left with little to do except grieve, as our first reading tells us… Weep bitterly, cry out with full voice, and observe the mourning period in accordance with the merits of the deceased. Yes we delight in Aarons life and rejoice at all that he achieved but this makes grief all the louder and all the more difficult to bear. This is what our first reading tells us today – we often say Let us Pray but now we say Let us Grieve.

 

Our second reading tells us to hope; to hope in what is beyond and what has been promised to us in Jesus. It tells us not to be afraid to look beyond the grave and believe that one day we shall be one in the kingdom of light and peace. As one theologian Jorgen Moltmann said, Genuine hope is not blind optimism. It is hope with open eyes, which sees the suffering yet believes in the future.

 

It is obvious from talking to lecturers and even those supervising the exams this week that Aaron was firmly investing in his future. He attended, engaged, and enjoyed everything about his course. He arrived five minutes late every day for his exams but waited until the very, very, end and checked everything meticulously before he handed his scripts to the invigilator. Brian, Esther, Evan and Ben struggle to piece together all that happened last week as they go over the events that stole him from them and separated Aaron from his earthy dreams and his earthly future. Over time the questions that hover about will be answered. Stories have to be pieced together and examinations have to be completed before conclusions can be drawn. However, no amount of answers will bring him back to us.

 

It was this day last week that Aaron completed an exam, left his home to celebrate, took sick ,his dad went to collect him and brought him home. At home he got worse and the ambulance was called. That day was the 16thof May -this was the feast of St Brendan who is the patron of this Church here in Coolock. Brendan is noted for making a trip across the Atlantic in a boat made of hazel rods, animal skins and pitch. People scoffed at the legend until the explorer Tim Severin made the same trip and using the detail of Brendan’s writings he charted a similar course proving that Brendan made it across the Atlantic. Isn’t it ironic that this simple humble boat made it across the ocean and the Titanic, which people claimed to be unsinkable, was lost on its maiden voyage.

 

Brendan’s prayer wasn’t that he’d get to the far shore. His writings tell us he prayed that he’d have sufficient for each day and I think the prayer may have been inspired by this Gospel. When he saw bog waves, ice-bergs and strange unknown lands he prayed for the strength to deal with it in that moment. I copied that prayer on my booklet when I was ordained here thirty years ago and when I struggle I pray God give me enough for this day. Brian and Esther as you look to the future you worry about how you’ll be able to cope just pray for the strength for each day. You too Evan as you face your Junior Cert and Ben if you get worried that Aaron isn’t around to help you step into the future well just pray for the strength for each day. Brendan tells us that if we think of the future and the far shore we can lose our way, just pray for the strength for each and every day and this is what will get you to the far shore.

Fiche bhilain ag fás,fiche bhlain faoí bhlath, fiche bhlain faoí neart agus fiche bhalin ag dul ar ais.

PRAYER OF ST. BRENDAN

“Help me to journey beyond the familiar 

and into the unknown.

Give me the faith to leave old ways

and break fresh ground with You.

Christ of the mysteries, I trust You

to be stronger than each storm within me.

I will trust in the darkness and know

that my times, even now, are in Your hand.

Tune my spirit to the music of heaven,

and somehow, make my obedience count for You.”

AMEN.

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Be At Peace Gentle Mother

Funeral Homily

Nell (Ellen) Hilliard

Friday 28thDecember 2018

St. Brendan’s Church Coolock[1].

 

 

At a time like this one struggles to find a point of strength to speak from. Like an Olympic one-hundred-meter runner you try to find the perfect, faultless positioning that will allow you spring out of your starting block to make a perfect start so you can make a perfect finish. But this is not life. Those like mam and dad know that perfection is an ideal that causes you to sometimes ignore your reality. You start from where you are, and you work with what you’ve got. Maybe this is a mistake with our Church that somehow it expected people to start with perfection rather their reality.

And so, at a time of grief and loss and thanksgiving where do you start? We are mostly pulled into memory. This has been a practice for those who stopped by to converse with Nell over the last few years. On these occasions memories and remembering were strong because consciousness of the present was weakening. For all of us, especially in the immediate family, memory of the past can be stronger and more nourishing and easier to step into rather than the confusion of the present.

Memory for us has been a flat-bottomed boat back from England as returning emigrants with churning stomachs; two babies in a mother’s arms while the father was busy trying to find his sea-legs. Early days in Cabra, with grandad and us seated on the crossbar of his bike and days spent in allotments and markets with the stunning, refreshing smells of the earth’s goodness. Lettuce, scallions, potatoes and cabbages were lifted from the ground and stored in boxes and crates only to be dispatched to shop-fronts and stalls. Walks to the Phoenix Park on Sundays to view the animals in the zoo with my brother and myself thinking that all the animals had stripes because we only saw them through the bars of the perimeter fence. We seldom got in and when we protested, we were told to think about the starving children of the world. We got to know the space in the fence where you could see the sea-lions being fed at four o’clock before the return home. The treat of luscious ice-cream wafers at the gate and as they were handed over you were told ‘don’t dribble’ and ‘stop slinging’ in between the conversations that mam, dad and her sister had on the tired walk back along the Norrier.

Memory takes us into the lanes of Coolock as people rubbed pennies together to make life livable. Memories of the house being two bricks off the ground and the pram being flung off the back of the open backed blue and cream, double-decker bus as it swerved around the roundabout in Artane. Schools and Churches and shops grew smaller as communities grew bigger. Our young minds couldn’t work out how every time we went on holidays to a kindly aunt, we came home to find a new child in the corner of the room with wispy red-hair. I can still smell each beautiful new life that graced us. I think this experience gave us a pathological hatred for holidays, fearful of what might be found on return, but those red headed parcels always brought blessings and joy; a lot of friction but mostly fun. Sometimes you only know the power of love when shadows cross it and it escapes you for a brief moment, but you can find your way back to it.

With all the new life in those memories there was struggle for space and expression as everything  appears to grow and flourish into the once empty cupboards and corners and the home continues to become a container for many food stuffs and types and life itself, it holds stories and loves, crisis and adventure, and it absorbs everything letting the rest of the world pass by and still the pennies are rubbed together and others come to delight us who continue the tradition of dribbles and slinging and the licks of ice-cream.

There are many more memories of trips to Australia, when Nell would slip off on her own to climb the Harbour Bridge because it was opened in 1932, the year she was born. (Warning us not to tell dad it cost $100 as he’d think she’d lost the plot. ‘Tell him it cost $10’ she said emphatically). There are walks on Legan roads after forensically separating weeds from young seedlings and there are memories of horses, horses, and even more horses…whether those horses be at gymkhanas, Horse-Shows, or the races, or ones that nudge their heads over country hedges-rows to say hello.

But memory is not enough to bring back the one you love. Memory in our tradition of faith is strong; memory makes present the One who came among us and who is remembered in this wonderous Christmas Season and who through memory and grace stays among us in the Eucharist – it is our Catholic way of reaching out to what could be beyond.  But somehow, for those we love, human memory just lets us see them in a distant haze and we reach out as we try to catch them, and it is as if we are trying to grasp a moon beam and we simply can’t. So, we turn to the most ancient of traditions which is story.

A priest I met in Rwanda told me that before the genocide he made the mistake of seeing the Gospel as something written on paper. After the genocide, with very little paper left, he said he discovered the gospel written in the lives of his people. This remains his ministry today, naming and celebrating the Gospel alive in people when it is found and then seeking and encouraging it when it is lost from view. And so, to story for us today.

James rang on Friday to say mam didn’t look great and luckily one of us could call by to see her…both of them have the knack of being in the right place at the right time. I sat at the same time with a couple who are to be married on the 29thof June which when I sat with them, I told them that it was the feast of St Peter and Paul. A feast remembering two people who were very different yet who believed the same thing deeply – a model for anyone and as I looked at them, they didn’t know it, but I saw mam and dad lying in their bed at home… and I immersed myself in their life and saw how whackingly diverse they are and were but how deeply connected they remain beneath all that diversity. And as I held them and their story in my heart, I said to the couple that a good couple reflect what society is presently hungry for, namely how to live with diversity that is without divisiveness.

And again, another story of a student who was with me on Thursday who was dealing with issues that we refer today as mental health problems and we spoke about life and its challenges and it’s fraughtness and the pain and the lostness of it all. The pear-shaped-ness of life these days leaves young people without boundaries wherein they can hold the sweetness of life, container-like from which they can drink deeply of the gifts of this life. We agreed that he’d go home and study his grandparents and how they use habit and routine to dig into life and in so doing find contentment and savour it. And now he tells me he’s doing great. It beats medication! And it that moment I saw mam and dad with the practiced routines over the years of genuflections and visits and caring’s and stoppings and dog-walking’s and horse- backing allowing them to withstand whatever was thrown at them. Living like unenclosed monks they commit to a rule of life, so the world does not steal what is important and of value to them. Then you see in their tapestry of stories and habits how we who are left can close the gap between the anxieties of today’s world and the contentment of theirs. I’m sure and indeed I know that their level of contentment was directly proportional to the increase in anxiety for us their children at various stages! However, it was the loss of these habits that began the journey towards the end of Nell’s earthly life, but it was these habits which allowed them to live a deeply connected life to the full when they could.

And then there is the story of two people who loved to sleep and loved watching on the world through their upstairs window these last few years. Many a young couple would like to boast of having spent over two years in bed together. It was where they were most content; not necessarily in bed but in the company of the other. One night I climbed quietly up the stairs and asked, ‘are you asleep?’ to which came the reply, ‘I’m not but your mother is…but we are holding hands’. They were stubborn (one more than the other) and I noted the only two things to get them to sit bolt upright in their beds together like Nell’s baby brother Conor on military parade. The first was the words ‘Dr. Tarek’ and the other was ‘would you like to receive communion?’. Isn’t it a beautiful, joyful and ironic thing that the Catholic faith community in the local area (and that includes the priest and sisters) are being kept alive by a good, God-fearing and gracious man who happens to be a Muslim and isn’t this community blessed with him…Enshallah.

And then those moments of Eucharist when they’d sit up like two children and Nell’s prayer and Bill’s outreached arms would take the world into the room. She prays out loud for those that had no roof and no food and knew only loneliness. There were few prayers said for self but mostly for others and then there were the quite moments when she prayed reverently for those most precious to her. They were prayers that revealed a world that was deeply interconnected and interdependent and we know now that this connection and dependency is needed more than ever before as we have left ourselves in more and more global dangers and her prayer knew it. She was no sociologist, yet she knew about the risky axis on which our globe rests and she did her best to show us how to hold it all together. And I’d leave them to share their silence and I’d fumble in the kitchen for a while. You know when the prayers were said, and she’d be letting you know that it was time to move on. Her equivalent to ‘The Mass is ended’ was ‘any chance of a cup of tea’…pause…’and don’t be stingy with the biscuits’. It is at privileged times like this that you know if people both heard and listened to the voice of God that this world, like Nell and Bills lives, would hold together well, especially in tumultuous times.

Good story is Good News which is Gospel not lost to pages but lived. It is the self-same ‘Word made Flesh’ of this Christmas time but is a constant in every conceivable moment. People go searching to Davos and UN’s; to Brussels and to Bonn to find how the world can be put in order and we have heard the answers at the foot of a bed. To listen, to hear, to contemplate and to act to the best of our abilities is a privilege that we as siblings and in-laws have shared. Whether it be diversity, habit or deeply interconnected prayer…this world needs to hear the good news Gospel Stories that come not from parapets of power but from two women who are cousins in our Gospel today who meet and share their joys and two great people in bed on a road in one of Dublin’s suburbs. This tells us that the Gospel dwells among us and while we miss the personalities that proclaimed those Gospels…we need to remind ourselves that the world needs us to make use of their example. The words of our second reading from St. Pauls Letter to the Philippians make this point more forcibly; ‘Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me.  Then the God of peace will be with you’.

Peace does not always fall easily into our laps. One very wise friend of mine said one day ‘you never really mature until you learn to forgive your parents’. She meant by that that we don’t go through individual moments where there was hurt and pain, but we forgive because they are just like us; people trying to weave together a story that sometimes finds its way into cul-de-sacs. There is not perfect way only the best way that we can find despite our failings and blemishes; this is why we forgive because we are fellow pilgrims not one generation lording it over another.

It is also a Gospel thing to huddle into an upper room and to lock the door because there is grief, confusion and loss that which we call hope. Some today may think that the Gospel is just a token to keep things right rather than that which is at the core of all. For Nell and Bill, the Gospel is as relevant at parties and dances as when one is full fear and anxiety. We who are grief-stricken huddle now for the Breath of Life to breath on us as we know it will. Into that locked room we bring our fear, our losses and our angers and our frustrations but we trust that the God of Life will breath into this chaos as she did into mams life these last days.

It is in this upper room that we realise that memory alone can leave us bitter, pining and sad. It is the Breath of God that gives us platform to build on what has been given to us with such nobility and warmth when embraced by mercy and forgiveness. For all of us in this Church we can stay stuck in the upper room of our own desolation or wait patiently for the breath of God to weave our lives into the wonderful stories that have been so graciously passed on to us…those Gospels of love and hope that can change our world for the good. Even though we celebrate and make present the Last Supper today let us remember what happened when those in the locked room were breathed upon. The doors opened and they met the Lord for breakfast symbolising the start of a new day, the start of a new life full of purpose and direction because they built their new life on Gospel, good news stories. This is the best starting block for any of our futures regardless of our situations. And as Dad said when we prepared this homily on Christmas Day ‘talk is cheap…no use talking about it…get on with it’. Enjoy your breakfast!

[1]This homily was prepared by Alan Hilliard in consultation with Nell’s husband Bill.

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Prayer of St.Brendan

PRAYER OF ST. BRENDAN THE NAVIGATOR

“Help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown.

Give me the faith to leave old ways and break fresh ground with You.

Christ of the mysteries, I trust You to be stronger than each storm within me.

I will trust in the darkness and know that my times, even now, are in Your hand.

Tune my spirit to the music of heaven, and somehow, make my obedience count for You.”

AMEN.

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Con Harvey – The Harbour ‘Master’.

Funeral Homily

Con Harvey

Church of The Most Holy Redeemer, Bray

Saturday the 29th of April 2017

A colourful card I once saw carried the following quote; ‘A ship is safe in a harbour, but that is not what ships are made for’. Harbours are a continuum in Con Harvey’s life. He grew up in Dun Laoghaire with his mother and father and his sisters, Bríd, Catherine and Mary. He met Máire who lived in Blackrock, a town by the sea without a harbour, and before she graduated they were married and eventually they moved to another harbour town; the one in which we now gather namely, Bray. He spend his life passing the places of his childhood and indeed the town of Máire’s childhood as he journeyed to Ringsend on the DART  – a town that hosts another harbour.

A harbour is a place of safety, a place of rest and a place where one shares the spoils of the ocean. Con Harvey was all those things. He provided safety for his family and those who were in his care in Ringsend College or ’The Tec’ depending on your vintage.  His presence inevitably brought rest and calm. He had an unbelievable ability to bring even a restful calm where there was once heavy turbulence and strikingly strong storm clouds. And Con had no problem sharing his spoils with the world; in actual fact he cared little for himself in terms of possessions.

We are here today because we are reminded in a deeply painful way that we are like the ships in that we are not made solely for the harbour; we are made for what is beyond seemingly safe arms of the harbour and the horizon of human experience. This may sound exciting, energising and hopeful but when one is called from the harbour when one has so much left to live for and so much to share, the excitement, energy and hope dissolves and we feel the rawness of a pain, grief, anger and loss. And as we sit here in the Church of the Holy Redeemer Con’s family and friends wonder can they ever be redeemed from that raw pain.

This may be our reality but the reason we are here today is that Con asked to be brought to this Church for burial. He said to me that at times ‘I didn’t know what I believe but I love the ritual’. Ritual is what we hold onto when we run out of words and when we lose our understanding of things. Ritual digs deep into the tradition and the belief of others to carry us when we weaken or when we are lost.

To quote from some reflections on Australian Aboriginal practice:

Ritual relates to order in nature. We find it everywhere. In every natural process there is a sequence…There is ceremony in all the functions of creation. Even in chaos where all order seems to have collapsed there are undetected processes and hidden rituals by which the centre holds.[1]

Our ritual today asks us to place Con’s goodness before God; to ask mercy for his failings, to celebrate his life, to give thanks for the gift of his presence among us, and to help us let go of him and bid him farewell as he leaves our harbour for the richness and mystery of what lies beyond.

There are three ways in which these elements are seen in the life of the one we commend to God. In Con’s family, his work, and in the man himself we see goodness and life abounding. Even in his sickness – his mind and emotions were alert. He remembered the name of a horse I gave him way back in the early nineties which came in second in Cheltenham at 33/1. When I’d recall a student; he’d remember everything about that person; he’d even remember their parents and at times even their grandparents.

The first – his family. Con and Maura created in their home life a place of hospitality. Maybe you think that this is something easy – the provision of food, drink and a comfortable chair. I mean by hospitality something quite different but those of you who know Con and Máire well and those of us who worked with him will understand what I mean when I share this quote with you. I came across it when I was writing something last year and it describes hospitality as;

primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbour into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment …To convert hostility into hospitality requires the creation of the friendly empty space where we can reach out to our fellow human beings and invite them to a new relationship[2].

His life created a hospitable space where ideas, difference, doubt, belief, love, struggle, pain, and attainment were comfortable and compatible. This the hallmark of his family life and of his home, characteristics which he brought with him wherever he went. We place an emphasis on faith in our Church today but writing in the year 100 C.E., Clement of Rome in his Epistle to the Corinthians noted that ‘it is by faith and hospitality that Abraham became the son of the Covenant’[3]. Interesting that in the early writings of the Church it is faith and hospitality, in equal measure, that cultivate the presence of God in our world. Faith can be the reflective mind at work in the world but hospitality is the work of God in our world.

Con’s teaching was just an extension of this. He brought all these gifts and dispositions to the classroom and the school. On one occasion when we talked recently we spoke about how hard it was starting off in the school. He shared a belief that I share, ‘once they realised you weren’t going away they stopped annoying you’. I added, ‘yes Con, but you had to also realise that you weren’t better than them either’. He said, ‘too true’. Furthermore you had to love what you were doing as an educator. These three sentences show an underlying ethic of education that has resonances in our second reading today. Faithfulness to the task particularly in the face of adversity, humility and regard for those in your care and a love for what you do. ‘You should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience..and above all these things, put on love’. Apart from all that – he was fun to be with while in the staff-room; and his company was never boring! Especially when he talked about all the horses that nearly won!

Finally Con the man. Before he is husband, father, grandfather, teach or vice-principal. He was Con Harvey. A man who brought you into a space of honesty in a gentle and self-effacing way. I can see the man Con in the words of the author Colum McCann in his book Let the Great World Spin. It’s a beautiful work in which he says at one point ‘it takes great courage to live an ordinary life’. And so it does. To withstand the temptation to be someone extraordinary in the eyes of the world demands courage. His description of a character called Corrigan gives expression to how I see Con the man and gives further expression to the qualities that he’d never admit to in himself.

Corrigan told me once that Christ was quite easy to understand. He went where He was supposed to go. He stayed where he was needed. He took little or nothing along, a bit of a shirt, a few odds and ends to stave off the loneliness. He never rejected the world. If he had rejected it, he would have been rejecting mystery. And if He rejected mystery, He would have been rejecting faith.

What Corrigan wanted was a fully believable God, one you could find in the grime of everyday. The comfort He got from the hard, cold, truth – the filth, the war, the poverty – was that life could be capable of small beauties. He wasn’t interested in the glorious tales of the afterlife or the notions of a honey soaked heaven. To Him that was a dressing room for hell. Rather he consoled himself with the fact that, in the real world, when he looked closely into the darkness he might find the presence of a light, damaged and bruised, but a little light all the same. He wanted, quite simply, for the world to be a better place, and he was in the habit of hoping for it. Out of that came some sort of triumph that went beyond theological proof, a cause for optimism beyond all the evidence. ‘Someday the meek may actually want it’, he said.

 

As we watch you leave our harbour Con, we turn to the ritual that reminds us of the infinite possibilities that this journey opens up to us, and we wish you God’s speed.

[1] Cameron, R.(1992) Alcheringa: The Australian Experience of the Sacred, St. Paul’s, NSW, Australia, pg. 63.

[2] Quoted in Gerschutz, Jill Marie and Lois Ann Lorentzen, Integration Yesterday and Today: New Challenges for the United States and the Church IN Kerwin and Jill Marie Gerschutz (Ed) And You Welcomed Me; Migration and Catholic Social Teaching, ML: Lexington Books, pg. 127-128.

[3] De Béthune, Pierre-François, (2002) By Faith and Hospitality; The Monastic Tradition as a Model for Interreligious Encounter, Herefordshire, Gracewing pg. vii

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Frank Cullen -The Master Craftsman R.I.P.

Francis X. Cullen

Funeral Mass

Church of St. Brendan, Coolock

Tuesday the 25th of April 2017,

Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist

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As I read and listen to what is going on in the world today I am of the very strong opinion that more and more people will have the following three words emblazoned on their headstones … ‘I should have’. The near addictive compulsion to adrenaline like experiences that is a force for fulfilment today seems, at times, to be replacing a way of life when we savour the simple things that surround us. The good life that we have control over is substituted with a scenario where we many are chasing ‘life’ that is constructed by others who do not have their interests to heart.

We bid farewell today to a man who has no need of the words ‘I should have’ on his headstone.   In his last weeks on this earth Frank acknowledged his sheer and utter contentment with all that life has brought him. Like most of us there are many misfortunes that came his way; there were dark moments, times when the odds were stacked against him but these all dissolved in the face of all the good he knew. His life with Anne for fifty three years of marriage were exceptional years as they revealed their ability to work together with calm and with fortitude.   His children, John, Sondra and David were the apple of his eye. (At one stage on Tonlegee Road we thought Frank and Anne were opening a Divisional Station!) Frank delighted in what they achieved with their respective wives and husband (Emer, Sean, and Niamh) and he lived for his grandchildren, Eoin, Aileen, Oisin and Cliodhna. As regards his work he was exceptional.  He was the quintessential Master Craftsman. His shared his trade with openness, generosity, pride and deftness. He won the admiration of many and the scorn of very few. He loved his early life in Seville Place and indeed brought a lot of the values of neighbourliness and charity with him when he emigrated to the country to a small, rural, village called Coolock in 1965.

Frank was a wise and a deep man and as any craftsman knows when you work steadily over a particular piece of work it is not only time of patient persistence – it is also a time of contemplation. It is a time when you live between what is – and what is possible. If you loose sight of either – the project falls apart. Franks craft was a wonderful image of Frank the man and indeed, a wonderful image of life. To live between what is and what is possible. To be honest Frank’s realm of what is possible was deeply informed by his faith; his belief in the God who watched over him all his life.

It is only right to say at this stage that we know Frank had his fair share of suffering. His heart attack in 1991 nearly stole him from this world but he managed to outwit its effects. As a child he had polio and anyone of his vintage will know how polio was treated. It meant long, lonely, hours in hospitals when you became an observer of life rather than a person who was immersed in its activity. You were on the stands while others were on the pitch. I know a number of people who have polio and they nearly all have that self same ability to stand back from life, evaluate it, and make a comment that makes everything right.  Anyone who was a beneficiary of Frank’s wisdom knew he lived in the bigger picture and could, in one short sentence, make sense of the most complicated thing. People I know who contracted polio have an innate awareness of the value of kindness because they discovered the importance of kindness when they were all but imprisoned in a hospital ward – and they never forgot that kindness.

To go back to that instance where we talked through a project that we shared. I received a gift of a chalice from a carpenter who lived on the island of Lampedusa. It was simple wooden chalice made from a migrant boat. To use it at Mass it required an inset to prevent leakages and to make it worthy of the purpose for which a chalice is intended to be used. Frank was the man who came to my aid and he undertook the task a love and care which was inspirational. With his colleagues in The Calderwood School of Silversmiths they brought this chalice to life.

Apart from the joy of watching it take shape; the conversations about what a chalice represented were deeply profound. I’d explain something; he’d listen, repeat some of the words and respond with his own little wise addition. Frank Cullen; Silversmith and Doctor of Theology. One such instance went as follows.

There is one theologian who sees the Eucharistic in the context of sacrifice. The Old Testament is littered with occasions of sacrifices that aimed to appease the God the people believed in. Even among those who believed in Yahweh God, they often sacrificed someone even by stoning in the belief that this person was bringing bad luck, even pestilence on the community. By scapegoating them, by punishing them, they felt they restored peace in the community. They did for a while until the next problem occurred and the same cycle started again. There is even an account of the prophet Jonah being thrown out of the boat to calm the storm that was causing the boat to sink.

This theologian states that the reason Jesus came among us was that his sacrifice on the cross was a statement by God that there was no need to scapegoat or sacrifice anyone of His creatures ever again. There is no need for anyone to be a victim ever again. When the chalice is raised up we are reminded of that. But today we are reminded of something more wonderful. Frank didn’t make a victim of anyone; he never claimed the role of a victim and if did anything it was to reach out and alleviate the plight to those who were genuine victims of situations not of their own making. Any of us in the neighbourhood know that only too well. So it is right and fitting that these two chalices were made by his hands. Mine may not be worthy to lift them but his were certainly worthy to make them.

The conversation continued to reflect on the suffering of the world and the needless amount of victims there are daily in the name of all sorts of ends. During one of these conversations I shared with him the words of a nun I met in Rwanda who saw horrendous murders, violations and mutilations. Many acted (Hutus) in the belief that if they ridded the country of one group of people (Tutsis) that order and well-being would be restored on the land. The sister who had lived through it all when asked did you ever ask where God was in all this she simply said; ‘I would not put this on the shoulders of God’. Frank said these works over and over again ‘I would not put this on the shoulders of God’. He continued, ‘When my time comes and you lift my chalice we’ll remember those words’. I think this particular conversation helped him accept where things were at and helped him begin to look at not what he was leaving behind but what he had been blessed with.

In this life we can seek salvation in so many things but there is only one that is important. We can be distracted, addicted and busy but the truth of our Christian faith is that the answer to everything lies in the Eucharist we celebrate here today. Frank’s message to us all is what really matters in life is what we come to know as the ‘touch of the true Master’s hand’.

Fr. Alan Hilliard (alan.hilliard@dit.ie)

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Where Once There Was Love

Good Friday 2017

 

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Where Once There Was Love

 

This is a day like no other. For anyone who tries to make sense out of life and for those who are trying to grapple with meaning – this day has it all. It is the finest play, poem and pageant that has ever been conceived. For some the conception of this event remains only in the realm of myth for may others it occupies a space we call truth and as such is dissolves every other attempt for ultimate truth.

 

Today, many will try to emulate the path that the man Jesus took.  The re-living of this event takes many forms. There is liturgy, pilgrimage and pageant which strives to bring one into the events ultimate mystery. For some it is a matter of ignoring, for others it is a time for observing, for others again it is a necessary metaphysical plunging into the sinews of life.

 

Good Friday is for many a day that creates an opportunity to make sense of the gift or the burden that we call life. It is especially an opportunity to make sense of all those things that that the world as we know it can’t absorb. It often provides a space for the real self to be even more real so it can experience healing and life.

 

The world today invites everything to have an image. This is the language of the market but it has been absorbed by many as a way of existing. What was made for the transient and fickle market place has become a modus operandi for a lot of people. This is not the way life should be, but this is the way it has become be it consciously or unconsciously.

 

Today, in liturgy we find a figure who was beyond an image that anyone could create or project. Any self-induced sense of importance was stripped away. Properly articulated today is life in its rawest and most abject. In the strangest of ways it shows how life can only be lived in the context of love, real love, that steps over convention, narcissism and self-seeking. Anything can be undergone, anything can be endured in the name of love.

 

The antithesis of this is true also and it is very much part of today’s deepest reality which is how infinitely more difficult life is when love has been stolen or displaced by denial, anger, hurt and selfishness. The absence of love makes things futile. The absence of love take purpose away. The absence of love destroys joy. Life’s experience is all the most bitter when one can recall the fact that ‘Where once there was love’ there is now nothing or even something else. This was the most hazardous part of the journey for the man Jesus today. When this happens in our lives it is the most hazardous journey too.

 

The fact that one who claimed to be God stepped into this space makes that God all the more real, all the more necessary and all the more accessible.  To walk with him today means to step beyond image, to embrace what is raw, to wave good-bye to what is false so that our lives can be blessed with real and ever- lasting love.

 

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By the end of March 1963, forty-five families had purchased houses. – Casey

Some of you may know that I worked with emigrants. When I read the work of many selfless men and women I commissioned a book which was researched and written by Dr. Patricia Kennedy of UCD. What started out as an objective work on her part opened her heart and mind to these amazing folk one of whom was Eamonn Casey. If we had their kind around today we’d have the migrant crisis near sorted.

Here is an extract from her book entitled ‘Welcoming the Stranger’:KENNEDY

© 2015 Patricia Kennedy
Fr Casey soon recognized that Slough had a housing problem as acute as anywhere in the country. He found that a few young couples had, on the arrival of their first baby, been evicted from the singleroom flat they had rented for £5 per week. A close examination of their problems, their pattern of employment, savings and future savings potential, disclosed that with a little financial assistance they could secure a mortgage and a house of their own. He spoke of the thousands of families in caravans who had given up hope and had ‘staked out pathetic little gardens’.7

He recognized that many had lost any hope of homes, families, having children, and reunificationwi th their families. He also realized, however, that a house could be bought with a £200 deposit: ‘This amount was the difference between
appalling conditions and a “normal” life.’ He discovered that people had a difficulty, not with repayment, but with getting money for a deposit. Explaining the origins of the scheme, he laughed at his own enthusiasm and innocence: he had walked into a bank in Slough,and in forty minutes, standing at the counter, he convinced the bank manager to back his scheme. ‘I went into the bank where the church
had its account and I asked to see the bank manager. I explained what many Irish parishioners were facing when trying to buy a house.’ He asked, if he were to lodge £1,000 (which he had received from his own father) as security and wanted no interest, would the bank loan amounts of up to £400 to individuals who had already saved £400
for their deposit, up to a total of £5,000—which would help twelve couples.11 He went on: ‘When the first £1,000 was committed, I lodged another £1,000.’12 He encouraged people to save systematically. He set up his own Parish Savings Scheme, a facility with a dedicated volunteer
which stayed open late on Friday evenings to accommodate the return of men working outside Slough on the motorways and other building projects. They gave Eamonn Casey money, which he put in the bank. Once they had saved £50, eighty percent of it was put into a building society. This helped the individual to save with both bank and building society and establish a reputation as a saver with both. Fr
Casey explained: ‘All these guys would not get home until about nine on a Friday night. They were out working on the roads. I opened myow n savings scheme and a volunteer attended it for fifteen years from 8 pm-12 am on a Friday night.’ In the first year of Fr Casey’s scheme, the bank advanced a total of £4,865 on the strength of the original £1,000 deposit.14 Nineteen families were enabled to purchase their houses. Encouraged by these results, in July 1962, he made another £1,000 deposit provided by local
fundraising efforts and another £1,000 given by a donor, in January 1963.

By the end of March 1963, forty-five families had purchased
houses.

 

 

 

 

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