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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