My father’s Funeral Mass was celebrated today (March 16th) in St Joseph’s Church, Cloonloo. The church was filled to overflowing. Thirty priests joined in the concelebration of Mass. Jimmy Buckley, Patrick Feeney, Fr James McDonagh and Christy O’Grady supplied song and music – fitting the occasion. It was a good celebration of a long and well-lived life. After Mass, daddy was buried alongside my mother in Templeronan Cemetery – across the lake from our home in Moygara. Big Tom (McBride) sang “A land where you never grow old”. Thought I might include a few pieces from the Liturgy here.
INTRODUCTION TO THE MASS
The day I was ordained, my father said a few words – very few words – at the reception. He thanked people who had come to join us; he cleared his throat and said “This is my happiest day ever”. It was and remains a highlight of that day for me. The approval of your father, the support and love of your father, the feeling that you have done well by your father – that’s probably as good as it gets. Today, nearly a quarter of a century later, in the midst of neighbours and friends, I stand with my brothers and their families, with our cousins – mindful of daddy’s brother Jimmy who is in hospital – on what is quite likely one of our saddest days ever and still we search for happiness on this day too. We search for his happiness above our own and I don’t think any of us could doubt his happiness now. Our prayer is that he is at peace and content and eternally happy.
GOSPEL AND HOMILY
The Gospel text was from St John’s Gospel:
Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, ‘Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?’ He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each’. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, ‘There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Make the people sit down’. There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted. When they had eaten enough he said to the disciples, ‘Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted’.
When thinking of a gospel passage for today’s Mass there was only one place to look and that was to the miracles. Daddy worked many miracles in life. He brought cars and bikes, machines and what was considered broken back to life so many times. When others might easily give up, cast aside or have ordered a-new, he tweaked and welded, moulded and shaped, cleaned and re-cleaned – didn’t give up – until life and purpose was restored. He had a gift – a true gift – to see even the embers of function, the spark of possibility, the hope for restoration and to cling to the belief – “this too can be fixed”. He was a gifted man – a good man – who could, quite literally turn his hand to anything. Someone at home yesterday said “your father could weld snow”. May Callaghan, my Godmother (R.I.P.) was minding the three of us one time when we were small. We were playing rough with a toy and she told us to be careful that we might break it – one of us (doubtful if it was me) looked up and said, “it’s all right, daddy will fix it”! We had, even at a young age, a belief that for our father, nothing was unfixable.
A crowd of five thousand – a hungry crowd – they needed to be fed. “Where can we get some food for these people?” The disciples were for sending them away but Jesus wanted to do it himself. A small boy’s offering of a few loaves and fish, that was the start. Jesus fired up the welder, adjusted the flame – the orange colour blended until there was a strong presence of blue – the welding had begun. Crust welded to crust, fish to fish – multiplied and divided until all were fed. Then the gathering began – nothing should go to waste.
Bread is a very central theme in Scripture. As people wandered starved and frightened in the forty year dessert walk, bread was sent to them in the morning. Jesus spoke of being the “bread of life” – he took and broke bread at the Last Supper, he asked for something to eat after his Resurrection and they handed him a piece of bread. Bill loved bread – not for the sake of it but because it was often a quick way of feeding people. He’d almost tip out the full loaf on a plate on the centre of the table. It was a visual reminder that there was plenty there and that people should not be afraid to eat. It’s not that he’d take a whole lot himself – particularly in recent years – but he wanted others to feel free. Toast was a speciality!
Did Bill feed five thousand? To be honest, when all the totting up would be done – all the times he said to people “go in to Mary” – when they’d be there getting cars serviced – all the times he plugged in kettles and toasters, all the times he absolutely refused NO for an answer – it’s quite likely he did. Some would have been repeats of course but daddy certainly made a dent in the loaves – not so much maybe, the fish!
There was a kindness in daddy. He really did want to help people. He worked so hard – often and quite literally through the night – to get a job done. He didn’t count the cost or measure the cost in hours and minutes but rather wanted the job to be right. I know people admired him for that and came from near and far to seek his help. Seldom, I think it’s fair to say, did he leave them in the lurch. If it could be done, he would do it. If it couldn’t, he’d still have a go!!
There is a lot to be thankful for today. Bill lived for more than 91 years. He enjoyed life and appreciated all that was done for him. He saw his children and grandchildren, welcomed nephews and nieces and their families. He visited places and spent time with people that mattered to him. He kept a keen interest in the world and its affairs and never allowed his mind to be idle. He had a good marriage and a mighty wife – they were so good to each other. His health was pretty good most of his life and he lived at home until his final days. There is a lot to be thankful for. I hope we fully realise that. There is a lot to be thankful for.
Finally there are also a lot to be thankful to – so a brief word of thanks to those who helped our father in any way; to neighbours and friends who were his customers through the years – to relations and family who kept in touch, not least since mammy died – to Gerard and Kieran and their families for all you’ve said and done. To the grandchildren, in particular, for bridging the generation gap and allowing him time and space in your lives. Thanks to our cousins, not least for the countless hours you spent with us over the past week – day and night – you were always there and I hope you know how much it meant. Thanks to Mary Giblin for her daily visits. Thanks to Fr Tomás and the present and past priests of the parish for their pastoral care. Thanks to all in the Motor Trade who knew my father and now my brothers. It is not the easiest time for many of you but hopefully the situation will improve – Bill used to say “keep cool” – so do that and things will get better. Thanks to my brother priests for your presence here today and your prayers also – not least to all of you who took your place on the hillside of the five thousand and shared bread with Bill in Moygara. Thanks to everybody with us today and over the past few days. I can almost hear daddy say to you all – apologising almost for taking up your time today – “this most likely doesn’t suit you at all” – we know it doesn’t, there are other places you could be and maybe need to be, but thanks for being here with us today.
And back to the mountain top – we are thankful to daddy for offering his five loaves and two fish – the talents with which he was born and gifted – to do so much good, in so many ways for so many people. We love you, we miss you and we know you are at peace. You absolutely deserve that.
POST COMMUNION REFLECTION
They asked me why I did it?
The truth is I don’t know – it just seemed the right thing to do. We had been standing there for hours. He had spoken so much, said so much – time just went by. People were hungry. You could see it in them and yet nobody wanted to leave. There was a muttering through the crowd – “he wants to feed us” – “With what?” someone said – “there’s no food here”.
That’s when I heard myself saying “I have something” – my voice seemed so loud. I was only a child but my voice rose above all others. “I have something”. A man asked what had I and I said “five loaves and two fish” – he smiled. I suppose now I would think it was a dismissive smile but that day I thought he was pleased. He passed on the message “There’s a small boy here with five loaves and two fish” – my heart sank when he added “but what is that between so many?” I blushed and even with my childish counting of two and two making four, I could see he was right. The man who had been talking to us did not agree. “Bring it to me”, he said and they took my food. I’ll never know how it happened but the feeding began. Bread and fish fed to five thousand.
“Why did you do it?” I’ve often thought about that. I did it because my father would have done it. He was always sharing bread with people at home. I grew up seeing him do that. Truth be told, it was he who had given me the few loves and fish before I left the house. I did it because he would have done it. It was the right thing to do.
There’s nothing to beat a father’s good example. Thanks Bill! We will not forget.