We had a Funeral Mass in our parish yesterday (Monday). It was for Martin Frain, R.I.P. Martin had been deeply involved in practically every aspect of Parish life for many years and, since my coming to the parish, continued to be a supportive and reliable presence. Thought I might share the few thoughts from yesterday’s Mass.
In our Scripture Passages today, read by Martin’s sons and myself, we seek to allow the Lord to speak to us. In the first reading we hear that the virtuous man who dies before his time sees God. Martin was in the shadow of his 82nd Birthday. Could we then truly say he died before his time? In many ways, I feel, we can. He was a sort of landmark for us – like Urluar Abbey or The Mass Rock – there was a sense of him being there and forever. Sadly that’s not the case but the landmark he was, remains for all who knew and loved him.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians he spoke to people he thought he’d not see again. He was anxious that they’d know how much they meant to him. He left them in no doubt. I shared these words with you in the house yesterday and said I believe they are words that a man or woman, knowing death was at hand, might want to share with those left behind. We hear them then, not just as Paul’s words to the Philippians but Martins’ words to all of you. “I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord”. I truly believe that to be the case. Yes you are sad. Yes you will weep and feel free to since that is the gift associated with grief – that we can shed a tear. Indeed it has been said that the only way to ensure you never ever cry at a funeral is to “never love anyone”. The price we pay (and happily so) for loving another is to feel sadness when they die. Yet the words are a call to happiness and I believe that, in time, that happiness will return and you will find joy in knowing you did your best by Martin as family and friends for as long as you could. “There is no need to worry”, Paul says and likewise Martin. He speaks to all here today and says “there is no need to worry”. “If there is anything you need, ask God for it with prayer and thanksgiving”. That’s the key to it surely – that we continue to pray and show gratitude for all that has been so freely shared. “Keep doing all the things you learnt from me and have heard or seen that I’ve done” …. That’s quite a challenge for Martin has left much by way of good example.
The Gospel Passage I used is the one I chose for my father’s funeral. In many ways, Martin reminded me of my father insofar as he was a giving man. He offered what he had insofar as it was helpful and, more often than not, it made all the difference. “There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish – but what is that between so many?” I often wonder was the little boy embarrassed when he heard the comment “what’s that between so many?” The “big people” knew the maths of the moment but it was the offering that mattered. Was Jesus making a point? Was he saving the boy’s blushes? Whatever the truth, he took what was so generously offered and nourished thousands.
Martin brought to life the fullness of his five loves and two fish. He gave everything he had to give and the sufficiency of his offering is clearly evident. He cherished his parents and continued to remember them in death. Is it more than coincidental that on Friday night, as Martin approached death in Castlebar, many of us gathered in this church to pray for his parents and brother? I said to those here that night “it’s likely Martin is closer to them now than any of us” but it’s the remembrance that counts. He did not forget his people. That Mass, like many others, was arranged by him so that prayers could be offered, their names mentioned and remembered. They continued to live for him. So also his wife; whom he so clearly loved. It’s almost certain he never fully got over her death. I remember a lovely poem speaking about a man whose wife had died. They used pray the Rosary together every evening. After the death, the family said he was doing well but there’s a lovey piece in the poem that says every evening after supper the man would slip away on his own into a quiet room where he’d “Hail Mary and wait ……”
Martin brought the loaves and fishes to the Gable Wall at Knock where he served so faithfully for so long. He led people in procession and prayer, directed the visitor and shared faith with the Pilgrim. It all mattered to him.
His children – what can anyone add to those two words? He adored his children and lived for them and their families. He rejoiced in their rejoicing and, I’ve no doubt, shared their sorrows. I remember noticing the calendar on the wall in your house the evening we had the Mass for his 80th. I’m sure one of you got it for him. It had all the significant dates to do with your family – birthdays, anniversaries and things that should not be forgotten. I remember thinking it a lovely gift. I noticed a new calendar there yesterday but with the same dates highlighted. It all mattered so much to him – you all mattered so much to him.
It was at “Parish” level I encountered the best of Martin. He believed in parish and believed in his place therein. Quite often I’d not be out of bed or, at best, not long out of bed when the Fiesta would be outside. Martin looking for the biscuit tin for the Priests’ Collection, or the Canopy for the Corpus Christi Procession – he knew what he was looking for and when he couldn’t find it seemed to assume I’d dumped it! Always we’d find it – more often than not where he’d left it!! The point was he cared enough to look and knew me enough to know he might need to remind me. He took the Faith seriously and was part of our Eucharistic Adoration team. Invitations in the Parish Newsletter were not meant for someone else but quite likely for him. Often he accepted. A while ago we put a piece in the bulletin looking for names of Religious from the parish. The first reply I got was from Martin, mentioning you Brother Bonaventure and a few others he knew. It was this sense of being involved that touched me deeply. He knew what was meant for the parish was meant for him. I see that as such a huge challenge in our day. My absolute wish today is that we would all see the parish as our own and all that happens in it being of significance.
Martin put up the Crib every year. He did it on the 8th December. To be honest I felt that was too soon but didn’t feel comfortable to say this to Martin. I let it go for about three years and then said it to him one day. I said I’d prefer the Crib to go up nearer to – a near as possible to – Christmas Eve. Not a bother. That’s exactly what happened. I asked him one time how long he’d been putting up the Crib. He told me he first did it when he was seventeen. For sixty five years he did this and did it well. That’s the thing I feel I admired most about him. He could have told me “it was always done this way” or “If it was good enough for Fr Cawley or Archdeacon Carty, it’s good enough for you!!” He’d have been entitled to that but no. He did it because I asked him to. He did it because he saw me as the priest in his parish and saw me as being important to him. I appreciated him for that too. He made me feel my life had an importance in his. We priests need that too. Often we’re written off or out of the script but in the sharing of the gifts, Martin shared that with me. He was happy to do it because I asked.
One of the things I loved about the Crib and indeed the Procession was that Martin involved his family in these. The Christmas Tree was dressed by Lauren, his granddaughter. I thought that was class. It was his way, I think, of handing on a tradition of involvement. Likewise his sons and, in more recent times, his son-in-law Mick, were there to assist with his tasks. Again, I saw this as his way of sharing the work and more importantly widening the call to be involved. It is my hope that the call continues to be heard by Lauren and Mick and all who are willing to help.
We cannot forget the Cemeteries of the Parish. Martin tended to these because he believed they too are landmarks. They mark the “people of our land” and insofar as they do they have a central role in the living of our community life. I think of the Heritage Nights in Cois Tine and the recitations of familiar words. “I’m stuck again”, he’d say and blame the lights but always he got back on track and found his words. There was always applause. Though they’d been heard before, they continued to be appreciated. The five loves and two fish never lose their taste. Gifts too of time and conviction were shared with the Pioneers, Community Council, Irish Catholic and countless other ways. The gifts offered, in their entirety. How pleased the Lord must have been.
There’s a challenge in all of this of course. “Do this in memory of me”, Jesus said. Likewise Martin’s life calls us to be better people. He became dizzy during Adoration in this Church. In many ways that was the beginning of the journey. When I saw him in hospital one of the sons said to him that it was a “warning” and so it was. Martin was being told that things were not as they should be. I’ve thought about that word “warning” and wonder was it also an opportunity? An opportunity to reflect on Martin’s life, to spend a bit of time with him around his sickness, to speak words, pray prayers and say thanks? I believe it was such an opportunity and that, insofar as it was, it was well used by those around him. I witnessed great tenderness, not least between Martin and his brother. Emotional tenderness that focused on one praying with the other, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may I breathe forth my Soul in peace with thee, Amen”.
The five loaves and two fish were freely shared and willingly accepted. I believe they made a difference and that, in the course of Martin’s life, thousands have been nourished.
May he rest in peace. Amen.
Martin was well known as a composer of verses. Many of them were very witty and told something of a life well known to most of us. He often wrote verses to mark moments in the parish’s life – like the one above for 150th Anniversary of the Church in 2009. I thought I might put a few lines together, by way of verse, and included them in the Mass. Some of the references are to lines from Martin’s own work. He also was a man who knew history and often people would go to him to find out about their “roots” – that too is part of these lines ….
Unlike Seamus Heaney, Martin
could dig and hold the pen
and build and laugh and talk and pray
a support to kith and kin.
Hard work to him no stranger
likewise fun and game
and it’s clearly known to all
things will never be the same.
Where’s the bunting from last year
or the Infant for the manger
where’s the man to whom we send
the wonderings of the stranger
who thinks his grandfather’s father
came from Carralackey or Egool
and listens with a clear intent
to words both wise and cool.
“Your father’s mother’s father
was known as Jamesie Banner
he came from County Clare
and a village near Liscannor
and a first cousin of his mother’s
moved here from Lehinch
she married into Ballinvoher
to James John Patrick Lynch.”
Who can tell us tales of yesterday
of when our Church was built
and how the nave before us
like His head on the Cross is tilt?
Who’ll tend the graves of Naomh Mobhi
and arrange the yearly Mass
who’ll remind us of Corpus Christi
to make sure “The Host” will pass?
Countless jobs done so well
by one who knew his mind
and knew his Faith and loved his God
who remained forever kind.
In him there surely was no guile
his good intent is certain
there’s sadness real among us
as we face that final curtain
but he faithfully remembered
his people through his life,
parents, brother and all his dead
and the love that was his wife
so, maybe in a verse
and surely in a prayer
we’ll recall his life quite often
forever thankful he’s been here.
We’ll remember the man left to mind the children
and the Maguires and MacDwyers
the rice cakes and nice cakes
as his verse our faith inspires
to gather in this place of prayer
Fine Gael and Fianna Fail men - “no party at all men”
to pray with all who shared his way
for his Eternal Rest. Amen.