Fr Andrew Finan Funeral Mass

The following is the text of the homily preached by Bishop Brendan Kelly at the Funeral Mass for Fr Andrew Finan in the Cathedral of The Annunciation and St Nathy, Ballaghaderreen on 4th February, 2014

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“Abba, Father!’ he said “Everything is possible for you. Take this cup away from me…..But let it be as you, not I would have it”.

On the 14th of December last, the feast day of St John of the Cross, Andrew asked me to read that story: the Agony in the Garden. The first Sorrowful mystery. As I read slowly, he was all attention. Afterwards, he told me to continue on. Into the story of Jesus’  betrayal, and condemnation, the relentless unforgiving journey of the passion….

After all that he was very quiet. No more to be said. And with his blessing I slipped away.

So the Gospel for today chose itself.

It was on the feast of St Mark, April 25 last, that I got the call to say the news about Andrew was not good. They were querying either a rare form of Parkinson’s or motor neurone disease. When later I rang Andrew, his words were ‘welcome be the will of God’. But he also said he was ‘full of tears’. A week later he had the Consultant [in whom, by the way, he was blessed] tell me the full story : He could have possibly 2-3 years, but it could be much faster. And it has, as we now know.

Most of the time since then he was blessed with the grace of acceptance of his situation, and described himself, very peacefully, at one point as being ‘alone with God’,

“Alone with none but thee my God I Journey on my way,

What need I fear when thou art near, o King of night and day…”

However, there were times too of great darkness…swamped by fear and the terror of choking. On a visit not so long ago, the only word I deciphered was ‘frustrated’.  It was the second last word I succeeded in deciphering from him.

I mention these things because Andrew could not tolerate any kind of pretence, but wanted always to acknowledge the real, the true…his reality as it was. Because God is in the real and the true and nowhere else. And the faith to him,- the God of Jesus Christ-, was everything.

After many setbacks and really no good news about his situation, he talked one day last June about ‘knowing every one of the Stations of the Cross’ and how they were sustaining him, and though he was deeply agitated at times [the growing confinement, the hospital itself was not always easy for him], ‘I am fundamentally at peace’ he said. And that was the truth. God inhabits that gentle breeze of peace, silence….

No wonder so many people were touched profoundly by him and by the way he carried himself all through what was indeed his agony.

On the other hand, his sense of humour remained firmly intact. The irony of the situation in which he found himself never escaped him. The capacity to smile, ever so slightly and gently, remained to the end…

Not long ago, after he’d had a bleak and difficult day, his speech now almost entirely indecipherable, out of the blue he mentioned Happy Days. It turned out he was talking about the famous play of that title by Samuel Beckett. The title of the play is hugely ironic itself, because the play is about, as one critic wrote, ‘the desperate attempt of Winnie, a woman trapped in a sterile life and marriage, to remain cheery as her world closes in around her and she is presented to us an stage as sinking slowly and inexorably into the engulfing desert sand.

Andrew was only too aware of the absurdity of his situation and that it was not without its comic side….

He had no illusions about his need of God’s mercy. He wanted to confess and to hear the reassuring absolution spoken over his sins and failures, about which he was candid and true.

The very last phrase I managed to pick up from him two weeks ago was very clear.  ‘I don’t mind’ he said, in answer to talk about being voiceless now, and the impossibility of communicating….

We talk of defining moments. These last months of his life were defining for Andrew Finan. And deeply instructive as well as extraordinarily challenging for those who accompanied him. In the very best way.

Only now, when he has gone, as is often the case, can we begin to recognise the privilege and the gift of God. Death is transforming, a dawning of new life, not just for the one who dies…but for us who remain, as we look back on the life that’s left us.

And those central words in that Gospel today are central, for us too: ‘Father, Abba, everything is possible for you. Take this cup away! And yet let it be as you, not I, would have it’:

the truth of God our Father, ‘everything is possible for you!’: it is!

the cry of the helpless child ‘Take this cup away!’ : That’s what we all are!

and then the surrender ‘but let it be as you, not I, would have it’.

Yes.  That’s our faith: the faith of Christians.

The key to life. In all its fullness. Now and in the hereafter.

Let us then be thankful….

to God.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh tú, a bhráthair dhíl, a oide…