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Homily at Funeral Mass of Monsignor Joe Spelman

Monsignor Joe Spelman, R.I.P.

Monsignor Joe Spelman, R.I.P.

On Saturday June 25th, Bishop Brendan was Principal Celebrant at the Funeral of Monsignor Joe Spelman, retired Parish Priest of Collooney and former Vicar General of the Diocese of Achonry.  The following is the test of the Homily preached at the Funeral Mass in the Church of The Assumption, Collooney, Co. Sligo.

No sooner had the Apostles, his closest collaborators, experienced the First Eucharist with Jesus, we are told, than ‘A dispute arose also between them about which should be reckoned the greatest’. In spite of their closeness to Jesus, the Apostles were slow to understand what he was about and what he was showing them by his words, his gestures, his life. With extraordinary patience, he gently but firmly spells it all out… he is not about degrees of importance or status. Still less is he about controlling anyone or lording it over, but rather ‘Here am I among you as one who serves’.

At the heart of being Jesus’ follower or apostle is the simple matter of willingness to serve, getting down in the dust, washing feet…

After Joe Spelman’s mother died on the 29th of August 1982, an appreciation written by a past pupil appeared in one of the local newspapers. Mary Spelman had spent 30 years as teacher of the junior classes in Coolavin school in Monasteraden. These are some of the things written about her in that tribute:

‘For those of us venturing out to school for the first time, her hand had a comforting feel; once inside her classroom door, we were safe; she taught us all we were able to learn; above all she taught us to pray (followed by a wonderful description of how she instilled such love and devotion to the Blessed sacrament in her little charges as she prepared them for their first holy communion). The writer went on to say ‘she carved a niche in our hearts’. I think her son carved a good niche too in the hearts of many people…

I thought these things about his mother Mary were worth quoting today at Fr Joe’s Mass. They speak the rock out of which this good man was hewn.

People invariably have described Fr Joe Spelman as a ‘gentleman’. In every sense: a gentleman and a gentle man. Kind mother for it, as the old expression would put it. And father too, no doubt. The other word I heard most often these last few days: ‘he was gracious’. And he was. When I asked one colleague what he’d say about him, his first words were: ‘I liked him’- ‘A decent man’.

 Joseph Spelman was an extraordinarily bright student, he became an extraordinary scholar and first class student in Mathematics and Physics. But he was learned in many other fields as well – history, for example, which he loved. (He researched and wrote, for example, the definitive account of why Ballaghaderreen play their football in Mayo). He loved his native place.

He became a superb teacher in St Nathy’s and in Maynooth College, invariably going way beyond the call of duty in serving and helping his students. He was quiet spoken and reserved, laconic and witty, discreet but welcoming, very attentive to people, and kind, always kind. These are the sort of things people have said about him these last couple of days.

One of the really good and lovely things that happens often around death, particularly when it is natural and the person is full of years, it’s as if the goodness and gift that the person was emerges more strongly than ever before. So the tears and sorrow are mixed with gratitude and fuller appreciation. We want to thank God. We become thank-full. A sense that we have been touched by grace in the one who is no longer with us in the flesh…and his passing leaves a gap…

‘A dispute arose between them about who should be reckoned the greatest’. Mrs Spelman’s son had no interest in being the greatest. But he did seek to serve. That emerged strongly too after he retired from his academic life and returned to the diocese, here to Collooney. He never regarded becoming a parish priest as opportunity to relax and put up the feet, but rather he humbly asked his colleagues for help and advice, as he sought now to be a good shepherd to his people. He was all of that. Fr Joe liked people. And he knew that to serve God meant in practice to serve people. He was particularly attentive to those who were not well or not well-off. Visiting those in hospitals or homes was a big priority, a weekly pilgrimage.

‘Here am I among you as one who serves’, Jesus said to his friends and collaborators. ‘In the end of life, we will be judged on love’ the great St John of the Cross so rightly said. The love that is service is what he’s talking about. Jesus and the Father he revealed know no other way:  the way of self-giving, of self-sacrifice, of always putting the other first, especially the least and poorest.

On November 20, 2007, I arrived into the diocese for the first time. It was the day I was announced as bishop. At 4 in the afternoon I met all the priests in Ballaghaderreen. Mgr Joe as Vicar General was the one who welcomed me to the diocese. In the course of his brief speech, he cut straight to the heart of the matter. He told me I came here and was welcomed as successor of the Apostles. That this was what I would be expected to be. At least that is what I heard. And it was what I needed to hear. Up to then it had been a somewhat euphoric and mostly emotional day, full of congratulations and good wishes, but this was a coming down to earth, the essential, the truth of the situation. He rendered me a service that was necessary and brought me into balance and the real. The man who is a true servant never seeks popularity. And it is a grace of God to work alongside a person of that integrity. For this we are thankful to God today.

It wasn’t long after that that Parkinson’s disease came to Joe. He wasn’t a man to speak of his ailment at all, apart from saying his walk wasn’t good. There was no self-pity. He retired on coming to the age, and as his disability affected him more, withdrew graciously from committees on which he served. A loss, because his interventions were wise, and his advice was invariably sound. Eventually he did his own research and chose to enter the Sacred Heart Residence in 2013. He knew he could not manage anymore without assistance. And he wanted to be close to Marie and her family, as he always had been. And it was the right decision, taken in his own time, though not without a certain struggle.

He accepted his decline without complaint and with little comment. He was a good patient. He was blessed that you his family were extraordinarily attentive to him. And he was well-cared for by the nursing home staff, who liked him very much.

Yes. Joe Spelman ‘fought the good fight to the end, finished the course God gave him, kept the faith’.

It was a grace given this man who for others was so often full of grace.

In this year of mercy, though, he would want us today to implore God to be merciful to him. He had no false notions about himself, and knew his limits and failings. That is our purpose in celebrating this holy Eucharist.

May Father Joe, by your mercy Lord, be conferred with your kingdom, and may this man of the Eucharist ‘eat and drink now at the table in your kingdom’, according to your promise.

Homily at Funeral of Joe McDonagh, R.I.P.

Joe McDonagh, R.I.P. Former President of GAA

Joe McDonagh, R.I.P.
Former President of GAA

Joe McDonagh, former President of the GAA, died recently.  May he rest in peace.  Bishop Brendan was Principal Celebrant at his Funeral Mass.  The text of his homily printed here.  The Liturgy was celebrated through Irish.

‘Rinne sé féin a chros a iompar’

Seacht mbliain agus caoga a bhí muintir an chondae seo ag fanacht….

Agus an Céad Domhnach de Mheán-Fomhair, 1980, nuair a séideadh an fheadóg ag deire chluiche ceannais Iomána na hÉireann, an gáir a chuaigh suas uainn ar fad í bPáirc an Chrócaigh níor chualathas a leithéide riamh uainn roimhe ná ó shoin. Meascán de lúcháir agus faoiseamh faoi dheireadh. Pure ecstasy for once in our lives.

Agus ní hionadh gur thug Joe Connolly an óráid ab fhearr a chualathas riamh i bPáirc an Chrócaigh agus ansin chuireadh barr feabhais feiliúnach ar an ócaid leis an West’s Awake ag an fear atá ar lár uainn inniu agus muid á onórú leis an Aifreann binn anseo inniu i mBearna. Ní amháin go bhféadfhadh sé ceol a bhaint as an gcamán ar pháirc na h-imeartha, ach nach é a dfhéadfadh an t-amhrán a rá .

Gan dabht, ba dhuine ildánach é Joe. Fear léann agus foghlaim, cainteoir agus óráidí den scoth, sár-aisteoir agus amhranaí, sa sean-nós comh maith le opera agus ceoldramaí, iomanaí den scoth agus peileadóir den scoth comh maith. Múinteoir agus léachtóir, agus mar bharr ar sin ar fad, eagraí agus riarthóir agus ceannaire ar dhaoine…le Foras ne Gaeilge, Coiste Ghairmoideachais Chontae na Gaillimhe agus le Bord Oideachais agus Oiliúna Muigheo, Sligeach agus Liathdroim, agus arnú, mar Uachtarán éifeachtach aislingeach ar an gCumann Lúthchleas Gael. Ba oideachasóir é go príomhdha ina shaol poiblí agus chuir sé a chroí ina chuid oibre, uaireanta fada san oifig agus ag taisteal na tíre, ar son an óige, agus ar son an oideachais do chuile aois ghrúpa, óg agus fásta.

Go deimhin, bhronn Dia iliomad buanna agus talainn go leor air, but he wore his gifts and talents lightly, agus ba mhar a chéile dó an uasal agus an íseal: ní raibh aon eirí-in-airde ann. Bhí se ar a shuaimhneas i measc a mhuintire fein , i mBaile an Doirín nó i gConamara agus ba é an Ghaeilge a theanga.

Ach anois, ro-obann agus ró-luath, tá an laoch ar lár. ‘Bhí an bás comh láidir nach dtug sé cáirde d’aon mac máthair dar rugadh riamh’ aduirt Raiftearaí. Agus is mar sin a bhí agus atá.

Má tá bhrón agus briseadh croí ar an gcomhluadar seo inniu, tá buíochas freisin inár gcroíthe don fhear féin agus ar ar thug sé uaidh go fial agus go flathúil, gan staonadh.

Sin an fáth gur anseo atáimíd: i dTeach Dé. Séipéal Mhuire. Ag ceiliúradh Aifreann Dé, an gníomh buíochais is mó agus is feiliúnaí gur féidir linn a dhéanamh do Joe McDonagh. Agus mar go mbíonn cabhair Dé uainn féin nuair a thagann an bris agus an bás.

Ach tá muid anseo freisin mar seo é ár dTeach fein comh maith, Teach an Phobail. Thainig Joe anseo le Peig chuile Dhomhnach. Dílseacht. Bhí an treith sin go láidir ann. Dílseacht don chultúr, don teanga, don tradisiúin; ach dílseacht dá mhuintir agus do Pheig agus a  chlann thar rud ar bith, agus dílis do Dhia agus don creideamh inar tógadh é. Creideamh in Íosa Chríost. An fhaoistin agus an guí.

Nárbh thráthúil ó Dhia é gurb ag ‘Lá na gClub’ le pobal Bhaile an Doirín a chaith sé an ócaid deireannch ceiliútha ar ar fhreastail sé coicís ón Domhnach seo caite.

Roghnaíodh na léachtaí don Aifreann seo d’aonghnó mar gur oir siad don fhear ar a bhfuil muid ag guí agus ag gabháil buíochais. ‘Sé an Tiarna mo chuid den tsaol,’ mar a dúradh sa chéad léacht, ‘is ann mar sin a chuirim mo dhóchas’. Agus ‘These are the trials through which we triumph, by the power of him who loved us’. I spoke of Joe’s loyalties – the other word for loyalty is faithfulness. Joe was a man of faith, quiet and true.

Ní hionadh go raibh se de ghrásta aige glacadh leis an drochscéal nuair a tháinig sé ag a dhoras mí Deireadh Fómhair seo caite.. Níor chaill sé a mhisneach. Choinnigh sé air ag obair. D’fhan a dhearcadh deimhneach go dtí an deireadh. Ba ghrásta mhór dá chlann bheith ábalta bheith thart air an t-am ar fad an seachtain deireannach dá shaol. Suaimhneas, síochain agus grá faoi bhláth. Nár choir agus feiliúach sin Mí Bealtaine! Ainneoin an laige agus tromchúis an tinnis.

‘Rinne sé féin a chros a iompar’ deireann Naomh Eoin linn, ag caint faoi Íosa sa soiscéal a bhí againn níos luaithe. Roghnaigh mé an Soiscéal seo mar ainneoin an tragóid agus an feall, an fulaingt agus an céasadh, sé Íosa fein atá i bhfeighil cúrsaí. Go suaimhneach síochanta. ‘Rinne sé a chros fein a iompar’. Nach shin mar a rinne Joe McDonagh freisin?

Agus ón gcrois céanna tugann Íosa a mháthair do Eoin, agus Eoin do Mhuire: “dúirt sé lena mháthair ‘A bhean, sin é do mhac’. Ansin dúirt sé leis an deisceabal: ‘Sin í do Mháthair’. Má thug Íosa ar an gCrois le chéile iad, d’fhág sé ag a chéile iad freisin: mar oidhreacht agus ordú uaidh. Tabhair aire dá cheile. Sin is ciall leis an mbeatha daonna. Sé an t-aon ní  amháin é a chomhraíonns sa deireadh thiar thall. Níl aon chastacht ag baint le saol an duine. Tá muid anseo le bheith le cheilé, aire a thabhairt dá chéile. Is mar sin a d’fhág Íosa Chríost muid : ag a chéile. Ag tabhairt aire, ag tabhairt grá, comaoineach a bheith eadrainn. Agus muid ag ceiliúradh anois san Aifreann gurb é an Comaoineach sin an rud is naofa ar domhain. Tá Dia féin beo ar domain nuair atá  muid i gcomaoin lena chéile.

Gur mar sin a bheas, a Thiarna, sin é ar nguí. Oidhreacht Íosa Chríost (dúinn)….Agus oidhreacht Joe McDonagh dúinn comh maith, ar a bhealach féin. Agus go h-áirithe ag a deire, dá chomluadar féin; – agus dúinn ar fad, chomh maith.

Suaimhneas síoraí tabhair dó a Thiarna, agus go lonnradh an solas bhuan mharthanach air.