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Homily at Funeral Mass for Fr Greg Hannan

Text of homily preached by Diocesan Administrator of Achonry, Fr Dermot Meehan, at the Funeral Mass of Fr Gregory Hannan, P.E., Ballymote.  Mass was celebrated in the Church of The Immaculate Conception, Ballymote, Co. Sligo on Friday September 6th, 2019.

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In France – a country and culture very close to Fr Greg Hannan’s heart – there is an old custom of celebrating a person’s name day. So, in addition to marking birthdays every year, French people traditionally give a small gift to family members and friends on the feast day of the saint they are named after. By a curious coincidence, Fr Greg passed peacefully from this life on September 3rd, his name day, because in the Church’s yearly calendar, the third of September is the feast day of St Gregory the Great, a Pope who died in the year 604 and is still remembered and revered today as a wise and holy pastor.

God called Greg to himself on his name day and it is our hope and prayer, in this gathering of family and friends, that God will gift Greg now with a place in the resurrection and the life of the world to come, all that God promised Greg on the day of his baptism in St Patrick’s Church, Gurteen on 15th May 1937, all that is the reward reserved by God for those who serve him faithfully, as Greg did, especially in his fifty-seven years of ministry as a priest in our diocese of Achonry.

To his ministry, in school and parish, Greg brought his unique, God-given set of skills and talents: his keen intelligence, his lively and life-long interest in new ideas, his easy way with people, especially with the young, his great good humour and sense of fun, the energy and enthusiasm he brought to projects he was engaged in. To the people of the communities in which he served, Greg carried too the compassion and care of Christ in whom he believed so strongly and he favoured always the Gospel law of love more than the seemingly  stricter commandments and harsher ways of the Old Testament.

Many memories of Greg have been shared over the past few days by family and friends, past pupils and parishioners. He will be greatly missed.

He will be particularly missed by his family for Greg was a much-loved brother and uncle. You will each have your own treasured memories of Greg, of his presence at family gatherings and special occasions, of his warm ways and his thoughtfulness, all that made him so special to you. When the diminishments old age so often brings took their toll on Greg in recent years, you showed how much you valued him in your care for him, and your support enabled him to continue to live in his own home until a few short weeks ago. That care was there to the end, particularly in Sr Bernadine’s supportive presence during Greg’s recent stay in hospital and his final days in the Nazareth Nursing Home.

His past pupils from his days in St Nathy’s College have many fond memories of Greg also. We will remember an engaging teacher who introduced us to the language, literature and culture of France, who gently guided our choices in life in his role as Careers Guidance Counsellor and who encouraged talent in tennis and handball, drama and music. Those of us who were boarders at a particular point still speak, more than forty years later, of the radio station Greg set up in his room and broadcast to our dormitories at night.

People in the parishes in which he served will remember Greg as a caring pastor who enjoyed celebrating baptisms and weddings and who was a sure support at times of sickness and sorrow. He engaged with people of all ages and, especially in his younger days, was a popular presence among the youth with whom he built up a particular rapport.

Among his colleagues in this diocese Greg will be remembered for his convivial company, his sharing of interests and ideas, his contributions to our conferences and meetings for he was never shy in expressing his opinion or making his point in a discussion. Ordained in the year the Second Vatican Council met for its first session, Greg embraced its teachings with enthusiasm and constantly strived to implement the spirit of the Council in making the Gospel relevant to the reality of parish life in the modern world.

For all our memories of Greg, in whatever capacity we knew him, today, together, we give thanks to God. We pray that God will gather Greg and his goodness to himself for, in the words of the second reading, Greg has fought the good fight, he has finished the race, he has kept the faith. We commend Greg to the care of the risen Christ and ask that Christ, Greg’s brother and friend, will lead him now through the dark door of death that becomes for believers the gateway to resurrection.

Mentioning resurrection, some years ago, Greg shared with me the difference in the depiction of the risen Christ in western art and in the icons of the Orthodox churches of the East. In western Christian art, he pointed out, Christ is always pictured rising from the dead alone. In the icons of the Orthodox churches of the East, Christ is shown emerging from the world of the dead, holding the hand of Adam and of Eve and leading the whole company of the dead into the light of heaven and the peace of God’s eternal presence. That image of the risen Christ from the icons of the East made sense to Greg and says so much about the Christ he put his faith in.

So, in faith, we pray now that the risen Christ may take Greg’s hand and lead him into the life with God that lasts for ever to enjoy the promise of peace and the reward of rest and the experience of unending joy.

Bishop Flynn’s Funeral Mass

SOME ADDITIONAL PHOTOS

(Courtesy of Brian Farrell, Photographer www.brianfarrell.ie ©Brian Farrell)

AUDIO CLIPS

 

 MESSAGE FROM POPE FRANCIS

(Sent  from Vatican by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State via Papal Nunciature)

popefrancismessage

HOMILY 

In the end, to have followed Jesus is the only thing that matters. Thomas Flynn, born on 8 July 1931, was brought as a new-born infant by his parents to be baptised in this historic Cathedral four days later on 12 July, 1931. So that he would know and follow Jesus. Ordained a priest of the diocese on 17 June 1956, he was ordained a bishop twenty-one years later on 20 February 1977, at the age of forty-six. All of this in response to the continuing call of that same Master.

Though he retired officially on 20 November 2007, he continued to administer the diocese until I was ordained on 27 January 2008. So he had been chief shepherd of this diocese for thirty years and eleven months. It was, like that of his two immediate predecessors, a long tenure. Despite the fact that his years as chief pastor of this diocese were not always the easiest, Bishop Tom always said that he had enjoyed being a bishop. He was not a man to complain. He followed Jesus.

14-IMG_1615The Gospel we have just heard provides us with an opportunity to reflect on what it is to be a good shepherd, and it is instructive for all of us in whatever shepherding role we find ourselves: parent, adult, priest, or bishop. Indeed it’s a wonderful passage for any person, who wants to follow Jesus in any capacity, to ponder. It has a certain climactic quality since it is the story of Jesus’ final appearance after The Resurrection.

The context of the story is wonderful. It is so simple and so ordinary. These men who had followed Him and walked the roads with Him are back doing what they had left doing, back to their old occupations – fishermen again, for fish. And up all night at it, as happens, a futile exercise apparently on this particular occasion. And then with first light, there’s a Person on the shore calling out “have you caught anything, friends?” To their answer “no” He responds, “throw the net out to starboard and you’ll find something.” They take Him at his word. And futility gives way to abundant fruitfulness. Their seeming naïve obedience to the seeming Stranger on the shore was their best move ever. We are reminded of Mary at Cana to the servants at the wedding feast “Do whatever he tells you,” her last words in the Gospel – her final word for us all. A willingness and a wanting to do ‘whatever he asks you’ – this is at the basis of every priestly vocation, and indeed of every baptismal vocation. It is the beginning of ‘following’ Jesus, of discipleship and apostleship, and it is the end, too. The alpha and omega of the Christian life. Child-like naiveté, not sophistication, makes the disciple.

And then there is that invitation: “Come and have breakfast,” Jesus said. The good shepherd feeds His flock. They are nourished at His table. The table at which He feeds us with His own self, bread of life. Service and self-sacrifice. Service to the point of self-sacrifice. Remembering Bishop Tom, disciple and shepherd, we can do no better than allow ourselves to be fed at the table of Jesus, our friend and our shepherd … to listen to His Word, take it to heart and show it in our lives. As we are doing now.

Loveliest of all – and costliest – we have the third scene: “Simon, Son of John, do you love me?” It seems Jesus needs to know, to hear our answer, over and over … No wonder Peter is disconcerted, upset. We expect God to do the loving, to tend to us … We ask and pray continuously… But the mystery is He needs my love too, and yours … incessantly. As does His world and His people … and the implications of all of that will never cease unfolding … even to the point of taking us to ‘where we would rather not go’.

Apart from the first six years of his priesthood in Tubbercurry, Bishop Tom spent his entire life here in his native Ballaghaderreen parish. From the beginning he was a teacher, and a very good one by all accounts. The word most often used by people was kind. Quiet in disposition, and very discreet, a man of few words. As president of Saint Nathy’s, he was a reformer and moderniser, a process advanced in firm co-operation with him by his successor, Father Andy Johnston, who passed away as it turned out on the very same day as Bishop Tom, last Tuesday. At a time when school amalgamations were seen as the way to go, for wider curriculum and choice purposes, Bishop Tom and Father Andy insisted that the voluntary and Catholic status of the united Saint Nathy’s here in Ballaghaderreen was the way forward. Person-centred education, the hallmark always of the Catholic system, was a passion for Bishop Tom. On this he was very clear. Nationally, he was at the helm for many years of matters educational as chairman of the Bishops’ Council for Education, including at the time of the negotiations around what became the Education Act of 1998. Visiting the schools in the diocese and staying in touch with the young was a priority for him, something he instilled by example in the priests of the diocese too.

At the national level, he was a member for many years also of the Bishops’ Council for the Laity. Leading the diocese in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, he worked determinedly in the area of adult faith development too. He established the pastoral centre at Charlestown, and also the centre at Banada; he encouraged the development of the Father Peyton Centre at Attymass and was particularly involved in his latter years with the Sisters of Mercy in the development of the Hope House Centre for addiction treatment in Foxford. And it is to Bishop Tom that we owe the fact that we have the finest history of the diocese in Father Liam Swords’ four volumes. A deeply spiritual and wise pastor, Bishop Tom instinctively understood that there can be no healthy growth or nourishment in the present if we do not know or are attentive to our roots … and this rings true whether as a people or as a Church.

“Yes, Lord, you know I love you” Peter replied, and in his own way, at the age of eighteen, the young Tom Flynn made that simple profession of faith too. For life, as a priest. Again and again, he was called on to remake it. At his priestly ordination in 1956. Again as a new bishop in 1977. I think we can confidently say that he responded as best he could to the commission of his Master: ‘Feed my sheep’ in those demanding active years, when we are called to reach certain heights, perhaps, as the world sees it. Time when we are able to ‘fasten our own belts and walk where we like’.

But in God’s scheme of things, this is never the whole story, and if we make it so, we are the fools. For ten years now Tom Flynn became more and more familiar with that other side of following that Master into whose body he was baptised and ordained to serve. The ups and downs of health and strength and energy were his constant companions, until finally a year ago he reached the nursing home. “But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt around you…” Something in us all that has no wish to go there, and yet we must remember the call we answered: “Follow me.”

Do not all our roads at one time or another become a road to Calvary? All the sophistication in the world cannot avoid it. There is a final conversion that awaits us. The call of God continues. Those close to Bishop Tom have seen the changes … And seen him say his ‘yes,’ not always easily or without struggle, but yes very definitely, and he was at peace. “Is there anything you want or would like … anything at all?” The answer was invariably “No…sure haven’t I everything here?”

‘After this, Jesus said: Follow me’. ‘Unless you become like little children…’. The shepherd, becoming again the Lamb, trustingly…as with the Master Jesus, it is all that matters.

May that be our grace too, our way of saying “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

As we thank God today for Bishop Thomas Flynn, we entrust him with faith and love to His great mercy.

Faoi shuain lena Mháistir dílis and lena mhuintir imithe roimhe go raibh an tEaspag Tomás anois sna Flaithis. Amen.