Homily of Bishop Noel Treanor at the Requiem Mass for Cahal Brendan Cardinal Daly

02 Jan 2010

2 January 2010

Homily of Bishop Noel Treanor at the Requiem Mass for Cahal Brendan Cardinal Daly

St Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast


The three passages from Sacred Scripture, constituting the liturgy of the Word in this Requiem Mass for Cahal Cardinal Daly, capture something of the core of this manifold man as scholar, priest, pastor and bishop. The verses from the book of Wisdom ch. 13, recall our deceased brother’s passionate desire to seek and know God. These lines from the book of Wisdom evoke the citation from the gospel according to John on his last beautiful Christmas card : “have I been with you all this time and you still do not know me?” (Jn. 14.9). The consuming passion to know Christ, that imbued all phases of his life, is crystallised in the second reading taken from the letter of St Paul to the Philippians. Indeed it was verse 8 of this third chapter  – “For Christ Jesus my Lord I have accepted the loss of everything and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in Him” – that he reproduced in his own handwriting in the inset on the same Christmas card. The dialogue passage between Christ and his disciples and Peter’s confession, as recalled by the lines from gospel according to Matthew (Mt 16.13-19), powered his style of pastoral and episcopal service and leadership rendered fearlessly, yet ever ready for discussion, dialogue, debate and explanation, for like Peter he knew the greatness and the frailty of our humanity and respected both in order ever to support the strong and the weak. 

As we gather here today in St Peter’s Cathedral, these foundational qualities of his life and ministry are coated, I’m sure, by personal memories that each one of us brings with us to this Requiem Mass. You, his family, relatives and friends, carry decades of memories of life’s joys and sorrows shared in talk, song, travel, pilgrimage and prayer. Many of you, parishioners of Loughguile, where he grew up and loved to visit friends and neighbours throughout his life, have known him as a son of a neighbour and schoolmaster, as a fellow parishioner, become priest and bishop for whom you were the centre of his personal world. Perhaps a few will recall student days, whether at St Malachy’s, Queen’s University or Maynooth. More among us retain vivid memories of his work as teacher, academic and scholar at Queen’s university. Others may cherish the seminal significance for his future life and ministry of the sabbatical year he spent in Paris in 1952-1953 attending courses at the Institut Catholique, the Sorbonne and the Collège de France. There he encountered many of the architects of the Second Vatican Council which he would attend as an adviser. The Priests, Religious, and people of God of this diocese know and remember the energy, dedication and pastoral insight he invested in his ministry as bishop here among us in difficult and trying times. Young and old cherish his launching of the Down and Connor annual Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes. The legacy of his long life’s work and ministry as bishop lives on in our faith and in the life of our local Church.

The warmth and the sadness engendered by these memories of a long life lived to the full are given a further poignancy as we gather together here in St Peter’ which he had raised to the status of Cathedral and which he rededicated as Diocesan Cathedral on the Feast of St Peter and St Paul, Sunday 29 June 1986. That decision on his part was also rooted in his love and respect for the people of West Belfast, for their spiritual and social well-being, evidenced in his homily on that occasion.  This now redecorated and refurbished St Peter’s Cathedral stands as testimony to his passion to provide for the implantation of the city of God in the heart of the earthly city, to give our diocese a centre-point and in so doing to locate that centre point in the midst of God’s people.

Here in this Cathedral today it is apt that we focus further on his imprint on the Church of God which is in Down and Connor, where he was bishop from 24 August 1982 until 6 November 1990. As clergy we have heard of his supply work in parishes such as Lower Mourne (1941), Cushendun and Carnlough (1942) and of his availability during his university years to relieve priests as need arose. His memory is particularly cherished among the clergy for the personal and spiritual support he gave them in the harrowing and traumatic years of the Troubles. His interest and pride in our presbyterium remained strong to the very end, as illustrated by his presence at the event and panel discussion organised in the context of the Year for Priests on 1 October 2009 and by his discrete and supportive interest in the life of the Church throughout the diocese.

On his installation as bishop of Down and Connor on Sunday 17 October 1982, the then Bishop Cahal Daly returned to his native diocese with fifteen years experience of the ministry of bishop in the diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, that ministry having been enriched by his experience as theological adviser (peritus) to Bishop William Philbin and Cardinal Conway during the Second Vatican Council. Thus his years as Bishop of Down and Connor continued his commitment to the implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s vision of the Church, to  liturgical and pastoral renewal. Many of you will recall his efforts to foster and support the involvement of the laity in parish life, his particular care for Religious Life and its renewal and his life-long dedication to ecumenism.

If his work in university and his experience of the Second Vatican Council enriched his ministry as bishop, another passion from the days of his theological studies in Maynooth – his study and application of the Social Teaching of the Church – would add a significant and indeed historic dimension to his service of the Church as bishop, and later as Primate. Together with classmates of the famous ordination class of 1941 and with other contemporaries and clergy fired by the interface of faith in Jesus Christ and societal issues, he founded Christus Rex, of which he was chairman for 25 years until 1966. Drawing on his philosophical reading and research, not least in the field of ethics, and especially on the heritage of the Church’s social thought, courageously, prophetically and tenaciously he continued to espouse justice, peace and reconciliation in the difficult, troubled and violent years of the 1980s. Nothing deterred him from proclaiming and applying the Word of God to ground his condemnation of the use of violence as a political tool and to diagnose it as “a primary malignancy, with secondary growths eating into the healthy tissues of whole communities” in his book, Steps on My Pilgrim Journey. His concern and efforts to address deprivation, poverty, lack of educational opportunity and the need for economic development revealed the depth and breadth of his belief in the mystery of the Nativity, the birth of God as man in Jesus of Nazareth, which we have just celebrated, and which would mark the occasion of the last Mass he celebrated. Fired by his faith in God incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, he appreciated and valued the media and the new technologies as powerful instruments for the proclamation of Christ’s personally engaging message of salvation. For Cardinal Daly the twenty-first century with all its complex problems and the information society offered exciting challenges to all of us for the proclamation of God’s eternal Word. True to his youthful and vigorous spirit, he recently told a group of seminarians in the Irish College, Rome, that he would love to have been one of their number, setting out anew on priestly ministry in this world so different from that of his youth. The well-springs of Christian faith and hope, which sourced that remark, spurred him also to countless and untold acts of kindness like his hospital visits to victims of violence late at night, supportive phone calls to priests and clergy exposed to trauma, and his close interest in seminarians.  Among us he was a father, a leader, and a prophetic champion of justice, peace and reconciliation.

From Down and Connor he was called on 6 November 1990 to serve as Archbishop of Armagh and thus as Primate of All Ireland. Created Cardinal by Pope John Paul II on 28 June 1991, he led the Church in Ireland with the same graciousness, perspicacity, wisdom and zeal that characterised his lifelong priestly ministry until his retirement on 1 October 1996, when he returned to Rosetta Avenue, here in Belfast, where he enjoyed a long and fertile retirement as an author, conversationalist, lecturer, and pilgrim and where finally these past two days his family lovingly waked him.

One can evoke only a few vignettes from Cahal Daly’s long life and multifarious ministries as priest and bishop. As bishop and archbishop his work extended far beyond Ireland. It was indeed in the European outreach of his work that I came to know him more closely. One of the founding figures of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), a body which liaises with the European Union institutions on behalf of the Church in the member states, he was one of its first Vice Presidents from 1980 until 1983. Aware of Ireland’s spiritual, religious and intellectual contribution to Europe over the centuries and appreciative of Europe’s cultural, political and economic contribution to Ireland, he saw Ireland’ s future as implanted in a European matrix and was ever supportive of the complex and demanding mission entrusted to the COMECE. As Archbishop of Armagh and President of the Irish bishops’ Conference he became ex officio a member of the Council of the European Bishops Conferences (CCEE), where his contributions to the annual plenary meetings and other conferences never failed to elucidate and focus the proceedings. It is also worth recording here on his native soil that he served as a member of Vatican discasteries: of the Congregation for Clergy, of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, and of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christina Unity.  Cahal Daly’s life was one of herculean dedication to Christ alive in the mystery and sacrament of the Church at work in the world and in society.

Somehow my abiding image of Cahal Daly visualises him with the New Testament in his hand. I’m told that he had with him at all times his Breviary and a copy of the New Testament. Returning to the passages from Holy Scripture chosen for this Requiem Mass to mark the arrival of his mortal remains in St Peter’s Cathedral, it is my prayer that the religious experiences and faith distilled in these passages that Cardinal Daly knew intimately may inspire us to concretise our thanks to God for his life.

May the passage from the book of Wisdom, unique lines in the Old Testament, open our minds and hearts to both experience of God saving acts in our lives and to the work of reason as ways, often complementary, to grow in knowledge of God.

May the verses from the letter to the Philippians confirm us, as Cahal Daly sought to do for those to whom he ministered, in choosing Jesus Christ as the centre-point of our lives and thus coming to know “the power of the resurrection” (v.10).

May the extract from St Matthew’s gospel inspire us to come to know Christ as the Word of God within the community of God’s people, the Church.

We give thanks to God for Cahal Cardinal Daly’s life and ministry. We pray that God will bestow on him His loving mercy.

May Cahal Brendan, who proclaimed God’s Word in and out of season and who celebrated the sacred mysteries of salvation, now rest in peace with Christ, His Lord and Saviour. Amen.


Further information:
Fr Edward McGee, Media Liaison Officer, Down and Connor Diocese, Tel +44 (0)78111 44268