14 February 2010
Homily by Bishop Colm O’Reilly at the Month’s Memory Mass for Cardinal Cahal Daly
I have a very clear memory of the day when he celebrated his first Mass here when taking possession of his Titular church. What I remember most clearly was the content of his homily. I am quite sure that his own immediate family will remember some of the things that he said on that occasion. He spoke in a very personal way, paying tribute to those who handed on the faith to him. He spoke with great warmth of his father Charles and his mother Susan. I can recall that he spoke particularly at one point of the manner in which his father impressed him by the reverent way in which he made the Sign of the Cross. Those of us who knew him for a long number of years will testify to the fact that what he learned from his father in that regard was fulfilled in his own life.
As I listened to his homily on that occasion, my own mind went back to his first coming to Longford as Bishop-elect in June of 1967. At that time I was a young priest serving as a Curate in Granard and my Parish Priest was Dean Denis O’Kane, Dean of the Diocesan Chapter of Canons. In his position it was his task to welcome the Bishop- elect when he came to present his “bulla” of appointment. Dean O’Kane was a little apprehensive about the meeting. When he returned home after the meeting I asked him what his impressions were of the Bishop-elect. I still remember very distinctly what exactly he said: “He began the meeting with a prayer, which he recited with admirable devotion”.
That admirable devotion was something with which we became very familiar in his Episcopal ministry. I was particularly grateful to have had close association with him for most of his time in the Diocese. I was a curate in the Cathedral Parish of Longford for thirteen of those fifteen years. There I saw him lead the liturgy with great dignity, with attention and devotion and above all I noticed always the way in which he went to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel after the celebration of Mass to make his thanksgiving. Denis Dean O’Kane’s estimation of him was totally accurate.
My last conversation with the late Cardinal took place on Christmas Day and it was the most painful conversation I ever had with him. He had heard of a disastrous fire at St. Mel’s Cathedral in Longford and had left a message for me to return a telephone call from him as soon as possible. I had to tell him of the almost total destruction of the Cathedral which he had loved very much. He had devoted an enormous amount of energy into the reordering of the sanctuary in the mid 70’s and he suffered greatly in the process. He loved particularly the work of his artist friend, Ray Carroll. Behind the cathedral was a tapestry which portrayed the Second Coming of Christ and in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel a painting representing the Supper at Emmaus both by Ray Carroll. Hearing that these works of art were destroyed was painful in the extreme for him. It must have been a truly “Calvary moment” in the final days of his life. People close to him at that time will say that hearing this dreadful news hastened his death.
However, I have no doubt that the strong personal faith which marked his life, a personal faith nourished by a lifetime of prayer, sustained him to the end. Words from the First Reading of this evening’s Mass are easily applicable to him. He was a man who placed his trust in the Lord with the Lord for his hope. His spiritual roots were deep in the stream of grace that flows from the heart of Christ.
In the Gospel this evening we hear St. Luke’s account of the Beatitudes. His version differs somewhat from the more familiar account of the Beatitudes of St. Matthew’s Gospel where the sermon was given on a hill and the number of beatitudes is eight. But the essence of the message is the same. Jesus proclaimed where true happiness was to be found. The poor are represented as being truly privileged, not necessarily just those who are materially poor but rather those who have an attitude of dependence on God which makes them constantly aware of their need for him. Central to the life of prayer of the late Cardinal was this attitude of dependence on God and need for God.
The Cardinal regularly referred to the letters of St. Paul to make important points about the living of Christian life. This evening St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians reminds us of the crucial place of the resurrection of Christ. This is highly appropriate in this Month’s Memory Mass. St. Paul tells us: “If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of all people. Christ has in fact been raised from the dead, the first fruits of all who have fallen asleep”. Our faith in the resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of our prayer for the dead. As one of the Prefaces for the Dead expresses it: “in Him our hope of resurrection dawned and when the Body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an eternal dwelling place in heaven”.
In a few days time we shall be beginning our Lenten journey towards the celebration of Easter. This year we who live and minister to God’s people in Ireland are especially conscious of the call of the Gospel to repentance, a time for confessing our sinfulness and entrusting ourselves to the mercy of God. It is a time for undoing, insofar as this is possible, the damage our sins have done for what is done and what we have failed to do. It is a time for a new beginning a time to begin trusting in the Lord’s power to save.
This evening we ask God’s blessing on our upcoming meeting with Pope Benedict in the coming days. We pray that we may search with him for ways forward which will be pleasing in the sight of God. We search in the spirit of today’s Gospel, aware of our own poverty, our need of God and our inability to do anything that is good without God’s help.
The same profound thought is central to one of Cardinal Daly’s favourite prayers. This prayer is associated with Blessed Charles de Foucauld, and is called the “Prayer of Abandonment”. I would like to conclude with a few phrases from that prayer. I remember Cardinal Daly saying to me that to say that prayer, and to really mean it, is difficult.
I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you;
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Not only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord”
Bishop Colm O’Reilly is Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois.
Martin Long, Director of Communications 086 172 7678