Homily of Bishop Edward Daly at Requiem Mass for Frank Carson
St Patrick’s Church, Donegall Street, Belfast, Saturday 3 March
Frank once looked at me sadly after I tried to tell him a joke and he told me that I would never be a comedian. So I am not going to try to be funny or witty this morning. I leave that to the professionals, to the comedians. Since his passing ten days ago, his professional colleagues have again and again powerfully and eloquently expressed their memories and love of Frank. I speak of Frank this morning merely as a dear and close friend, as a fellow Christian and Catholic, and someone who regularly brightened up my life and the life of this community during the fifty years that I have known him.
Though it is never mentioned in the New Testament, I am sure that Jesus Christ smiled and laughed. Christ was human. Christ was divine. To be happy and to smile and to laugh is both human and divine. Jesus radiated happiness and joy to those whom He met. Jesus came to bring the Good News. He healed the sick and broken hearted. He set people free. I am sure that the crowds who gathered around him in Galilee had bright, beaming smiling faces after He spoke and ministered to them. Jesus lifted them above the trials and drudgery of human life – particularly on days when the fishing was bad, or the lambs were a bad price at the market in Capharnaum or the vine harvest was not as good as expected.
I am sure that Jesus had a sense of humour, too. In St Matthew’s gospel Jesus seems to tease Peter, when he tried to walk on the water and began to sink. Peter screamed ‘Lord, save me’. And Jesus put out his hand at once and held him and said ‘Man of little faith. Why did you doubt?’. What about his meeting with Zaccheus? I am sure that Jesus smiled then when he spotted that wee taxman up a tree! It’s a lovely image, a wee taxman up a tree.
Those, like myself, who preach the Gospel are inclined to portray and preach a very serious Jesus. But whilst Jesus was serious, I am sure that Jesus also enjoyed his lighter moments when he smiled and laughed. There was once a brilliant satirical magazine in Ireland called The Dublin Opinion and its motto was ‘Humour is the Safety Valve of a Nation’, And so it is. Sometimes we all take ourselves too seriously. Humour is one of the things that makes life worth living. We all need a chuckle or even a good belly laugh from time to time.
One of the most beautiful parables of Jesus places emphasis on the importance of using the talents, the abilities, the gifts that we each of us have – and to use them well.
We are here today to celebrate the life of a man who used his talents, his God-given gifts, in a wonderful and generous way. Frank made millions of people smile and laugh. He brightened up their lives. He was a Prime Minister of Fun. That was his mission in life. In his live performances, he could light up an audience and make them laugh and laugh. That is surely a great service to humanity.
I have known Frank for 50 years, since 1962. I have always valued that friendship. He was a good friend to have. Each one of us has his or her own story to tell about Frank. He touched the lives of so many people. On the day after he died, radio stations here in the North were full of Frank’s yarns and gags and stories. People swapped Frank stories. Everyone laughed and smiled. That was the measure of the man.
Much has been written and said about Frank since his death on Ash Wednesday. Many people have spoken about his generosity to various charities. I can vouch for that myself. He was extraordinarily generous to those whom he considered worthy of support. He was a very compassionate man. He often talked to me about colleagues in his profession who were going through a rough patch for health or other reasons – he asked me to pray for them. He had a paternal care for friends and colleagues, especially those in difficulties. His legendary work with the Order of Water Rats bears evidence to this. Pope John Paul II recognised that concern for his fellow human beings when he made him a Papal Knight of St Gregory in 1987.
Frank was married to Ruth for 62 years. How wonderful is that! That in itself is a powerful and eloquent testimony to the kind of man he was and to the kind of woman Ruth is. He loved Ruth. And Ruth loved him. They were married here in this beautiful church where his funeral Mass is taking place. I often think that it must be difficult being a comedian’s wife, and even more difficult being a comedian’s mother-in-law! Thick skins, very thick skins are required. Frank loved and was so proud of his family, Majella, Tony and Aidan and all his grandchildren and his recent great great grandchild. Ruth and the family will greatly miss him. We express our deep and sincere sympathy to you, Ruth and to Majella, Tony and Aidan and to his brothers, Paddy and Seamus. And we thank you also for sharing Frank with us.
Frank, I think, would be mildly amused by the manner in which he has been almost canonised in recent days. He would be the first to admit that he was not a saint. He loved acting the rascal. He loved being brash and very loud and naughty and mischievous, at times. It was just the way he was and he was all the more lovable for it.
Frank was very committed to his religious faith. Whilst it meant a lot to him, it was a private matter for him. I cannot recall him ever speaking about it publicly. He did speak of it to me privately on many occasions over the years. He had many friends who were priests and was kind to them. He sent me a telegram when I was appointed bishop in 1974 saying ‘Congratulations on reaching top of the bill’. Frank thought about his faith. He always had questions, challenging questions. In the last few years, he talked to me about his illness and mortality. He did not fear death – he was just so sad at parting with Ruth and his family and many friends and frustrated that he was no longer able to get up and go and get about his normal hectic round of life and gigs. He had no need to fear death. He had a long life. He loved and enjoyed his life. He lived that life to the full and lived it well and generously and he was like a ray of sunshine in a sometimes dark world.
His long life on earth has now come to an end. It has been a great journey from Little Italy to being a household name associated with catchphrases that everyone knows. His life began here in Belfast. Whilst he travelled and performed far and wide, Frank never really left Belfast; he was always Belfast. And his earthly remains will rest here in this city with which he will always be associated.
Today we entrust Frank to the Lord whom he loved and served. We say farewell to a superb entertainer and a great human being. It was wonderful to have known him. We are all the poorer for his passing. May he rest in peace.
Notes to Editors:
• ‘Frank performed for me in a theatre in Derry for seven seasons of concerts and four pantomimes from 1962 until 1969 when I was a curate. I was appointed as Bishop of Derry in 1974 and served in that capacity until 1993 when I retired after suffering a stroke. For the last 17 years, I have been serving as a chaplain to the terminally ill and their families in the Foyle Hospice in Derry.’ – Bishop Daly.
• This homily was preached by Bishop Daly on Saturday 3 March last.
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