Homily by Cardinal Seán Brady at Funeral Mass for Very Rev Andrew McNally, Adm
Church of the Assumption, Magherafelt on Sunday 9 September 2012
Two years ago, this very week, Father Andrew was in Italy with his family to celebrate his 50th birthday. Months later he was in Beaumont Hospital – undergoing brain surgery, fighting for his life and beginning the marathon suffering that went on until his death last Thursday afternoon. Father Andrew was a marathon runner and it helped him to battle on courageously in the face of adversity.
The life and death of each one of us has its influence on others. This afternoon we are here to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ whose life has influenced all of us. But we are also here to consider how Father Andrew McNally’s life has influenced us. Many already have been influenced by him and even now many will continue to be influenced by him and by the way God worked through his life.
Zest for life – abundance of energy – fullness of enthusiasm – these are the kind of things I will always associate with Father Andrew. I first knew him 29 years ago when he came from St. Joseph’s Seminary, Belfast to the Irish College, Rome to continue his studies for the priesthood. I will always remember him walking along – fast and purposeful.
His zest for life, as a priest, was to be seen, for example, by his eagerness to qualify himself ever better and better, to carry out the sacred task of announcing God’s saving word. Hence his visits to places like Boston College and his enthusiasm for Adult Faith Formation.
He was one of the physically fittest priests in this diocese – running marathons – playing football – bouncing up and down stairs. He loved life. He loved life as a priest. So, he fought this long and valiant battle to hold onto life. His sickness changed everything. He, the ever youthful, the champion, was gradually reduced to weakness – unable to open an eyelid – not fit to lift a finger.
But, Father Andrew was a Man of Faith. He knew that by entering the door of Faith and by Baptism we enter into the great joy of a life of communion with God. Father Andrew also knew that in order to reach the next stage on our journey to the beautiful vision of seeing God, face to face, we must go out through another door – the Door of Death. “Funerals are for the living” he used to say. I think he would want this funeral to be an occasion for us to consider how his life and his death can influence us for the better.
‘Say to all faint hearts: ‘Courage’ – do not be afraid. Look, your God is coming. He is coming to save you’. Thee are the words of the First Reading.
I admired the bravery with which Father Andrew lived the last 20 months. There was no self-pity – I saw no trace of anger – no resistance- but a remarkable spirit of acceptance and resignation. To the question: How are you today? The reply was “Fine. Thank you”.
I think this serenity and peace came from his consciousness of God whom he knew to be ever present in his life.
- A God who loves us.
- A gracious God.
- A God who is the very source of pity.
- A God who is always coming.
- A God in whose mercy we can always put our trust.
There is a famous phrase from a prayer of St Ambrose which says:
I long for your coming, my Saviour.
But if you come as judge, I cannot face you.
But you are an inexhaustible well of compassion.
Today the prophet Isaiah speaks of:
- water which gushes in the desert –
- streams in the wasteland,
- the scorched earth became a lake;
- The parched land springs of wells.
Father Andrew was passionate about the Sacrament of Baptism and the power it gives to the baptised.
But there are many deserts in our midst because the waters of Baptism have not yet borne full fruit. There are wastelands in our midst because the seed of God’s word did not germinate.
Yes, the scorched earth has yet, in many places, to bear the kind of love it is meant to bring.
There is still too much parched land thirsting for the springs of Eternal Life.
Father Andrew wanted to change all of this.
Last Wednesday a meeting in Armagh was preparing for the next meeting of the Armagh Diocesan Council. We were talking about Pastoral Areas and Pastoral Commissions. At the end we prayed very fervently that God’s will should be done in his regard because we knew that the end was nigh. Within 24 hours he had passed through the Gateway of Death. I think there was providence in all of that. The agenda of that meeting was the agenda for Father Andrew’s life. ‘Agenda’ literally means: ‘things that must be done’. We owe it to his memory to continue to do them and to do them well.
In the Gospel we have just heard, Jesus gives to this deaf and dumb man the ability to hear and to speak. By so doing, he gave to him the possibility of making more friends and of being set free from isolation and loneliness. In other words, he brought him from isolation into communion with his fellow human beings.
All of the actions of Jesus were aimed at giving, promoting and deepening communion – communion with God and with each other which was the theme of the recent International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin.
The Church – the Body of Christ – tries to continue the activity of Christ. In other words, to promote communion among the community. It continues to say to the faint hearted – courage – do not be afraid. Look your God is coming – he is coming to save.
Father Andrew knew this well and in his work of renewal in the diocese he wanted to help us all to overcome our fears and to have courage to move out of isolation and embrace friendship with God – to discover Jesus and become like Him and to share that love with others.
So often our eyes are blind to the ways God is present. We do not recognise the ways he is coming – coming to save us. Too often our ears are deaf to the message of love which God is sending us. As a result, our tongues, which should be singing for joy the praises of God, are silent.
During his years in Rome, Father Andrew used to look forward immensely to Holy Week and to Easter. For, every Good Friday, his mother, Patricia, would arrive to celebrate the Easter ceremonies together. They would go to the Stations of the Cross with Pope John at the Coliseum and to the Papal Mass of Easter in St. Peters. As I recalled those days I realised how upset his mother would have been to see her son, Andrew, suffer so and how carefully she would have cared for him. But, of course, the McNally brothers and sister took the place of their mother and how heroically they looked after him during these long months of pain and agony.
I want to pay tribute to the McNally family –Therese, Michael, Liam and Patrick for the love they showered on Father Andrew during his illness. It reminded me of the love which the Traveller from Jerusalem to Jericho received when he fell and was robbed. Father Andrew was robbed of his health by the brain tumour. As I watched them all suffer with their brother, I thought of the centuries old Latin poem Stabat Mater. It describes Our Lady standing at the foot of the cross. It calls upon Our Lady for help and finally it addresses Christ himself for help.
I want to recite, in honour and memory of all that has happened over these 20 months, some verses from the Stabat Mater.
At the Cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
All His bitter anguish bearing,
Lo! The piercing sword had passed.
O how sad and sore distressed
Was that Mother, highly blessed,
Of the sole-begotten One.
Woe-begone, with heart’s prostration,
Mother meek, the bitter passion
Saw she of her glorious Son.
Who on Christ‘s dear Mother gazing,
In her trouble so amazing.
Born of woman, would not weep?
Who on Christ’s dear Mother thinking,
Such a cup of sorrow drinking,
Would not share her sorrow deep?
Fount of love and holy sorrow,
Mother! May my spirit borrow
Somewhat of thy woe profound;
Unto Christ with pure emotion,
Raise my contrite heart’s devotion,
Love to read in every wound.
Those five wounds on Jesus smitten,
Mother! In my heart be written,
Deep as in thine own they be;
Thou, thy Saviour’s Cross who bearest,
Thou, thy Son’s rebuke who sharest,
Let me share them both with thee.
In the passion of my Maker,
Be my sinful soul partaker,
Weep till death and weep with thee;
Thus Christ’s dying may I carry,
With Him in His passion tarry,
And His wounds in memory keep.
May His wound both wound and heal me,
He enkindle, cleanse, anneal me,
Be His Cross my hope and stay.
Jesus, may Thy Cross defend me,
And Thy Mother’s prayer befriend me,
Let me die in Thine embrace.
When to dust my dust returneth,
Grant a soul that to Thee yearneth
In Thy Paradise a place.
Today we thank God for Father Andrew’s twenty-five years of unstinting priestly work in this diocese and elsewhere. To merely list the places where Father Andrew served is not enough:
Pomeroy – Ballymacnab (as Diocesan Advisor) – Cookstown – Lordship and Meigh while working in the Pastoral Centre, Dundalk in the Office of Parish Renewal and Family Ministry and, most recently, in St. Patrick’s Dundalk.
While it says a lot, it does not quite catch the breadth of his activity up and down the length of the diocese and beyond. It does not include adequately his work in so many parishes, helping to set up Parish Pastoral Councils and to deliver courses in Adult Faith Formation. It does not capture the extent of his involvement, at National Level, with the Council for Pastoral Renewal and Adult Faith Development, in the work of enabling parishes to become vibrant communities of faith. And yet, perhaps his finest teaching hour, and most powerful contribution, to the faith of so many people, took place over the last 20 months.
‘We prove we are servants of God by great fortitude in times of suffering’, St. Paul tells us. ‘Those who proved faithful under trial were the ones to win God’s favour’.
Truly, Father Andrew has proved faithful under very great trial. May he now win God’s favour forever.
The following are the words of introduction delivered by Cardinal Brady at the beginning of Fr Andrew McNally’s Funeral Mass:
We come together to commemorate the death and resurrection of Christ – Christ who has conquered death.
We are here to offer this funeral Mass for Father Andrew McNally. We ask the Lord Jesus to give to Father Andrew a place in His Paradise. As we do so, we thank God for Father Andrew’s life of loving and unstinting service to people and for the inspirational example of his suffering and death.
I offer sympathy to Therese, Michael, Liam and Patrick, to his nephews and nieces and to the extended family.
I do so, on behalf of many people, including Bishop Gerard Clifford who cannot be here today.
We pray also for ourselves and particularly for the grace of a happy death.
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