Homily of Archbishop Michael Neary for the Requiem Mass of Archbishop Joseph Cassidy Cathedral of the Assumption, Archdiocese of Tuam – 12:00 noon 2 February 2013
“Archbishop Cassidy will be remembered by everybody as one of the outstanding preachers of our time” – Archbishop Neary
I welcome Archbishop Joseph Cassidy’s family, his sisters and their families, his carers and his secretary, the bishops of the province, the priests of the Dioceses of Tuam, Clonfert and Achonry the people, the religious and his wide circle of friends.
Saint Francis of Assisi once said: “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words”. Joseph Cassidy was a master of words. Words, to paraphrase Yeats, ‘obeyed his call’. Their master’s strong, compelling voice is silent now. A voice that once summoned them to serve the Gospel is heard no more. Wherever the good news of Jesus Christ was heard through the words of Archbishop Cassidy his translation was clear, challenging and fresh. He was a word man, a man who crafted words so that when the Gospel was heard none of us could say that the Scriptures were tired and predictable. The word of God became flesh in a striking way when he spoke. They broke into our world, spoke to our poverty, whispered to our pain and loneliness, reassured us in our brokenness.
Just before dawn, on the feast of Saint John Bosco, his own pain ended. The feast could not have been more poignantly significant. John Bosco, the teacher. Twenty years of Joseph Cassidy’s priesthood had been spent in education. Like Saint John Bosco he communicated a great love for wisdom and particularly for English literature. He influenced and helped to form young men, introducing them to English literature, enabling them to enjoy its riches. He was gifted with great patience, understanding and sympathy which enabled his students to identify with him and to trust in him. Today, many of those students will acknowledge the extraordinary influence which he had on them as he introduced them to drama, debating and public speaking.
As bishop he was a very articulate spokesman for the Irish Catholic Bishop’s Conference. He could communicate theological ideas in a way that was understandable and in a language of everyday life. He will be remembered by different people for different things. However he will be remembered by everyone who has heard him speak as one of the outstanding preachers of our time. In his homilies he made contact with real life which is there in our streets, our hospital beds, in broken homes and breaking hearts where love and hate, war and peace, grace and despair intermingle. Every person we have ever known, every place we have ever seen, everything that has ever happened to us, it all lives and breathes deep in us somewhere, and sometimes it doesn’t take much to bring it back. The words of some song that was popular years ago. A book we read as a child. An old photograph, an old letter. A stretch of road we used to travel.
As a proclaimer of God’s word, Joseph Cassidy was involved in a search – a searing search for God and the human person through the systematic reflection on experience. He relived the language of Job who struggled with God, bewildered, confused, not understanding why terrible things had happened. As a weaver of words, Joseph Cassidy had few equals. His creative imagination found expression in his power of story, where we recognised our own pilgrimages, and in painting pictures which were true to life. Life, with all its paradoxes and contradictions, its sorrows and its joys.
Few preachers speak with quite the power of imagination that was his. Archbishop Joe brought to his preaching the precision of a careful scholar and gave life to these dry bones with all the narrative skills of a novelist and the powerful imagery of a poet. In him we found a rare combination of warmth, insight, and vitality. He comforted and challenged, as he communicated with mind, heart and conscience. His unique story-telling style insured an attentive congregation as they listened to a message that was profound and contemporary. He was witty, touchy, full of humanity and wisdom.
He used language with care, with discrimination and with feeling. He loved to play on words, to pun; he was fond of assonance, alliteration and antithesis. His homilies were not only education but entertainment. His language was fresh, his vision poetic. Measured syllables, rhetorical balance all contributed to a gentle yet forceful Christian persuasion. And through his warm and appealing personality, he demonstrated that God’s grace is not a quality given only to a select few. It is a gift, a spiritual resource, if you will, available to each and every one of us. In his proclaiming of the Word of God we recognise that God is to be found in the bits and pieces of daily life, whether local, national or global. Joe was sensitive to where people are and where they are going.
Recognising the pressure under which marriage and the family operate today he set up the Family Centre in Castlebar with an outreach through the various parishes. When he became the Archbishop of Tuam in 1987 he realised what emigration was doing to the West of Ireland and became very involved in the movement to develop the West together and provided a great source of inspiration and encouragement to all involved.
For all that, perhaps the most eloquent sermon of his life is not the words in-stored in someone’s memory or found in the written word of his homilies but rather in the way he lived through the pain of the last year and particularly during the last few months when his voice was silent. This was the testing period for all his words and he proved that his preaching was not just directed at others but that he had taken deeply into his own life the directions he had placed before us all. In those months of unrelieved suffering he brought a sense of patience and trust to all who kept that lonely vigil at his side. The best sermons do not use words. In these last months, Joseph Cassidy preached very well.
As we lay Archbishop Joe to rest on this day, we are reminded that this is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. The feast is typified by light, at once a delicate, mysterious element as well as an overpowering and blinding force. Candles are blessed today. When lit, their wicks can be easily snuffed out. Yet these candles symbolise Jesus, our eternal light, our sun that illumines the path of our existence, our pillar of fire which cannot ever be put out.
Today’s feast offers that most special grace to expend our lives heroically for God in kindness and in love. God is seeking to transform us into our very best selves, so that our entire lives will please the Lord. The book of Exodus prescribed that every first born Israelite son belonged to God. The Jesus who is presented in the temple is a living word of the Father and a friend and companion for our journey. Jesus, who speaks to us in human words, is, in a mysterious depth of his being, one with God. He opens our horizons to and through the possibilities God has given us, so that we too can be one with him.
As we celebrate this feast we return the precious gift that God has given us in Archbishop Joseph Cassidy. We thank God for his ministry as priest and bishop and for all those whose lives have been influenced and inspired by him. He who commanded words has answered the living Word and has returned to Him. May he rest in peace.
Joining with the whole congregation gathered here in prayer I offer my sincere sympathy and the support of my prayers to his sisters Concie, Angela, Mary, Bernadette, Patricia and Imelda. To his brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews, and his wide circle of friends.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilís.
• Archbishop Michael Neary is the Archbishop of Tuam
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