Homily notes of Father Fergal McGrady and statement from Bishop Noel Treanor on the funeral of Mr Eddie McGrady RIP
Saint Patrick’s Church, Downpatrick, Co Down, Diocese of Down & Connor
In the Sunday Liturgy some two weeks ago, we recalled the account of Jesus meeting the tax-collector Zacchaeus; a name that means ‘God remembers’. Zacchaeus was a ‘lost sheep’ despised by the local Jewish population as a tax-collector for the Romans, virtually excommunicated from his own society, an exploiter, small in stature, not allowed to come close to Jesus when he visited Jericho, yet he wanted to see Jesus. So he climbed a tree. But was it not the interior act of a man who wanted to overcome the distance that separated him from the Lord? He had resigned himself to seeing Jesus from the tree, but the Lord noticed him and called him down…”I want to stay at your house.”
In the Father of Jesus, we experience a God who waits, who is vigilant, loving – waiting to see reborn in the heart of his children the desire to return home; His pardon and mercy making the journey of conversion and return lighter. No matter what we’ve done, or ever done in life, God never ceases to remember us. Zacchaeus was a tax-collector not a politician! I’m not trying to make any allusion to politicians – just simply that in God’s eyes all of us are Zacchaeus, a name which means ‘God remembers’.
Up in our trees, we can look ridiculous at times, but even a humble gesture towards Him, even allowing ourselves to be gazed at by Him…there is no profession or social condition, there is no sin or crime of any kind that can erase from the memory or heart of God even one of His children. Remembering us, He can change hearts of stone into flesh, free us from our egoisms and make our lives a gift of love.
And he remembers Eddie too. Over 60 years ago, the De La Salle Brothers were mentors in training a generation of young Catholic boys from the Downpatrick area where Eddie, the youngest of 11, was born to Mick and Lillian McGrady in Market Street. Conscious always of the figure of the Baptiser and Enlightener of this land, Saint Patrick, he lived his later life right next to the site of Patrick’s first ‘Barn’, Sabhall, the Church given to Patrick by Dichu. The De La Salle brothers trained them for service in a society where, at that time, some hostile political forces would extend them no favours. Articulate, hard-working, cultured, with an ability in sport, a sense of empathy for the socially needy, the De La Salle Brothers taught to produce God fearing young men worthy of the name, whose attainments and ensuing reputation would vindicate the Brother’s mission.
60 years or so on, his achievements, standards and general integrity highlight how Eddie in his inimitable way brought that legacy envisioned by Brother Cornelius and the De La Salle Brothers to the Palace of Westminster and to public life here at home. A Christian, a democrat and a patriotic Irishman, he was in the eyes of fair-minded observers, critics and supporters alike a gentleman of honour.
He was in the main more interested in bettering the lot of people socially and materially than in any aspect of political belief. Newsreels as far back as 1969 show him trudging through the snow, sometimes with Patsy, canvassing, helping people on ordinary-day issues, his manner generally quiet and reassuring, ‘Steady Eddie’. He was a unifier by nature; words carefully chosen, measured, conciliatory; a moderating influence. He espoused Christian and family values.
“The Holy People of God (laity) shares also in Christ’s prophetic office…it spreads abroad a living witness to Him…The laity…are given this special vocation…to make the Church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them that she can become the Salt of the Earth…so that the power of the Gospel may shine out in daily family and social life…Christ will increasingly illuminate the whole of human society with this saving light.” (Vatican II Lumen Gentium Ch. 4)
Eddie’s faith nourished his calling to public service. He did not “empty the Cross of Christ” by tearing asunder his calling to service from his personal faith. He put flesh on Vatican II’s calling to the laity, ‘salt to the earth’, for him faith was not privatised. As St Thomas More once said, “I am the king’s servant, but God’s first”,…”on earth as it is in Heaven”.
Nor was he afraid to take on ‘big-business’ interests, tackling, confronting environmental matters, which he considered had a detrimental effect on the community. The siting of nuclear waste disposal at Sellafield in Cumbria comes to mind. Both he and Patsy suffered recurring cancer along with so many others in our local communities.
Downe Hospital too was a major preoccupation for him. Along with so many, he fought hard in its cause, even to the end, refusing to move elsewhere, dying there. He thus witnessed powerfully to its crucial role among us “fighting the good fight” to the end.
An accountant by profession, he entered public life in the 1960’s at a time when many of similar background shied away from it. His conscience and faith-informed lay calling drove him to strive for the betterment of the people he lived amongst. Yes, in scriptural terms, he was a ‘Good man’.
Eddie McGrady came from a strong sacerdotal family. He was a good brother to his late brother priest Father Sylvester and a good uncle to his two priest nephews. I wish to welcome and thank most sincerely Bishop Anthony Farquhar for his presence here today who represents the priests of the Diocese.
No one is born except into a mother’s arms. In death we are handed over into the hands of a Father who is also a Mother and more tender, gentler and safer hands than ours – an image we need to keep before us in order to more healthily imagine death. Everyone wants to hold and cradle the new-born.
When we awaken to eternal life, when we awaken to the glory of God, we are in the hands of God. We’ll receive the same tenderness, love, gentleness we received in the arms of our mother at birth into this world, indeed so much more. And there will be others, saints, our loved ones, also waiting to join in the holding and the cradling.
Didn’t Patsy often tell me she often felt in her last illness what she perceived to be her mother Margaret, and maybe Tina or indeed Julie literally cradling her?
Nothing takes away the sting of the loss of a loved one. Nothing is meant to! Death is meant to be an indelible scar in our hearts because love is meant to wound us in that way (Bonhoffer). God doesn’t fill the gap – God won’t! God keeps it empty. Why? So that He can keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.
Yes, we are all like Zacchaeus, a name that means ‘God remembers’.
Statement by Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down & Connor
“It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Mr Eddie McGrady after heroically facing a long period of illness.
I pay tribute to the immense contribution of Eddie McGrady to the political arena, firstly as a founding member of the SDLP espousing the highest ideals and virtues of constitutional democracy, and also in his tireless capacity to reach out across his South Down constituency to all those in need. Motivated by faith, strengthened by the values of integrity, courage and justice and astutely attentive to social and community concerns, he was a popular politician who engaged effectively with those he met in his public office.
I offer my condolences and prayers to his family: his three children Paula, Jerome and Conaill, his sister Maire, his brother Malachy and his wider family circle. I also extend my sympathies to his friends and colleagues in the SDLP.”
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