· Cathedral of the Annunciation and Saint Nathy, Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon in the Diocese of Achonry
Go mbeannaí Dia dhaoibh a phobail Dé, agus tá fáilte romhaibh inniu chuig Ardeaglais Naithi Naofa agus Teachtaireacht an Aingil anseo i mBealach a’ Doirín. Ócáid bhrónach, ach deis freisin ár mbuíochas a ghabháil ag Dia ar son An tEaspag Tomás ata imithe uainn, agus trócaire Dé a iarraidh dhó.
I welcome you all to this Requiem Mass for the late Bishop Thomas Flynn. I welcome most especially Bishop Tom’s nieces and nephews with your families, Bobby, John, Thomas, John-Thomas and Robert, Mary, Kathleen, Yvonne, Hillary – and especially Margaret – who has taken care of him since he retired and looked after all his needs, not least since he went to the nursing home just about a year ago. Our sympathies and prayers are very much with you all at this time. And with all the wider Flynn family members.
I welcome most especially this afternoon His Eminence Cardinal Seán Brady. I welcome very particularly Commandant Kieran Carey, ADC to An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and I extend a warm welcome to the other public representatives who are with us here today. Is mór linn bhúr dteacht.
I welcome the priest classmates of Bishop Tom: Father Michael Goaley, Father Newell and Father Laten.
I welcome the other bishops who are here, and I wish to acknowledge the many messages of sympathy which I have received from bishops who cannot be with us at this Mass but who have assured us of their prayers.
I welcome most heartily priests of the diocese, Bishop Tom’s staunch collaborators and friends during all his years in the diocese and especially the thirty-one years that he served as bishop.
And finally, the people of Ballaghaderreen, neighbours, friends, parishioners, and all who have come today to pay their respects. Bishop Tom was a much loved man of this parish, and a Roscommon man.
When Jesus appeared to His disciples on the shores of Lake Galilee after The Resurrection, He invited them to come and have breakfast, and He Himself served them. Today we have gathered very much with Jesus too, and at His invitation to celebrate this Eucharist in thanksgiving for Bishop Tom’s life and ministry, and asking our Father to show him now His great mercy. So let us acknowledge our sins …
1st Reading (Job 19 1.23-27) Job’s determined profession of faith in the midst of his afflictions.
2nd Reading (1 Jn 3 1-2) If the faith of Job is rock solid, the faith of John is a tender childlike thing.
Gospel (Jn 21 1-19).
Homily – “After this he said, “Follow me.”
In the end, to have followed Jesus is the only thing that matters. Thomas Flynn, born on 8 July 1931, was brought as a new-born infant by his parents to be baptised in this historic Cathedral four days later on 12 July, 1931. So that he would know and follow Jesus. Ordained a priest of the diocese on 17 June 1956, he was ordained a bishop twenty-one years later on 20 February 1977, at the age of forty-six. All of this in response to the continuing call of that same Master.
Though he retired officially on 20 November 2007, he continued to administer the diocese until I was ordained on 27 January 2008. So he had been chief shepherd of this diocese for thirty years and eleven months. It was, like that of his two immediate predecessors, a long tenure. Despite the fact that his years as chief pastor of this diocese were not always the easiest, Bishop Tom always said that he had enjoyed being a bishop. He was not a man to complain. He followed Jesus.
The Gospel we have just heard provides us with an opportunity to reflect on what it is to be a good shepherd, and it is instructive for all of us in whatever shepherding role we find ourselves: parent, adult, priest, or bishop. Indeed it’s a wonderful passage for any person, who wants to follow Jesus in any capacity, to ponder. It has a certain climactic quality since it is the story of Jesus’ final appearance after The Resurrection.
The context of the story is wonderful. It is so simple and so ordinary. These men who had followed Him and walked the roads with Him are back doing what they had left doing, back to their old occupations – fishermen again, for fish. And up all night at it, as happens, a futile exercise apparently on this particular occasion. And then with first light, there’s a Person on the shore calling out “have you caught anything, friends?” To their answer “no” He responds, “throw the net out to starboard and you’ll find something.” They take Him at his word. And futility gives way to abundant fruitfulness. Their seeming naïve obedience to the seeming Stranger on the shore was their best move ever. We are reminded of Mary at Cana to the servants at the wedding feast “Do whatever he tells you,” her last words in the Gospel – her final word for us all. A willingness and a wanting to do ‘whatever he asks you’ – this is at the basis of every priestly vocation, and indeed of every baptismal vocation. It is the beginning of ‘following’ Jesus, of discipleship and apostleship, and it is the end, too. The alpha and omega of the Christian life. Child-like naiveté, not sophistication, makes the disciple.
And then there is that invitation: “Come and have breakfast,” Jesus said. The good shepherd feeds His flock. They are nourished at His table. The table at which He feeds us with His own self, bread of life. Service and self-sacrifice. Service to the point of self-sacrifice. Remembering Bishop Tom, disciple and shepherd, we can do no better than allow ourselves to be fed at the table of Jesus, our friend and our shepherd … to listen to His Word, take it to heart and show it in our lives. As we are doing now.
Loveliest of all – and costliest – we have the third scene: “Simon, Son of John, do you love me?” It seems Jesus needs to know, to hear our answer, over and over … No wonder Peter is disconcerted, upset. We expect God to do the loving, to tend to us … We ask and pray continuously… But the mystery is He needs my love too, and yours … incessantly. As does His world and His people … and the implications of all of that will never cease unfolding … even to the point of taking us to ‘where we would rather not go’.
Apart from the first six years of his priesthood in Tubbercurry, Bishop Tom spent his entire life here in his native Ballaghaderreen parish. From the beginning he was a teacher, and a very good one by all accounts. The word most often used by people was kind. Quiet in disposition, and very discreet, a man of few words. As president of Saint Nathy’s, he was a reformer and moderniser, a process advanced in firm co-operation with him by his successor, Father Andy Johnston, who passed away as it turned out on the very same day as Bishop Tom, last Tuesday. At a time when school amalgamations were seen as the way to go, for wider curriculum and choice purposes, Bishop Tom and Father Andy insisted that the voluntary and Catholic status of the united Saint Nathy’s here in Ballaghaderreen was the way forward. Person-centred education, the hallmark always of the Catholic system, was a passion for Bishop Tom. On this he was very clear. Nationally, he was at the helm for many years of matters educational as chairman of the Bishops’ Council for Education, including at the time of the negotiations around what became the Education Act of 1998. Visiting the schools in the diocese and staying in touch with the young was a priority for him, something he instilled by example in the priests of the diocese too.
At the national level, he was a member for many years also of the Bishops’ Council for the Laity. Leading the diocese in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, he worked determinedly in the area of adult faith development too. He established the pastoral centre at Charlestown, and also the centre at Banada; he encouraged the development of the Father Peyton Centre at Attymass and was particularly involved in his latter years with the Sisters of Mercy in the development of the Hope House Centre for addiction treatment in Foxford. And it is to Bishop Tom that we owe the fact that we have the finest history of the diocese in Father Liam Swords’ four volumes. A deeply spiritual and wise pastor, Bishop Tom instinctively understood that there can be no healthy growth or nourishment in the present if we do not know or are attentive to our roots … and this rings true whether as a people or as a Church.
“Yes, Lord, you know I love you” Peter replied, and in his own way, at the age of eighteen, the young Tom Flynn made that simple profession of faith too. For life, as a priest. Again and again, he was called on to remake it. At his priestly ordination in 1956. Again as a new bishop in 1977. I think we can confidently say that he responded as best he could to the commission of his Master: ‘Feed my sheep’ in those demanding active years, when we are called to reach certain heights, perhaps, as the world sees it. Time when we are able to ‘fasten our own belts and walk where we like’.
But in God’s scheme of things, this is never the whole story, and if we make it so, we are the fools. For ten years now Tom Flynn became more and more familiar with that other side of following that Master into whose body he was baptised and ordained to serve. The ups and downs of health and strength and energy were his constant companions, until finally a year ago he reached the nursing home. “But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt around you…” Something in us all that has no wish to go there, and yet we must remember the call we answered: “Follow me.”
Do not all our roads at one time or another become a road to Calvary? All the sophistication in the world cannot avoid it. There is a final conversion that awaits us. The call of God continues. Those close to Bishop Tom have seen the changes … And seen him say his ‘yes,’ not always easily or without struggle, but yes very definitely, and he was at peace. “Is there anything you want or would like … anything at all?” The answer was invariably “No…sure haven’t I everything here?”
‘After this, Jesus said: Follow me’. ‘Unless you become like little children…’. The shepherd, becoming again the Lamb, trustingly…as with the Master Jesus, it is all that matters.
May that be our grace too, our way of saying “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
As we thank God today for Bishop Thomas Flynn, we entrust him with faith and love to His great mercy.
Faoi shuain lena Mháistir dílis and lena mhuintir imithe roimhe go raibh an tEaspag Tomás anois sna Flaithis. Amen.
· Bishop Brendan Kelly is the Bishop of Achonry.
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