Homily of Fr Liam Devine PP for the Funeral Mass of Larry and Martina Hayes, R.I.P.

03 Jul 2015

“The language of silence has an eloquence that defies definition. All true prayer is silent and we believe that as we gather to pray and show respect and sympathy at this double Funeral Mass, that God’s tears mingle with Irish, Tunisian, British, German and Belgian tears and all those affected by last Friday’s tragic deaths.” – Fr Liam Devine

There is nothing – no human experience of grief and loss – that could possibly prepare a family or a community for the devastating news that filtered through to Athlone last Saturday night and Sunday morning.  The violent deaths of Larry & Martina Hayes while nearing the end of their holiday in Tunisia has left the entire community in Athlone shocked, stunned and devastated.  It is unprecedented.  Unreal.  It is almost impossible to come to terms with it.

For some time now the violence of misguided ISIS terrorist fanatics have invaded our living rooms in a sanitised, sterilised way.  We never thought it would trouble us here in Ireland, so far away.  Today it invades our town in two coffins.  The appalling massacre of Larry and Martina Hayes and 36 others at the hands of a crazed, brain-washed fanatic on a beach in Sousse has stunned into disbelief the entire nation.  The violence is now at our own door.

The Tunisian National Flag is entirely red. There is a white crescent that encircles a five pointed red star – the traditional symbols of Islam – a world religion that reverences the sacredness of life. Red represents the blood shed by the Tunisian people in their struggle against oppression.  White represents peace.

Many of the Tunisian people would have gathered in Mosques for the Friday prayers.  It is baffling to think that during the holy month of Ramadan (which would be equivalent to Lent in our religious tradition) a violent atrocity, claiming 38 lives would also touch the lives of people in Ireland and in a particular way bring home to us here in Athlone and Kiltoom the vicious spiral of violence that claimed the lives of Larry and Martina Hayes and also Lorna Carty from Robinstown, Co Meath.

We don’t have to wait for Holy Week to experience Good Friday.  This is a Calvary moment for the Hayes family and for you, Sinéad.  We, in the parish community, walk the Way of the Cross with you, in prayerful solidarity and quiet compassion.

Our silent support indicates that our presence speaks what we cannot put into words.  Just as the minute’s silence that was observed before all G.A.A. matches last Sunday expressed the united support of the entire country.  The most poignant silence was before the game between Meath and Westmeath.

The language of silence has an eloquence that defies definition. All true prayer is silent and we believe that as we gather to pray and show respect and sympathy at this double Funeral Mass, that God’s tears mingle with Irish, Tunisian, British, German and Belgian tears and all those affected by last Friday’s tragic deaths.

The Bible reminds us that “God will wipe away the tears from every cheek”.

What a lovely, tender, intimate image of the God we pray to this day.  Note that he doesn’t say that there will not be tears, but God is near to caress us in love when we are saddened, perplexed and all we can offer are the prayers of our tears.  “God is close to the broken hearted” the Bible also tells us.  He inhabits our grief.  He is with us in those events of life that reason or logic cannot explain.  Today He is in the front seat with the mourners; Sinéad, and Larry and Martina’s brothers and sisters.

God’s heart is a reservoir of the tears of the world.  No prayer goes unheard and no tear goes unnoticed.  Such is the God of compassion that we know is always near to each one of us.

Sinéad, our prayer for you is that in this time you will feel the close touch of the caress of God into whose safe hands we entrust your loving parents.

The Bible assures us that: “The souls of the just are in the hands of God and no torment will ever touch them”.

Larry and Martina will never again be touched by violence.  Violence is not a solution to any problem.  It was not the solution to Northern Ireland’s problems and it is not the solution to today’s world problems. When he visited the family last Sunday, Bishop Kevin Doran said: “to suggest that such violent acts is justified by religious beliefs is totally false. The one God in whom both Christians and Muslims believe is a God of peace.”

The First Reading last Sunday reminded us that death does not come from God. God is the author of life, not of death.  Violence has one source, and that source is EVIL. There is no other word for it.

It is impossible to get inside the mind of someone who would carry out such an abominable act of violence.  We cannot judge people like that by our values and standards.  Word is that he mingled with his victims, joked with them and took their photos before producing the machine gun.  How could anyone possibly believe that such an act could achieve any benefit anytime anywhere. There is nothing that could possibly make sense in the mountain of pain and suffering that so many innocent people have been asked to endure so needlessly.  The massacre of innocents is always an abominable crime. When done in the name of God it is also blasphemy.

Larry and Martina Hayes were soulmates.  They went everywhere together. They shared a common interest in gardening.  They were very proud of their strawberries and flowers. Martina’s home was her castle.  She was a brilliant housekeeper. You would be hard pressed to find a speck of dust in the house.  Efforts to find fingerprints in the house proved futile, such was the pristine state of everything.  The finger prints were found in their car that was in the airport awaiting their return.

Both belonged to well-known Athlone families.  Both were the youngest of their own families.  Larry, or Lonnie as he was known, was the youngest of five, two girls and three boys.  They were from Altown here in Athlone.  Martina Kelly, a native of Kiltoom in South Roscommon,  was the youngest of eleven, eight girls and three boys. Larry  and Martina lived for some time in Taughmaconnell, Valleycourt, and Moydrum before moving to West Lodge in this parish over a year ago. They were private and highly respected people.

Martina worked first in Burgess of Athlone and then in McGorisk’s Pharmacy in the town. Larry’s was a plasterer by trade but for the past 20 years he has worked with Bus Éireann.  He was an Inspector on the school buses.

They always looked forward to their annual holidays.  This was their third trip to Tunisia. Summer holidays are a carefree time of relaxation.  But this tragedy has merged massacre and mystery together, leaving us all in a bewildered state of shock and deep sadness. In an eerie sense Athlone is twinned with Sousse and Ireland is twinned with Tunisia through the sudden and violent deaths of Martina and Larry.

Thankfully the sheer goodness and decency of people at such a time as this eclipses this evil of violence and eases the burden of grief. Support for Sinéad and both the Hayes and Kelly families has poured in from far and wide and Larry’s colleagues in Bus Éireann have been very supportive, as have their neighbours and friends.

The First reading today is the assurance of God through the prophet Isaiah not to fear, for I am with you.  “Do not be afraid, for I am your God.”

I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

In the Second Reading from his letter to the Romans, St Paul assures us that “Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ, even if we are troubled or worried, or being persecuted, or lacking food and clothes, or being threatened or even attacked.  These are the trials through which we triumph, by the power of him who loved us.”

We often hear in the Gospel “that we do not know the day nor the hour of death.” These words of Jesus are not meant to scare or frighten us.

They are said to us because they are true and they alert us to a reality that brings us all to this church in such huge numbers today in search of meaning and hope as we support Sinéad as she stands at the station of sorrow.

In the Gospel chosen for this funeral Mass, Jesus said to his disciples:

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Death is strong.  But God is stronger.

Love is stronger than death.

Death has not had the final say in the lives of Larry and Martina.

But God’s love that raised Jesus from the dead has.

Evil will never overcome good.

It tried on Good Friday but failed.  The final word for Jesus is not tragedy, but new life.

And the final word for Larry and Martina is not tragedy, but new life in Jesus.

Together in life. Together in death.

We commend their gentle souls to the eternal peace of God’s presence.

That peace will never again be shattered by an assassin’s bullet.

They will be together forever.

May they both rest in peace.


Liturgical Notes:

  • First Reading:  Isaiah 41: 9-11, 13-14.  Reader:  Patricia Watson-Macken (niece of Martina).
  • Second Reading: Romans 8:35, 37-39  Reader:  Natalie Preston.
  • Prayers of the Faithful:  Philip Hayes, David Naughton, Elizabeth Hayes, Dolores Kelly, Heather Kelly, Claire Brennan, Susan Brooks.
  • Offertory Gifts:  Bread and Wine – Della Brennan & Ita Naughton.
  • Symbols placed at the altar: C.I.E Tie & arrangement of flowers – Sarah Jane Macken and Anne Hayes.

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