- Father Enda McDonagh opened the door for friend and stranger, and countless generations of Irish seminarians, to experience the excitement that is the quest for faith seeking understanding.
- With Enda, the Word continued to become flesh whether in hospital wards, in boardrooms, broken homes, or breaking hearts – all those situations derived hope when Enda spoke.
- Absolutely convinced of Christ’s gospel, he acknowledged the way in which a Christianity that was divided was such a contradiction, and so he fostered ecumenical dialogue at the international and local level.
It is, I feel, so rightly fitting that Enda’s funeral Mass should be celebrated today in this magnificent College Chapel in Maynooth. For the man who had such an appreciation for the arts – poetry, paintings, the theatre, opera, the very beauty of this sacred place must have lifted his heart and mind towards Beauty Itself every time he prayed here.
Enda came to this College in 1948, and it has truly been his home ever since. It was here he developed his theological expertise; it was here he found the space and the freedom to wonder and to write; it was here he opened the door for friend and stranger, and countless generations of Irish seminarians, to experience the excitement that is the quest for faith seeking understanding, and it was here he discerned his vocation as a student, and lived it as a priest. And although he had many opportunities to go to live and teach elsewhere, he declined them all in favour of his beloved Maynooth.
The voice which has been so powerful in promoting Christian and human freedom has been stilled. For his family, his brother Dr Gerard, and so many of his former colleagues, students and friends, who not only admired his mind but loved the man, the grief is more personal. Whether he graced the platform of conferences in Boston or Beirut, in Maynooth or Melbourne, Enda was at heart a ‘Mayo Man,’ and like all followers of the ‘Green and Red’ in recent years he has travelled what has become our via dolorosa to Croke Park.
Enda ranged with ease through the three great traditions of the Bible: Law, Prophecy and Wisdom. Recognising the contribution of each area, he hewed his theology, sometimes from one tradition, at other times combining all three in a synthesis, enabling us to become acutely aware of the mystery of God and our feeble attempts to understand and enter into a relationship with this God. In Enda’s theology there was a wonderful wedding of broad knowledge with profundity of insight. He combined respect for tradition with an openness and application to the challenge of the contemporary culture. He penned his theology as a powerful protest which highlighted injustice and inequality wherever it manifested itself, wherever human dignity was diminished.
Absolutely convinced of Christ’s gospel, he acknowledged the way in which a Christianity that was divided was such a contradiction, and so he fostered ecumenical dialogue at the international and local level. His initiative in this area was hugely significant and an incentive to others to work towards Christian unity. Always eager to explore theological insights underpinning the different Christian tradition, his contribution in this area is monumental as he delicately exposed the misunderstandings and suspicions and sought a way forward in truth.
The world and the Church in which Enda was ordained in 1955 was changing rapidly. Convinced of the importance of a mature dialogue between Church and State, Enda courageously and consistently worked to foster such. In his work he won the trust of politicians. His insights contributed to peace initiatives, not just here in Ireland but also in places where human rights and dignity were being violated. In Enda there was a very attractive combination of gentleness and strength. He foresaw a period of uncertainty and confusion, a time of crisis and tension, but he always looked towards, believed in, and fostered a time of light, joy and ultimately of transfiguration.
In life, Enda was unassuming, warm-hearted, welcoming of people and ideas, and blessed with a gentle and at times mischievous sense of humour. In today’s society where the presence of the Church may be resented, Enda’s prophetic voice was respected. He recognised the influence of the media in society, understood the media, and used the language which media understood. A masterful weaver of words, with Enda, the Word continued to become flesh whether in hospital wards, in boardrooms, broken homes, or breaking hearts – all those situations derived hope when Enda spoke. Aware of paradoxes and contradictions, conscious of the potential for good, grieved by human insensitivity, but always alive to the grace of God, this was the man, the theologian and the priest. His fresh language, poetic vision, and the unexpected twists as he played on words kept his hearers in suspense.
The gospel reading for today, the Second Sunday of Lent, presents the story of the Transfiguration. Jesus is preparing His disciples for the ordeal of His suffering and death. He takes three of them to a mountain where He is transfigured and His glory is glimpsed for a few brief moments. The Transfigured Jesus is seen in dialogue with Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets. So here we have Jesus, the wisdom of God joining with the law and the prophets. This Transfiguration is what Enda, as priest and theologian, was endeavouring to capture. We pray that he now shares fully in that Transfiguration and that the Lord will reward him for the generous way in which he utilized his gifts.
On behalf of my brother priests of the Archdiocese of Tuam, the Religious and the faithful, and on behalf of Archbishop Eamon Martin the Chancellor and Chair of the Maynooth Trustees, I offer my sincere sympathy and the promise of my prayers to Enda’s brother, Dr Gerard; to his nephews; his cousin, Sister Maureen; to the extended family; to Mary O’Malley his trusted secretary for over forty years; to the President of Saint Patrick’s College, Father Michael Mullaney; the Rector, Father Tomás Surlis; to his former colleagues; the staff and his wide circle of friends.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.
Notes for Editors
Archbishop Michael Neary is Archbishop of Tuam. This homily was preached on the Second Sunday of Lent, 28 February 2021, during the Funeral Mass for the late Father Enda McDonagh RIP.
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