There are Funerals and Funerals!

As I drove to a funeral today, I was thinking of what I had heard and read about the problems around gangland funerals, about ostentatious displays of paramilitarism or excessive wealth. The funeral I was going to was that of Tadgh McDonnell, the husband of Kathleen, the woman who led the resistance to male-only deacons in the diocese of Killaloe. I had come to know Kathleen during that time, and she is by any standards an extraordinary person. So, despite the fact that the funeral was deep in Loop Head, in the parish of Cross, I had no doubt but that I wanted to be there, to lend whatever little bit of support my presence might give to Kathleen and her two sons. Tadgh had died after more than eighteen months battle with cancer.
There was nothing ostentatious about this funeral, and definitely nothing vulgar, but there were a few outstanding aspects to it.
The first one was the gathering of the community. They were there in great numbers on a Wednesday noontime, including a large and lovely choir of locals, and it was obvious that this man belonged not just to his extended family, but to the whole community. In a real sense they were all part of his extended family. As someone who came a distance, being among them at that funeral, , there was a real sense of ‘church’ at its best.
The second thing that stood out for me was the quality of the liturgy. Kathleen has worked on youth ministry with the Salesians, and I could see her hand all over it. All the various readers were loud and clear, and read their piece with meaning. The readings were not ones that I normally hear at a funeral, but they fitted perfectly for the occasion. God was not in the storm; he was in the gentle breeze, and the prophet covered his face with his cloak and stood at the mouth of the cave. God was just as surely present there today, not just in the host and the wine, but in the gathering of the people, and the way in which they surrounded the mourners with love. The celebrant, Michael Casey, the parish priest of Cross, had been with the family throughout the whole of Tadgh’s sickness, and that was obvious from the way he spoke, both in tone and content. He did a beautiful job. The only thing we bring with us beyond the grave is love. And of that there was an abundance.
One of the items brought up to symbolise Tadgh’s life was a bottle of sparkling clear water. Like everyone else in this country I have been listening to the arguments over water charges, and seeing how politicians were using it for their own advancement. But this was different. One side effect of Tadgh’s illness was dehydration. So water became crucial. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that he would give her the water of life, and that is what water was for Tadgh in a very literal sense for eighteen months before his death. So, at the Mass, led by Michael, we celebrated that wonderful life-giving natural gift of water,, and how precious and crucial it is for all of us. We gave thanks to God for the water of life. We prayed for people who don’t have access to clean water.
Like almost everyone else that was there, I put my arms briefly around Kathleen, hoping that the human touch might bring her some light in the darkness. She looked tired. It was obvious that the whole experience had taken a lot out of her. I trust that time will bring healing and refreshment.
It was sad, it was emotional, but it was also at some deep, mysterious level, beautiful.
Sometimes it is good to be part of this too often broken Church. Today was one of those days.