SERVANT OF THE LOVE OF GOD
The following is the homily given by
Fr Pascal McDonnell (one of Fr Ciaran’s brothers)
at Father Ciaran’s funeral in Strabane
In the Service of Love
It all happened too soon.” That’s what Ciaran said to me on numerous occasions during the last three months. Yet, life is not a rehearsal and it always comes like a thief in the night, no matter how much time we seem to be given in preparation.
More than anything, death throws into relief some of the deeper questions of life, especially about its purpose and meaning. And for us who are Christian, it forces us to answer the question from Jesus “Who do you say that I am?” For Ciaran, and for the many who knew him, the Lord was everything. God was love and Ciaran wanted to live his life in the service of that love.
The Rich Young Man
In thinking of Ciaran, the Gospel passage of the rich young man comes readily to mind. Here we have someone who thought he had it all and came to Jesus thinking that heaven was just one more thing he could possess. Yet, Jesus is the totally free man who holds onto nothing but forces us to ask the deeper question, “What does it profit us to gain the whole world and suffer the loss our soul?
Ciaran was talented
and successful in many ways. I remember
him excelling in sport, especially athletics when he came first in a walking
race around Strabane in the 1960s. This later
translated itself onto the golf course, a sport which he enjoyed immensely both
in playing and watching. In fact, at
home we have a picture of the day he won the Universe Cup, a competition for
the clergy in
However, his greatest talent was music.
He was a brilliant key-board player, replacing Phil Coulter in a
As a result, he decided to take the plunge and only recently, he told me
that many in the band, including Joe Dolan himself, did their utmost to
persuade him from leaving. Yet, unlike the rich young man in the Gospel, he
left it all - the
fame and the money - to follow God and
having put his hand to the plough, he did not turn back. Like the Cure of Ars,
he found the seminary studies quite tough going but persevered and was ordained
in Thurles on June 12th 1976. And for the next 36 years he ministered
The Committed Priest
I remember a theology professor in
Of course, I reminded him that such prominence and high profile brings its own kudos and reward. I was thinking back to the day of my own ordination when he, more than I myself, loved waving to the crowds. This was nothing to what Eunan experienced on his ordination day. Bishop Lagan kept calling Eunan Ciaran. Whatever the effect on Eunan, Ciaran only smiled in adulation and didn’t seem to mind in the least!
Eunan was telling
me that a nurse in the
What is the purpose and meaning of life?
Every spirituality tries to address this
question. John of the Cross said that at the end of life we will be judged on
had a deep, simple, traditional Catholic faith. His devotional spirituality
trusted and hoped in God and was based very much on regular daily prayer, the
Eucharist, the Rosary, Holy Scripture with a great
emphasis on the Holy Spirit. As Fr. Bill O'Gorman said in the homily in
Having lived in the presbytery in
He had a deep love for Mary, the Mother of God and went on many trips to the Marian shrines. A few years ago he went to Medugorje on sabbatical where he worked most of the time in hearing daily confessions.
In his oratory, he had many relics and pictures of the saints e.g. the
Cure of Ars, Padre Pio, Mother
She was a saint who longed to find her place within the Church. She found her answer when reading
Act of Personal Consecration
to the Holy Spirit
O Holy Spirit, love that proceeds from the Father and the Son, font of inexhaustible graces and life,
To You, I desire to consecrate my person, my past, my present, my future, my desires, my choices, my decisions, my thoughts, my affections, all that I am, all those whom I encounter, whom I think of, whom I know, whom I love and all that with which my life makes contact.
From the power of your light, from the warmth of your presence, from your peace, are all your blessings.
You are the Lord and giver of life, and without your strength, nothing is without fault.
O Spirit of eternal love, come into my heart, renew it and make it evermore like the heart of Mary, so that I can become now and always, temple and tabernacle of your Divine Presence.
Living the Command of Love
Some would say that Paul’s eulogy on love is his description of Christ. He saw Christ as someone who was patient and kind, slow to anger, not rude or boastful or envious, always ready to excuse, tolerate and forgive. Christ, the love of the Father, rejoices in what is good.
That is why
The opposite of love is hatred or evil. That is why we pray to be delivered from it at the end of the Our Father ... Deliver us from all evil. Evil is very subtle. It works on our weaknesses. It both tempts and then, condemns us. It knows it has succeeded when it makes us angry. That is why forgiveness is so central to our faith. The masters of the spiritual life tell us that there are only two spirals in life: violence or forgiveness. Once you leave one you immediately walk into the other.
Of course, this forgiving type of love is not something achieved overnight. It comes after years of struggle, prayer and many graces. It helps to build character which is then tested in various situations. It develops integrity where the inner and outer person match. Ciaran had a lot of this, being ready to excuse and understand people. In situations where most of us would vent, blame and give out, he was always looking for a reason to excuse or forgive.
It made him non-threatening, vulnerable and popular. This was true of
his standing in the diocese and also with so many of the nurses on the staff in
Yet even in sickness, Ciaran was not without showing interest in life e.g. he asked how Harrington was doing in the golf. I sat with him while we watched the Grand National on television and he proudly boasted of picking the first and second. Nor did he lose his sense of humour. One day I asked him if he would like a hair-cut and he said, “Which one?” We both thought of the Beatles, “When I’m 64.” Even amidst the long-drawn out battle with the cancerous jaundice (Bili Ruben), he was able to lighten the atmosphere and say, “If I ever get through this sickness and they make me Pope, I’ll take the name of Pope Bili Ruben” to which I responded, “No doubt you’ll make me Cardinal Doberman!”
News that he had cancer came as a shock to him and it advanced quickly. The doctors and surgeons who worked hard for Ciaran, told him, “We are doing our best for you, father, but you have to do your part as well.” What did they mean by this? Basically, he was being inundated by visitors, texts and mail. If you have ever been sick, you know that while we love to see visitors, they can also exhaust us even and especially when they mean well. So, it became a medical imperative that we would create a peaceful atmosphere or a holy quarantine around him to ensure that the volatile jaundice would hopefully come down. And it did significantly, but only slowly and over time.
Of course, this was a very tough time for all of us - family and friends. Emotions are what we have most of and know least about. For those of us whom he requested to accompany him through this desert time of sickness, it was a privilege but also very lonely.
Being with the sick is both privileged and lonely. And here in addition to my own family, I have to thank the Scott family, especially Blanca for being so attentive and supportive to myself as well as to Ciaran during this difficult time. They, more than anyone, knew his daily struggle.
There is something in sickness and death that tunes us deeply into the meaning of the Incarnation viz. God becoming one of us. It is a time of great vulnerability. We see the things that matter with a crystal clarity. Suffering often brings to the surface what is best in us and God gets in through the pain, through the hole in the soul, as they say in AA. We are given the grace to move beyond our own egos (Edging God Out) and the masks of escapism to see the one thing necessary.
We can weep and call out to a God who knows what it is to weep. It is at such a time that we realize the message of Jesus. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of Christ having wept aloud and in silent tears. We need to know we have a God who has been through this pain with us, a God who is vulnerable and weeps because he has loved too much. Those who love can expect to weep.
This is a bittersweet or paradoxical experience e.g. I could see that the times Ciaran called my mother were the times when he was happiest and also saddest.
Unless the Seed Dies
“God is love” – this is easy to believe when all is well. It is not so easy when you are stretched out on a bed of pain, like Jesus on the cross, when life is literally draining out of you and the only power left is the power of surrender. His last 23 hours were a living testimony to that agony. Yet, as Jesus himself says ”Unless the seed dies, it alone remains but if it does die, it will produce fruit in plenty.” The huge amount of people who were praying for Ciaran throughout his sickness was a phenomenal testament to this.
Servant of the Love of God
All Too Soon
Padraic Pearse, one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising leaders, once said, “The beauty of the world has made me sad, that beauty which will pass.“ I think Ciaran sensed something of that when he said to me, “It all happened too soon”
But for Eunan, Blanca and myself, it was a privilege to have accompanied him through the lonely desert of pain. He died as he lived, true to his faith in Jesus Christ, a true servant of the love of God and I am proud to have been his brother.
Leaba i measc ceoltoiri na
bhFhlaitheas go raibh aige
May he have a bed
among the musicians of heaven.
Fr Pascal McDonnell