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 England.


However, his greatest talent was music.  He was a brilliant key-board player, replacing Phil Coulter in a Derry show-band and later finding his way into Joe Dolan’s Drifters Show-band.  He told me that he did many of their musical arrangements.  The band often shared the stage with legendary groups like the Kinks and the Rolling Stones with whom he played in 1969 in Glasgow.  And all of this in an era long before the X-factor. On one such tour he was looking to attend Sunday Mass when he met a priest who said, “Why not join God’s band?”  This seemingly innocent comment stayed with him enough to give it serious thought.  Being stationed in Mullingar, he was close to our friary in Multyfarnham and visited that church often where he prayed and met some of the Franciscans there. 


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 faithfully in England, in the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle.


The Committed Priest

I remember a theology professor in Rome once saying, “Ordination is Palm Sunday.  Priesthood is Good Friday.”  Grace builds on nature e.g. St. Paul was as passionate in his defence of Christianity as he had been in attacking it.  So too with Ciaran, the Lord may have moved him onto a different stage but he brought his many gifts and talents into priestly ministry especially musically, in working with many prayer groups, being very much a part of the emerging Charismatic Movement that was coming to the fore in the 1970s and, as a totally committed priest, he soon found himself involved in the stressful ministry of exorcism.


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 Freeman Hospital said to him, “Fr. Ciaran is a priest; you are a priest and your brother is a priest.  Is that the family business?  Are you any sisters who are priests?  I think she herself had been married by a female Anglican priest.


Devotional Spirituality

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 love.  Ciaran 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 Newcastle, “When we have the Scripture without the Spirit we dry up; when we have the Spirit without the Scripture, we blow up;  but when we have the Scripture and the Spirit, we grow up.” 


Having lived in the presbytery in England over the past three months, I could see from his room and the nearby oratory the many signs of that spirituality. Although a diocesan priest, he had many characteristics of the itinerant preacher. I used to joke with him, “Where you go on pilgrimages I go on holidays!”


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 Teresa of Calcutta and the Little Flower.


She was a saint who longed to find her place within the Church.  She found her answer when reading St. Paul’s eulogy on love to the Corinthians. This passage inspired her to say that a church without love at the furnace would be cold and heartless and would fail to inspire people to go out and spread the Gospel.  So, her call was to be as love burning within the heart of the Church viz. That is why she is the patroness of the missions.  That note of being love within the Church is reflected in a prayer put together Ciaran by himself:


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 St. John simply says that “God is love.”  In Luke 6 Jesus puts out his mission statement when he tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who abuse us. On the Cross this love is tested and Jesus, faithful to the Father’s calling prays for his enemies, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Longfellow the poet says, “If we could only see the secret history of even our worst enemies, we would find there enough pain and sorrow to disarm all hostility.” So, our enemies need our prayers more than our criticism for they, no less than us, are God's children too.


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 the Freeman Hospital.  They loved him and he knew each of them by name. This relational or connecting cord opened the way for many different conversations.  Some of the doctors would come to him to talk and say, “I am here not as a doctor but as a friend” and spend a significant length of time with him. As a patient, over the last two months, he continued to pray with and minister to his fellow-sufferers in the ward.



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!


Medical Imperative

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.


Vulnerable God

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