Funeral Mass for Fr. Tom Breen R.I.P.
Tuesday, 10 February 2015
St. Davog’s, Dromore, 12.00noon
Please be seated, and welcome to all those seated in Church and those elsewhere. On everyone’s behalf, I offer our sympathy to the Breen family on their great loss. Looking at so many sad faces in front of me, I cannot avoid thinking what Fr. Tom himself would say if he were in my position. He would probably tell you to cheer up, that things could be worse – Dromore could have been beaten in the County Championship final.
I met a man in the graveyard this morning, obviously a local. He shook hands and greeted me – “your welcome father, bishop, my Lord – I don’t know what to call you.” I asked him how things were and he said they were never worse. “I can’t get this man out of my head. I’ve even started dreaming about him and that doesn’t wash so well with the wife. The other night I dreamt that Fr. Tom had arrived at the pearly gates. When he saw him, St. Peter put away his book, his pen and his flashlight and said to Fr. Tom – hold on there a minute. He came back in five minutes and says to Fr. Tom you’ve had a long and tiring journey. This will perk you up and what did he offer him – a hot whiskey! You should have seen the look on his face. He turned around and who was there behind him but the U21 panel and them in the blue and white jerseys after winning the U21 Championship. Fr. Tom says to them “keep moving lads, we’re at the wrong house.” Then he thought of it – Hi lads, where’s that cup? It was here a few minutes ago, says one of the lads. The next thing father, bishop me Lord I was down on my knees searching for the cup and when I woke the wife had me by the collar of the pyjamas saying what in the name of God are you looking for crawling under the bed. I can take no more of this – you can take your pick – me or the cup – I’ve had enough of it. Is there anything you could do to help us – father, bishop, me Lord -I’m afraid of making the wrong choice.
A most inappropriate story with which to begin a funeral service. Still it brings a smile to everyone’s cheeks because all who knew Fr. Tom associated him with a gentle handshake and a smile. The priest and the man were one, and the man’s smile and gentleness were channels of God’s love to us all. So it is most appropriate that, in remembering Fr. Tom, we sing the prayer of the Church with a smile.
+Liam S. MacDaid
10 February 2015
My dear friends,
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Protestant Theologian and pastor who joined an anti-Hitler movement in Germany during the second-world war. He was imprisoned in 1943 and hanged in Flossenburg prison two years later. His letters from prison are a challenging example of Christian thinking in a modern world.
One of his pieces has been given the title “Everything has its time” and contains the following : I believe that we ought so to love and trust God in our lives and in all the good things that he sends us, that when the time comes (but not before) we may go to him with love, trust and joy. But to put it plainly, for a man in his wife’s arms to be hankering after the other world is, in mild terms, a piece of bad taste and not God’s will. We ought to find and love God in what he actually gives us; if it pleases him to allow us to enjoy some overwhelming earthly happiness, we mustn’t try to be more pious than God himself and allow our happiness to be corrupted by presumption and arrogance, and by unbridled religious fantasy which is never satisfied with what God gives. God will see to it that the man who finds him in his earthly happiness and thanks him for it does not lack reminder that earthly things are transient, that it is good for him to attune his heart to what is eternal and that sooner or later there will be times when he can say in all sincerity, “I wish I were home.” But everything has its time, and the main thing is that we keep step with God and do not keep pressing on a few steps ahead, nor keep dawdling a step behind. Challenging and debatable words!
It would really be stretching the imagination to see close resemblances to the circumstances of Fr. Tom’s life in those of Dietrich Bonhoeffer but their living of the Christian way may not have been that far apart. Fr. Tom had very close bonds with his family and visited them frequently. With them he found bonds of affection and acceptance and was always given great care. It was a solid foundation in which he experienced the love and affection which he shared with so many.
His love of football had no bounds. I understand he co-founded the club in Truagh in North Monaghan and having served the people of the diocese in at least four counties (including Donegal), he had to be diplomatic in his professed loyalties. That did not prevent him from enjoying Tyrone’s success in recent times, and his commitment to the blue and white club colours of Dromore was total. When the Dromore team won the County Championship in 2007, local joy knew no boundaries. Fr. Breen appointed himself official minder of the cup and this piece of silverware was impounded in Fr. Breen’s own house and only people with impeccable references had any chance of taking it for a walk. Even St. Peter would be refused an exemption. The cup was to remain uncontaminated, alcohol free and he was Lord of the cup.
As far as liturgy was concerned Fr. Tom would have considered himself a culshee and if he had his way in parish affairs he would have been content with the level of administration to be found in the kingdom of the birds. He would have been content to leave it to the Lord to clothe the lily and water the earth. He gave his attention fully to people in an incredibly kind way. He thought little of money or possessions and gave to anyone he thought to be in more need than himself. He was good company and easy to work with; a healer, who brought people together in the manner of his master.
Everything has its time could have been his motto because he immersed himself in what he was doing at any one time. He was extremely devout and prayed incessantly. His breviary was thumbed within inches of death. He was most attentive to the sick and dying. His devotion to the Mass and Sacraments was exceptional and even in his state of decline he still spent an hour and a half in the Confession Box last Christmas Eve. He loved being a priest. He used the last drop of petrol in the tank in the service of people and they returned his love a hundred fold. The number of people who came to his wake to offer their respects will be talked about for years. The manner in which the local community looked after those who mourned and the hospitality they offered to the stranger will become the stuff of legend.
Everything has its time and there were signs that Fr. Tom recognised that. When he was brought to hospital for the last time he told those closest to him that he was on a yellow card. His loyal fellow shepherd Fr. MacEntee continued to be mother and father to him. He will find it strange for some time to come, living without his shadow. His patience and level of tolerance were outstanding and the brotherly care which he gave Fr. Tom was a model to the rest of us and a marvel to his family who themselves were unstinting in their care of him. When Fr. Breen went into hospital the sale of petrol and diesel plummeted in Dromore and now that he has departed this life the number of discarded taxi licences in Dromore will be difficult to count.
By any standards he was an extraordinary ordinary man who, armed with a smile and a gentle handshake, left an indelible mark on the soil he tilled. In the words of the book of wisdom “at dawn and with all his heart, he prays to the Lord who made him.” In the words of the letter to the Hebrews “He can sympathise with those who are ignorant or uncertain because he too lives in the limitations of weakness.” In the words of John’s Gospel “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” I will leave the last word to Fr. Tom’s nephew who said to me “he may be gone but he will continue to live in the hearts of those who love him.”
+Liam S. MacDaid
10 February 2015