Brother priests, brothers and sisters in Christ,
The story of our salvation is an extraordinary one. It begins with a calling, a vocation and we are straight away into the area of mystery. We are in territory that we do not fully understand and the first person we are introduced to is an old man. His life apparently is coming to an end and he setting down the tent-poles for himself, his wife, his family and his entourage. What a time to hear a call, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great so that you will be a blessing.” Abraham and Sarah were very senior citizens when this call came to uproot themselves and go to a place they never heard of before. They must have found it extremely difficult to make such a huge change at this point in their lives but they did as requested and set out.
It was a difficult journey and a long one but through all its difficulties and challenges God kept his promise – “I will establish my covenant between you and me and your offspring after you – I will give to you the land where you are now an alien – I will be your God and you will be my people.” And so in the response, the decision of an old couple and their consequent follow through, began a drama, a journey which is still ongoing and in which we
are participating. Just like here present the majority of people take the conventional road through life which brings marriage and work together. Alongside that is another line of people who are called to devote their lives fully to the journey itself, to the drama in which everyone is caught up.
We are in the realm of mystery again in the sense that we don’t know how many are called nor what brief is given to each or how the process of defining the brief is worked out. There is always the freedom to decline the offer, to sit by the fire of our comfort zone and not to disturb my life in case the task would be too demanding. Of course the option is there to grasp the nettle and become a firelighter to bring the spark to a place as yet unvisited by me. This is fast becoming a daunting line peopled not only by Abraham and Sarah but by Mary and Joseph, Peter and John each of whom put their faith in the God of their journeys and each became more than they could ask or imagine. The line is full of unknown and unnamed people each of whom had moved out of their comfort zone on an unknown journey. In each of their stories, something had caught their attention and in their own way each had noticed, heard, wrestled with, tried to ignore and eventually responded to the persistent calling that led them forward. The most remarkable thing of all is that the responses of all these people made such a difference not only to themselves but to their communities and beyond.
Fr Tom was in that line trying to hide, to make himself scarce. He was never one to seek the platform but I’m told he took satisfaction in bringing to ground smoothies who fancied themselves on the football pitch. I was told a story yesterday. Let me add that I cannot vouch for its veracity. But Canon Tom in this story was sitting an oral Irish exam. To make things as easy as possible the examiner spread his hand on the table and asked “an bhfeiceann tú mo lámh? Pleased as punch with the question the Canon bellowed “Cím,” nearly knocking the man off the chair. Venturing a bit further but still being helpful the examiner put his hand under the table, smiled and asked “an bhfeiceann tú mo lámh?” Let down momentarily by the range of his Irish but not by his wits the Canon knelt down, looked under the table then poked his head up and said ‘Cím’.
Canon Tom did not wander too far. In fact the only time he really wandered was when Bishop O’Callaghan signed a celebret for him for six months and rather than confront the bishop with what he thought was his mistake Canon Tom decided it was wiser to bless his good fortune and gratefully to escape to the U.S.A. for six months by which time Bishop O’Callaghan was assembling a search party. Canon Tom served in the parishes of Ederney, Errigal Truagh, Roslea and here in Pobal before he retired to leafy Kilskeery. In welcoming back Canon Tom’s remains to Tempo for his funeral Mass and burial Fr. Halton spoke about him both affectionately and accurately. Wherever he served Canon Tom was first and foremost a man of the people and he knew his parishioners by name. He loved his people and cared for them generously. His generosity was so open and transparent that, like with many good people, his generosity was open to being abused. The Irish Short story writer Frank O’Connor referred to it as the vulnerability of the good. He took his cue from Christ the good shepherd and was a man who, as Pope Francis put it “had always the smell of the sheep” about him. The people of Magherarney were surprised initially to find their priests in the middle of the building site with sleeves rolled up and a shovel in hand when the hall was renovated and the school built. He enjoyed training camogie teams and juvenile football teams. Blessed with a strong voice his instructions needed no amplification. His instructions were clear and vigorous and laced with words not always found in the best of dictionaries. If Health and Safety officials had been in full flight at the time his trusty Volkswagen would have been frequently off the road. He was a man of compassion who never neglected the sick, the hospitalised or those in trouble. He was never at his best preaching. He didn’t need to be. His life was his sermon.
When he retired as parish priest of Tempo he was welcomed by the people of Kilskeery as a Pastor Emeritus or an honorary parish priest. Like so many of his generation he would find it difficult to hang up his boots. He served the people of Trillick for as long as he could and had his own remedy for what he would consider minor ailments. For the last five years he was housebound. He was treated with Christ-like generosity firstly by Canon John who took him into his home, secondly by Bernie Fox as well as Isobel and Margaret who could not do enough for him and this could also be said of the people of Trillick generally. You could say he had a foretaste of what was to come. Canon Tom, fare well, we will miss you. You deserved all the pampering. It was a return of your own generosity and we know the Lord himself will not be lacking in that department.
Slán abaile, May you rest in peace!
+Liam S. MacDaid,
Church of the Immaculate Conception, Tempo.
16 September 2016