The following is the text of the homily delivered the Diocesan Administrator, Mgr Joseph McGuinness, at the Funeral Mass for the late Fr Joseph McCluskey which was celebrated in St Enda’s Church, Killanny on the afternoon of Monday 4 December 2017.
My dear Friends,
When death visits with the swiftness and stunning unexpectedness that it did last Wednesday, it can be hard to absorb the reality of what has happened and to come to terms with the irreplaceable loss of a beloved brother, uncle and friend, and a good, kind and much-loved priest. As in all circumstances of painful personal loss, faith is challenged, hope is dimmed, and love can become a source more of anguish than of joy.
But our presence together in this church today is a strong and visible sign of how, as a Christian community, we hold firm, even in the face of death, to the great Christian virtues of Faith, Hope and Love. In our prayer and worship we renew our faith in the Risen Christ, we strengthen our hope of sharing in that resurrection, and we find comfort in the bonds of love we share and the love and affection which we have had for Fr Joe.
In the Gospel reading, we hear again the reassuring promise of Jesus:
“I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies
he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die”(Jn 11:25-26)
And then he asks the question, addressed in the Gospel to Martha, and today to us: “Do you believe this?”
One person who would have answered “Yes” without hesitation was Fr Joe McCluskey. His whole life as a priest was founded on a faith that was firm and unshakeable. It gave him a serenity and sense of purpose in his ministry which was evident to all who knew him and particularly those who had the benefit of his pastoral care. We may rehearse the physical journey of Fr Joe’s life, from his birth in Carrickahogue, his schooling in Corcreaghy National School, St Macartan’s College and St Patrick’s College Maynooth; his appointments in Clara, Aghadrumsee, Scotshouse, Dromore, Threemilehouse and finally here in Killanny; but the greater journey of Fr Joe’s life was the journey of faith, the pilgrimage of the soul undertaken with Christ, in Christ and for Christ. It involved a whole-hearted response to the call of the Lord to the priesthood and the faithful living out of that vocation.
St Paul, in the letter to the Philippians, says that Christ emptied himself to become a servant, even unto death (Phil 2:7-8). Fr Joe, in his priestly ministry, reflected that self-giving of Christ in service to others. Last Sunday week, on the Feast of Christ the King, the Gospel reading included the words of Jesus about service given to those in need: “In so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” (Mt 25:40). It was the last Sunday Gospel which Fr Joe proclaimed, and it could be considered a very fitting epitaph. We find it exemplified above all in his great care for the sick and the elderly and in his devotion to visiting nursing homes, schools and the homes of parishioners. It’s no less appropriate that in the Gospel reading today we find Jesus visiting the home of friends who are bereaved and grieving – again, this was an aspect of pastoral ministry to which Fr Joe was very faithful, and many people benefited at these and other times from the gentleness and kindness which were so characteristic of the man.
At the heart of Fr Joe’s priestly life, as with all priests, was the celebration of the Eucharist and the ministering of the sacraments. These were the wellspring of his priesthood and to minister the grace of the sacraments, especially the Mass, to people, particularly at key moments of their lives, was for him more a privilege than an obligation.
As his fellow priests, we also knew and appreciated the sincerity and kindness that came with his quiet disposition, his ability to make friends and to keep friends and his unflappable good humour. It’s not that Joe always agreed with everyone or everything – he had his own set views which were quite good enough for him and served him well. He wasn’t given to complaint or criticism, but if he did disagree, then he disagreed most agreeably and managed to avoid falling out with anyone. He was a man of habit and routine, which was allied to his sense of duty and responsibility. Every Wednesday he went home to the family farm, where he spent a while simply walking around the fields. In this way he never lost sight of his roots, and also gave himself time away from the cares of the parish. He also found recreation in his interest in golf, in local and county football and in a friendly and innocent hand of cards. For us as priests under increasing stress of workload, there is perhaps a lesson here. It may well be that Joe’s care to take that time to himself, and his apparent ability not to stress out about things, helped to preserve his youthful appearance to the end. I’ve heard it said that not long after he came to Killanny two years ago as a retired parish priest, one of the parishioners here, who had only seen Fr Joe from the back of the church, was heard to ask where the new young priest had come from.
“Whoever lives and believes in me will never die” – do we believe this? Yes, we do. But faith does not make us immune from grief. When Jesus left the home of Mary and Martha, he went to the tomb of Lazarus and broke down in tears. We need to be both comforters and comforted. And so the prayer and support that we give to each other is an invaluable gift. We offer that gift today and in the coming time to Fr Joe’s family and friends. As he in his ministry brought comfort to so many, may they too be consoled and lifted up.
At the heart of Fr Joe’s life was his devotion to his priesthood. He would have easily understood priesthood in the traditional term of being an alter Christus – “another Christ”, not in any sense of being a Master or a messiah, but rather as being like Christ and seeing like Christ, the compassionate Jesus who sees in all people their unique beauty and value and their need for ministry and service. It is what we are all called to be in our own way. As we commend the soul of Fr Joe to the loving mercy of God, may we draw inspiration from the life of this prayerful and faithful priest, this decent and lovely man. And may he find an echo of the words of that last Gospel which he read:
“Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the
kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world” (Mt 25:34)