HOMILY DELIVERED BY CANON SHANE McCAUGHEY AT THE FUNERAL MASS FOR THE LATE FR BILLY HUGHES PE, AUGHNAMULLEN EAST,
IN SACRED HEART CHURCH, LOUGH EGISH, ON MONDAY 22 JANUARY 2018.
Today we all feel the sadness of death. We have come together as a faith community to share in the sadness being experienced by the Hughes family. We have come because we wish to express our sympathy to you and our support for you in your grief and loss of a brother, a brother-in-law, and an uncle. We wish to show too our appreciation and our respect for the man who at the age of 24 said “Yes” to the call of Christ, and who served our communities over the last forty eight years, firstly in vigorous youthfulness in Rockcorry and here in Aughnamullen, then through middle years of mature ministry and wise counselling in Donagh, and latterly with us again in Aughnamullen when through the progressive limitations of illness he showed profound stoicism in the face of trial, and bore earnest witness to the God he fervently believed in.
There is a great mystery associated with illness. We all endeavour to avoid pain and sickness, most going to great lengths to rebel against it, complaining to all and sundry about how unfair it all is and how God should not let it happen – that is the human mind-set.
So one of the great questions of life that we ponder today is; “where is God to be found in indiscriminate sickness?” The experts would tell us that the passion and death of Jesus on the cross was the moment that God illustrated His powerful presence with weak humanity. The Gospels tell us that at the moment of Jesus death the curtain in the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The symbolism of this was that the presence of God was transferring from the “holy of holies”, the Temple, where only the high priest could enter, to the cross of Jesus Christ on Calvary. The meaning of the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross can now be seen as the Son of God taking on our human condition so as to provide us with a fellow pilgrim on our journey through sufferings, and our God is to be found present not only on the altar in the Eucharist, but in the broken bodies and weakened minds of all who are ill.
When we encounter someone like Fr Billy, who carried their cross of illness with good humour, with kindness and with love, we are privileged to witness the presence of God in that person. In the Sacrament of the anointing of the sick one of the scripture readings quotes Matthew speaking of Jesus, “He took our sicknesses away and carried our diseases for us”. This is a prayer Fr Billy used many times in his ministry to the sick, and I know there are many here who would say that Fr Billy literally took on the sicknesses and diseases of others so that they might be healed and restored to their families.
I was trying in the last few days to come up with a word that could capture the man and the priest that was Fr Billy and the word I have settled on is “zeal”. Zeal is an old-fashioned word that can be explained as “great energy in pursuit of a cause”. It means passion and fervour and devotion and eagerness and intensity, and I think these attributes were to be found in all aspects of his life.
I know his late brother Seamus would have spoken for many of you when he used to advise Billy ‘to take the scissors to his sermons’. As a preacher Fr Billy’s intense study of the scriptures which he reflected on in prayer meant that he felt obliged to inform and enthuse and inspire his listeners with a passion for a deep spirituality that could disclose the presence of God in the midst of life’s chaos, and so he might enable his listeners to catch a glimpse of the eternal in the ordinary things of everyday life. As a teacher in schools in Ballybay Blayney and Carrick, and as Chaplain to the St Louis secondary school in Monaghan, and in his passion for young people, he was eager to awaken in their idealism, a desire to find the deeper meaning of life, based on the person of Jesus Christ. As a priest colleague he was always ready to challenge and debate and discuss the fundamental aspects of church teaching and its application in the world, and to query and sometimes harass us into delving deeper into the mystery of a God who walks with us.
Billy was competitive. He played Gaelic football for Aughnamullen when they won three Intermediate Championships in the 1970s. In true “Roy of the Rovers” style he came on as a sub late in a final to score a goal to win the game by a point. He was described the hardest wee man on the team, which, considering that the team was not renowned for its gentility or finesse, probably tells us quite a bit about his playing style. He was a great servant to the GAA and was instrumental in providing the facilities and social centre to provide a safe and healthy place for all the people of the parish to enjoy. He was heavily involved with developing the camogie team in the parish. In the book prepared for the official opening he is described as “a giant both on the field of play and in the committee room”. He was an unofficial driving instructor too, and many young people across all his parishes got their first lessons in the car from him.
In his later years he took up golf and there is a saying that golf is an old man’s sport that you must learn young. Well Fr Billy like myself having arrived late, were never likely to excel at it, but any weakness was more than made up for by his formidable competitive desire which would see him achieve notable success. He had no time for my lackadaisical approach and occasionally would demand that I should “putt as if my life depended on it”. His love of the noble pursuit of hunting and his passion for fishing were well known. He loved a game of cards and in recent years would bring his nephew Jamie along as a bodyguard who would keep a close eye on his winnings.
Fr Billy’s life was centred on his priesthood. His ministry to his family is exemplary, for he has never missed a wedding, a First Holy Communion, a Confirmation or a Christening. His ministry to his communities and in particular the sick and the less well-off, provides us with a legacy that is both rich and enrichening. His priesthood was built on the foundations of the beatitudes, and he put the gifts of faith hope and love into action, every day of his life, and was most eloquent not in his preaching, but in the way he bore his illnesses. As he now approaches the Master to whom he said “Yes” all those years ago we trust he will now hear the words of welcome; “well done, good and faithful servant”
Since his retirement 9 years ago, hospitalisation became a more and more frequent necessity until about ten days ago he went in to the Mater for the last time. Having bade farewell to his family he slipped away on Thursday last returning to the embrace of the God in whom he trusted. He leaves now a huge gaping hole in the lives of his family, but your pain will in time be lessened by the consolation that he fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith, and will surely now find his place in the Kingdom of Heaven,
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace, Amen.