Monday, May 24, 2010

Homily at Funeral Mass for Cyril Hally, May 21 2010 (Noel Connelly)

My brothers and sisters, on behalf of my brother Columbans I would like to welcome you to a celebration of Cyril’s life and mission.

Cyril died suddenly and peacefully last Tuesday morning. He was confronted by a breakfast he did not want to eat and when the nurse left the room for a few minutes he lay back on his pillow and died.

Since then I and others here at Essendon have spent hours reading scores of email messages and listening to phone calls from people who felt he was an inspiration and a major formative influence in their lives.

Few Columbans and few priests have made so many people think so much and think so positively and so much outside the box.

Of all the messages I have received one that stands out for me was from a PMI graduate who was also involved in his care at Mercy Place. She wrote, “Noel, I am pleased he was able to live until he died” At first I thought this was a strange statement to make, an Irish bull until I realised it was profoundly true. He lived until he died. He didn’t give up. His world didn’t get smaller. He stayed interested and involved till the end. On one of my last visits with him I apologised that I wasn’t able to come the day before because I went to a lecture by Sandra Schneiders. “Buggar it” he said. I wanted to go to that.

So let us celebrate and draw comfort and inspiration from the life of a great Columban missionary priest, Cyril Hally.

Rather than a formal eulogy or a long history of Cyril’s life I would like to explain to you why I chose the three readings you have just heard.

I chose the reading from the book of Wisdom because it talks of people being put to the test. Cyril was put to the test and was found worthy. There are three tests that stand out for me.

The first involved his family. Cyril never knew his mother, Esther properly; she died when he was very young. Last Tuesday morning when the nurse left John Hishon and I alone with his body we prayed a few prayers and John prayed a beautiful prayer about Cyril now being happy with his brother and parents. I still pray that prayer. I hope, Cyril that you are now happy with your brother Mark, whom you loved, with your father, Thomas whom you admired and respected and with your mother, Esther, whom you missed deeply all your life.

The second test Cyril faced was that of a prophet. Cyril spoke confidently, challengingly and fearlessly and occasionally suffered the criticism, isolation and misunderstanding that passionate prophets do.

His last challenge was old age. Cyril was energetic and often impatient. When machines wouldn’t work for him or when things didn’t go the way he expected, He was famous for two words, “Buggar it.” So growing old wasn’t easy for him. He took quite a long while to come to grips with the fact that he was in his eighties let lone his nineties. His mind was always younger than his body. But in the last year or so I noticed and was touched that whenever I visited or did something for him he always thanked me graciously.

So, Cyril, while we are saddened by your passing, we are pleased that you are now with all the virtuous in the hands of God.

The second reading from Paul’s second letter to Timothy is one of my favourite readings in the New Testament. Paul was a complex and abstract theologian but in this reading we gain an insight into his profound love for Timothy. He cries and longs to see Timothy. He remembers Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice from who Timothy learnt his faith. I chose this reading for my parents’ memorial card because I am convinced that as John Donne said, No man is an island. Each of us is part of a continent, a piece of the main. We need one another. We catch our faith and most of our values from others.

In the last few days I have received scores of messages. All speak of the effect Cyril had n their life, of how he inspired them with his vision, commitment and energy. I appreciate what they say because Cyril has been one of the most influential people in my life. He has taught me how to think about the Church and the world. I don’t think I would ever have thought of historical trends, sociology, demography and cultural anthropology as sources for theology without him.

Cyril’s spirit was like the one Paul reminded Timothy of, “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power, love and self-control.”

I chose the Beatitudes because they also represent the best of Cyril to me. Cyril was profoundly countercultural just as the Beatitudes are.

He was poor in spirit. He lived simply and had one of the smallest and worst wardrobes in the Society. He wasn’t greedy for anything except knowledge. I hope they have a good library in heaven and that they subscribe to the Monthly, the Manchester Guardian, the International Bulletin of Missionary Research and most especially the Friday edition of the Australian Financial Review.

He was gentle. He could be challenging and uncompromising but never malicious and always thought positively of people.

He mourned in his own life and felt for the marginalised and those suffering injustice. For a priest, an institutional man, he felt remarkably at home with aboriginals, migrants and gay people all kinds of marginalised. It was the big issues that mattered to Cyril.

He was pure in heart. He didn’t have a divided or compromised heart. He was committed to mission and the Kingdom of God. To that extent he had little chit chat or small talk. Again only the big issues mattered.

Peace was almost more important to him than justice. He was concerned about Jerusalem and prayed frequently for peace in Jerusalem. He felt that if we could achieve peace there we could achieve it everywhere.

And as a prophet he did suffer persecution at times.

So Cyril was a great man but he wasn’t perfect, but then you don’t have to be perfect to be loved and he was loved by many people. And he loved in return. He loved the Church. He loved the world and he loved each one of us even if he couldn’t always remember our names.

A good and great man is dead. May his goodness, energy, hope and vision live on in us?

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