“Claire Byrne and Ryan Turbidy both introduced Tony to their audience as the legionary priest in Mount Merrion who gave inspirational homilies that are meaningful, humorous and that people listen to.
Tony’s homilies always had a clear message – he used words carefully and he filled them with humour – not that he was a funny man – I think he left that to his brother Kieron!
His humour reflected the energetic side of his life. Tony of course loved a story to anchor his homilies. Tony’s diagnosis with Motor Neuron Disease meant that he himself became the homily –Tony embraced this disease with great resilience, with faith and hope and above all, with two values that set him apart – humility and generosity.
Tony’s depth of humanity that was exceptional if not rare – to mastermind the pilgrimage walk that engaged the country – took a man of great leadership ability, a man with a vision who was articulate and strategic, a motivated priest but as a driven man he could also be stubborn, impulsive and inpatient.
However, his intention was to ‘form a community for all’ – and how many people did he connect here through their friendship with him.
Tony had always been a pilgrimage man – from his travels to Lourdes, Croke Patrick, India, Haiti, The Holy Land, World Youth Days, to the local Church of Ireland Church, Glenstall Abbey and to his beloved Glendalough – never alone – always with people especially the youth from Ballymun, UCD, Mount Merrion and beyond. There were other college trips that one day his friends may share – I think Shane said last night he would write the book!
Tony humility and generosity inspired us all: young and old, parishioners, business people, politicians, personalities and especially the people who lined the roads from Letterkenny to Ballydehob. He has been an inspiration, a beacon of light and hope to those who are sick and especially those with Motor Neuron Disease.
On this pilgrimage walk – what became his road to Golgotha – Tony’s sense of fun and humour was infectious and he would often say that laughter was the only thing that made him feel normal.
As Declan, Charlie and myself recalled stories from the seminary, holidays and other events, Tony at this stage without a voice could still fill the house with his laughter.
At Tony’s Book Launch this packed Church both laughed and cried as Tony’s smile and humour filled this space even as he himself was able to joke about the next time he would be wheeled up the aisle – would be in a coffin.
In UCD as he was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate, he joked about his being the longest funeral in history.
Walk while you can
Dance while you can
Write while you can
Talk while you can
Knit while you can (he found that hilarious!)
Pray while you can …where not these the ways that Tony was inviting us to join him and LIVE this beautiful but fragile gift of life to the full.
As Jesus said ‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full’
Tony’s passion to ‘live life to the full’ was to make real the all-embracing, compassionate love of God.
Tony translated the language of the Church and faith and throughout his life. In health and in sickness he mediated God’s meaning for us.
Tony’s thinking and vision for the Christian community went beyond everyday things to imagine the bigger picture.
Tony reflected intelligently on the lives of the people he served –he was passionate about people and he wanted to provide insights that gave hope so that the Christian community could think and act differently.
In the same way that Tony did not want to be defined by his illness he did not want people to be identified by their life choices. For anyone who may feel hurt, excluded and unloved by the Church please reflect on the Gospel of Jesus shared by Tony. He passionately wanted to assure all peoples of the love that Jesus Christ has for them and that we each are a rainbow of this love in the world.
The Homily of Tony’s life is an inclusive – all embracing, compassionate God who is close to all.
From his student days he was inspired by the lives of Oscar Romero and Thomas Merton, by his spiritual directors Martin Rafferty and Michael Paul Gallagher SJ.
Before taking up his appointment here in Mount Merrion – Tony fulfilled a wish and spent a number of months reflecting on the life and writings of Merton in the Abbey of Gethsemani.
The prayer of Thomas Merton gave him great hope and encouragement:
‘Therefore I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone’.
Thankfully Tony’s was never alone – although knowing Tony he would have liked to escape many times!!
Tony was for us a Prophet of Hope – a prophet of hope who enthusiastically shared with us his love of Jesus of Nazareth.
This time of disease became a time of grace for Tony and each one of you and countless others nourished Tony by your great kindness and persistent love.
I know that Tony was overwhelmed by your tenderness and thoughtfulness and that became his most powerful medicine.
He was so blessed in you his friends – extraordinary people who have done extraordinary things to help him reach his destination.
I can only remind you what he himself said: ‘I will pray for you’
Your love and his love is not lost in his death.
What’s the point of putting so much love, care and all your efforts to accompany Tony on his pilgrimage walk if it all ends in death.
This disease may have destroyed his body – death may have broken the bonds of skin and flesh – death cannot break the bond of love.
The God who created Tony, who rejoiced with him on the good days, cried with Tony in this sickness, who was visible in Tony’s broken body is the same God who has restored Tony to the fullness of life, at the core of his love.
Our love for Tony is stronger than death.
Yes death is real – but the Gospel stories also insist that resurrection is a reality. The reality of everlasting love.
To Tony’s mother Patricia, David, Kieran and Pat, Nicky and Michelle, all the nieces and nephews – I hope you feel the love and care of everyone here today and last night – in this time of great loss for you. Thank you Pat for changing from being little brother to big brother and managing all Tony’s affairs.
Jesus was able to say to Mary in the Gospel ‘Do not cling to me’ Tony would want us to LIVE WHILE YOU CAN….he would not want us to cling to him. Once Tony put his mind to something…there was no looking back!
It was Tony’s wish that the following words would be his final word on the recent documentary of Walk While You Can – they were not included – so it’s appropriate to use them today:
They are from: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done;
it is a far far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.
And finally – our own Dermot Lane recently said to me tell:
Tell Tony – the priests of Dublin are proud of him,
Tell Tony – all the people are proud of him.
Do you agree – let’s blast heaven with an almighty clap!” ENDS
Fr John Kelly
Director of Pastoral Care, Tallaght University Hospital