Homily for the funeral Mass of Fr. Noel O’Connor, SAC, 16th May 2019.
A very warm welcome to our Community chapel, we gather here several times daily to pray and to celebrate Mass. We are gathered for our final Mass in Noel’s presence here on earth.
Today we celebrate his life, a life well lived; and we celebrate his death, which he went to with faith and trust; in this our funeral Mass. The Mass is the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ and is the bedrock of our Catholic faith, and it is right that we celebrate today our Mass of thanksgiving for Noel, for his person, for his life and for all he was to us and for others. We had a gathering in Noel’s presence in our chapel in Dundrum on Tuesday evening and I was struck by the sharing of Noel’s brothers and sisters and how the words “thank you Noel”, were repeated time and again.
Noel was born on 17th December 1952 into a faith-filled family and faith was to be central to him and to his life. What can I say about Noel? Well, lots, as all of us who are gathered here could say about him. Yesterday Noel’s sister Anna was telling her sister Rachel of the gathering in Dundrum on Tuesday and she said, with a smile, “we canonized Noel last night”, and as we all smiled, she added “we knew the complete Noel, faults and all”; as did we his Pallottine family. A few weeks ago a mutual friend on hearing that Noel was not well sent me an e-mail and he wrote “Noel is a living saint as far as we were concerned even though he has his faults but he was a true missionary”, and there is truth in this affirmation, Noel was saintly, however there was the lived day to day life of family and of life in the Pallottine community with his faults and failings. If I were to pull both of these together, I would summarize and say Noel was a man of Faith. He had a deep, unshakeable, unbreakable faith in God. He sought God everywhere. He had a great appetite for the things of God, and Noel’s faith deepened, matured and was refined by suffering, his own, and that of others, but it did not waver. In his six years of living with brain cancer he lived by faith. We lived with him, and he never complained, never ever, occasionally he would wince at loud noises, or banging doors, because he had a sore head after the surgeries, but no complaints.
Noel’s faith was his belief in God, his continuous openness to God, his search for God – in prayer, in the Word of God, in the various Church movements in which he participated over the years, in the Sacraments, and in all of life and ministry he sought God. Noel’s faith in God morphed into knowledge that God is; God is person; God was life giving to him and with him. It is true to say that faith is a gift, but Noel ‘worked on it’ and sought an ever-deeper faith; and all of us learnt from that.
Secondly Noel was a man of integrity, of great personal integrity and probity, and this was shown in how he related to others and to life situations. We would joke about Noel being ‘a bit of an operator’ and a ‘bit of a gangster’, and he could be, but always what he looked for was for others, and never for Noel himself.
Thirdly in Noel’s life there were no half measures, he gave all, and in a sense he burnt himself out in a life of service and of hard work.
The readings chosen for today’s funeral Mass speak to us of Noel and his Christian life. The first reading from the Old Testament, from the Book of Wisdom was read by his niece Lisa; it is a reading that we have heard so often at funerals, but what is expressed in it is so true of Noel. The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God; they did appear to die, their going looked like a disaster … but they are in peace … their hope was rich with immortality … they were tried by suffering, tried like gold in a furnace, purified, and accepted by God. Yes, it is true that Noel was too young to die, too strong to die, but as the reading affirms his going from us is not annihilation and he is in peace.
The Psalm was Lay Your hand gently upon us O Lord, a prayer of petition and trust sung beautifully by Rachel.
The second reading read by Noel’s niece Ashling is from chapter 8 of St Paul’s letter to the Romans, a passage that Noel loved. St Paul writes of his own experience, of the unbreakable bond between him and Jesus Christ, which Noel hungered for in life and which became his experience and his conviction, nothing could, or did, separate him from God in Jesus Christ.
The Gospel reading is from Chapter 5 of the Gospel of St Matthew, the beatitudes, with the repetition ‘blessed are … happy are … the’; and if you go through them one by one then you can tick them off, one by one, because Noel modelled himself on the heart of Jesus and here we have expressed the heart of Jesus; and Noel lived these, imperfectly, but he lived them. ‘Happy are the poor in spirit’ and Noel was poor in spirit; happy the gentle, Noel was gentle, happy those who mourn … happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right … happy the merciful … happy the pure in heart … happy the peacemakers … happy are you who are persecuted in the cause of right … Noel lived these, imperfectly, but he lived them, he hungered for justice, he was merciful and compassionate, Noel had a pure heart all through life, Noel was a peacemaker, in his family and certainly in our Pallottine community, Noel strove for what is right.
Noel has left a legacy, though not a whole lot of material goods because he had very little and what is there probably came from others anyway – he would go away for a few days to visit one of the family and take with him a little plastic bag and arrive back with perhaps a new jacket, shirts, a jumper, trousers and more. His legacy to us is the lived life of a man of faith and what faith in God becomes in a lived life. His legacy is the good which lives on and the happy and grateful memories that are lasting.
To us Pallottines his legacy is his commitment to and his dedication to our Pallottine community and to our work and life. JJ will speak to us later of what he left to his family.
We have been overwhelmed with the messages we have received in these days, text messages, WhatsApp messages, e-mails, phone calls and the assurance that there are many masses being celebrated for Noel all around the world. There will be a memorial Mass in Wyandotte, Michigan, on Friday 24th May at 7pm; perhaps we can join spiritually with those gathered there that day.
Noel was born on 17th December 1952 and was baptised on the 20th. He was confirmed on 2nd May 1965. He entered our Pallottine community as a postulant in September 1967, he made his first Pallottine consecration on 12th September 1974, his perpetual consecration on 4th June 1977 and was ordained deacon shortly afterwards and was ordained to the priesthood on 10th June 1978. He died on 13th May; the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, and his brother Tom who arrived a few short minutes after Noel had died commented how appropriate it was that he die on that feast day as his mother had a great devotion to Our Lady of Fatima.
Noel was a faithful missionary disciple; may he enjoy the eternal presence of God.
Fr Derry Murphy, SAC.