Felicity MacDermot (Funeral Mass Homily)

I am just home from the Funeral Mass for Felicity MacDermot.  It was celebrated in St Aidan’s Church, Monasteraden and a large congregation was present,  Concelebrants included Bishop Thomas Flynn, (Bishop Emeritus of Achonry), Monsignor John Doherty (formerly served in Monasteraden and in the Cathedral as Curate and Administrator), Fr Dan O’Mahony, Cloonacool and the two serving priests in Ballaghaderreen Parish (of which Monasteraden in a part), Fr Joseph Gavigan and Fr Martin Henry.  I had been asked a few weeks ago to celebrate the Mass in the event of Felicity’s death and was honoured to do so.

Many of Felicity’s family and friends took part in the Liturgy and were involved in reading from the Scriptures, bringing forward the offertory gifts (including a Bible that belonged to her late husband), the Prayers of The Faithful and, her grand-niece Siobhan, assisted with the distribution of Holy Communion.  A eulogy was given.  The local choir and guests provided the music.  The Principal Teacher in the local primary school, Ms Ann Moriarty, played a solo violin piece “Miss MacDermot” by O’Carolan.

Below are the words shared during the homily at the Mass – the Gospel text was the story of the Annunciation.

I can’t pretend today to know much about the history of Felicity’s life.  That is not her fault for, on occasion, she’d tell me something about her father and mother or her native place.  She’d tell me things about Monasteraden and Coolavin, about reliquaries and relics, about former bishops of Achonry and priests who stood where I stood before me.  She had, of course, a purpose in her telling since she valued words a great deal and was agile in their usage and careful in their allotment!  Fewer was often better but the intention was to get a message across.  The fact that I can’t go into detail reflects more on the hearer than the speaker.  That said, I enjoyed listening to her and, truth told, valued what I heard.  It’s just that history, like many other things, isn’t one of my strong points.  Felicity valued the message – the story received, lived and shaped, and to be passed on.  To that end, her nephews and nieces were and remain a central part of her life.  For the story of your family, heard by her, lived and shaped by her, is today left at your feet, embedded in your hearts that you too may take it, shape it and pass it on.  Of this, I’m sure – she’d want nothing less and ask nothing more.

Death came to Felicity on Monday morning, March 26th and given that March 25th fell on a Sunday this year, the celebration of the Solemnity of the Annunciation was transferred to the Monday.  She died on the day the Church celebrated Mary’s “Yes”.  It was a difficult yes, insofar as it meant change of a life plan, the risk of wagging tongues and the uncertainty of motherhood at a young age.  Mary found that “yes” nonetheless and, having found it, never went back.  It was a yes to the unknown that is rooted in Faith.  Aware of her Jewish story, Mary knew that the Messiah had to come and that whatever that involved could not and should not be held back.  If her part in that “coming”, involved self-sacrifice and uncertainty, then so be it.  “Amen – let what you have said, be done”.

There’s one word in that Gospel passage that has struck me this year, possibly in a way it never did before.  Might it be something to do with visiting Felicity in hospital and knowing that she couldn’t speak and  knowing, that in our communication, there would be no verbal response?  I really don’t know.  The word I’m thinking of is the word “Listen”!  Gabriel used it, in a gentle way, to let Mary know there were words to be spoken and response would be needed.  It was, in some ways, a call to reflection.  Mary listened, as she often did in the Scriptures, and pondered in her heart.  I think it likely there was a fair degree of pondering in Felicity’s life, not least in the past few weeks since the visitation of illness.  What did she hear?

She heard of course the voices of doctors and nurses as they tended to her.  She heard and recognised the familiar voices of family and friends – neigbours from Monasteraden – and all who called to see her.  She responded, to the end, with a beaming smile.  She heard prayers being offered, “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world ….. “, she heard the great words of absolution “through the ministry of the church may he grant you pardon and peace …” she heard other patients and their visitors.  She listened, reflected and, I feel certain, responded.  There was, I’m sure, a smile here – a tear there – but always response.

How can I be so sure she “listened”?  I think it’s something to do with the fact she always seemed to listen to the goings on around her, read what we call “the signs of the times” and respond.  In recent days I came across a number of letters she wrote to the national newspapers, especially the Irish Times and Irish Independent.  The topics were varied – wondering why the government was seeking tenders, from other countries, for the construction of polling booths for elections.  She suggested children in woodwork classes or those on FÁS training programmes could easily make these but wondered if this solution were “too simple”?  I’d say she felt Clogher Hall could produce as good a polling booth as Copenhagen!  Another spoke about Bishop Eamonn Casey and the endless tirade of articles and comments around his life.  She wondered was there any room to acknowledge the good he had done, not least with young emigrants in London?  Again, a listening that brought with it a willingness to speak against popular opinion.  She had a lovely line about rural transport, in another letter, and about matrons running hospitals in which they also worked.  She concluded, “of course that was when we were a people not an economy”.  She wrote about seagulls and how she missed their sound when her neighbours cut the silage.  For a while she didn’t realise what she was missing in the silence but then it dawned – the gulls were gone.  She blamed the mink!  Yes, Felicity listened and responded.

Perhaps they’re the two words we might take from her Funeral Mass today – listen and respond.  Listen to what’s said, to what’s happening – locally and globally – and respond.  She had a lovely way of responding.  I remember one Sunday after Mass, she shook my hand in the porch, smiled and said “you’re the third glorious mystery”.  I wasn’t expecting that and I think I was at her gate on the way back to Ballagh when I realised it was the “descent of the Holy Spirit”.  She was saying to me she heard what I said, felt it was worth saying and wanted me to know that.  Yes, she had a lovely way of responding.

I started off by saying I can’t claim much knowledge of Felicity’s history but I have an awareness of her geography.  Her geography was rooted in Coolavin, Monasteraden and South Sligo.  She loved this place and, of that love, much was born.  How many schemes were secured with her signature?  How many ideas now clearly visible were born of her imagination?  How many dreams, now realised, are the direct fruits of her energy and commitment?  We need not travel far, in any direction, from this church to find reminders of her life.  Her geography is here.  We are the men, women and children of that geography and today – in her memory, we seek to make it our own, to live in it, respect it, be shaped by it, add shape to it and hand it on to those younger and yet to be born. Her Geography was steeped in and enriched by her love for the world, its people and above all its Creator.  All of these must be included in our co-ordinates of being as we journey onwards from this moment.

If she thought, even once, that I was the third Glorious mystery – then it’s fair to say she continually spanned the mysteries.  There’s a bit of the first Joyful here today – Annunciation, a lot of the second, as she looked out for people in the Visitation and certainly there were many occasions of Presentation in the Temple and Finding in the Temple.  Yes, her life dipped into the sorrowful mysteries too – losing her husband over thirty years ago, she carried her cross and I suspect knew moments of pain and sorrow in the garden of life but today there’s a Fourth Glorious mystery to rejoice in and draw comfort from – a moment of Assumption, being brought home and given a   well-earned place in God’s presence.

Listen!  You have won God’s favour.

May she rest in peace.

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