I celebrated Mass on Saturday June 9th, with a number of other priests and a packed church in Monasteraden to pray for Philip Corcoran who died earlier in the week and to offer some little consolation to his wife, daughters, mother, brother, sisters, their families and Philip’s many friends from home, Lettekenny, Belmullet, Blacksod and many other places who were present. The music was lovely, provided by Maureen O’Dowd, John Dwyer and Barry Flannery. Steve Wickham (Waterboys) also joined in. Philip’s daughters read from Scripture with a conviction that was heart warming and uplifting. His family and friends were hugely involved in the Liturgy and, I think it fair to say, he himself was the author of much of what took place. I tried to say that at the beginning of the Mass – that in a time when Faith may be questioned, even abandoned by some, Philip’s adherence to it and the comfort received from it, spoke volumes.
I know that Philip read this blog – he even shared some of its content with friends – and I know that Anne Marie and her daughters check in from time to time. So also, members of Philip’s Sligo family. I told Anne Marie I’d try to put the words shared today here and she said “I’d like that”. So, with her blessing and in memory of Philip, I will try to recall the words spoken. They might not be exactly as used today – maybe a bit added or a bit missing – but I think the overall message will remain.
When we were in Maynooth there was a man there known as “Professor Xerox” as he used look after photocopying for staff and students. He was a holy and devout man who, later in life, became a priest. There was a concert one time in the college and one of the sketches involved a student dressing as Paddy but in female form! He was being interviewed about the fact that he had been voted “Miss Universal Xerox” for 1930, 1931 and 1933 – The interviewer asked what happened in 1932 to which Paddy’s character replied “I didn’t enter that year. That was the year of the Eucharistic Congress”!! So it was and so it is again in 2012.
The Eucharistic Congress focuses attention on the Body of Christ, broken and glorified. That body was broken also in Philip’s illness and so too the glory of God was clearly visible to all who journeyed with Philip over the past two years and more. In his brokenness he revealed his Faith with a gentle reassurance that he was not alone. Body broken and glorified, Eucharistic Congress.
There will be moments during the week when the Blessed Sacrament will be adored and honoured as it is carried aloft or placed in an adoration space in the Monstrance. It strikes me there was such a procession yesterday as Phil’s funeral traced its way from Letterkenny to Monasteraden. Along the way, I have no doubt many cars slowed down or pulled in to allow the funeral pass. Strangers blessed themselves along the way and, in the blessing, a prayer was offered for the one in the coffin and those in the cars following. Respect, reverence for the Body of Christ. The hearse was driven back to Lettekenny last night – a Mayo hearse will take him the rest of his journey today – and that hearse going home last night was just another car on the road. No reverence required – no longer a procession, no longer giving witness to the life and death of one who mattered much.
Philip’s body was truly broken through Motor Neurone Disease but in that brokenness he displayed an inner strength and glory that, I suspect, even those closest to him may not have fully recognised or identified before. Anne Marie, with her daughters Leigh Ann and Ciara, carried that body with Eucharistic reverence, so too Mary “his mother”, Michéal his brother and his sisters Marie and Noreen. That reverential carrying was also taken care of by the Monaghan family, the many friends and colleagues of Philip and the staff in the Hospice and hospitals that attended to Philip’s needs. Equally all of you who offered a quiet prayer, lit a candle or cried a tear in his name – saddened by his illness and feeling sorrow for his family. This too is Eucharistic Congress!
The Gospel found its voice too during Philip’s illness. Those words written on whiteboard, in emails and texts and latterly on the iPad were truly made sacred since each word was a labour, each letter carefully selected to relay a message that was important and needed to be remembered. He put everything he had by way of intellect and intent into each word and, I think, this calls us to a respect for the spoken and written word. It calls us to a reverence for words and a determination not to cheapen them through carelessness. Words can be cheapened at times by loose talk about people, hard words etc. Philip reminds us of the sacredness of words, the gift that is words and, as such, the need for lasting respect and reverence. Philip’s determination to express his thoughts and wishes is echoed in the Gospel where the Lord too, poured all he was into every word to leave us a lasting message around which to map our journey.
Today’s piece of that Gospel story takes us to the days following Jesus’ death. The apostles are at a loss and feel they can go back to where they were. “I’m going fishing”, said Peter and the others replied “We’ll come with you”. They thought they could go back to where they were but in reality they couldn’t. Life would never be the same again. Neither will it be the same for you Anne Marie or for your girls. Neither will it be the same for Philip’s mother, brother or sisters. There’s no point in saying it will. Life will never be the same again and yet, there may well be a real need to go back to what you were doing. Back to being a nurse, a student, a lover of diving – all those things you did before. You may need, you DO need to get back to them. Into them will come Jesus, just as surely as he came into this Gospel moment. He will bring his own healing at his own time. He will reveal himself to you in the doing of the ordinary. They ultimately recognised him in the breaking of bread – the third revelation of himself after “rising from the dead”. “Have you caught anything friends?” – he met them where they were and in the emptiness of their nets they found him again and found his peace – their peace and direction.
Philip too will reveal himself to you all. In a word, a song, a joke, a memory. In a sunrise near Faulmore or Blacksod, a swan on Lough Gara or maybe a nurse’s uniform in Letterkenny. These moments come. I went home last night to our house. I don’t go there much anymore since my parents died. I wanted to get the vestment I wore on my Ordination Day. It’s been hanging in the wardrobe in my old bedroom. The house was empty but as I put my foot on the first step of the stairs I heard my mother say “Vincent, is that you?” I didn’t hear a voice thundering through the house. It was in my head but very real. The tone was hers and, in that tone, she lived again. She revealed herself to me and I knew she is part of all that’s going on in my life. I’m certain there will be moments like that for all of you too. Philip spoke to me in a recent text of possible sound of “footsteps on a distant shore”. These sounds are there and through them and in many ways, he will let you know he is part of your lives.
I have known Philip all my life, I suppose, but it’s only in the past few months I really got to know him. It has been a privilege and a very humbling experience. Much of what I might talk about, as priest, he lived before my eyes – before our eyes and I’m glad to have shared something of that. I was glad too, to be with you the other night in the Hospice. They are amazing places – blessed places and though you gave him hospice in his own kitchen at home, the time had come for that extra bit of help. It was great to see so many of you there with him. What a way to die, surrounded by those loved most and who love you most. Think of Syria, a village like ours being sealed off and people literally massacred. What an awful experience – no love, dignity or respect. Contrast that with Philip and the care you gave him. I saw you, Ciara, moisten his lips. I saw you all reach out to him and he knew that touch. What a consolation you were to him. He died at peace. May he continue to rest in that peace.
I am convinced Christ was present among you and present to Philip when most needed.