FUNERAL MASS FOR CARDINAL DESMOND CONNELL
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Pro-Cathedral, 24th February 2017
We come to bid our farewell in this earthly life to Cardinal Desmond Connell, who passed to eternal life in these days. God gave him the gift of a long life: he died already in his 91st year of age, of which he was a priest for almost 65 years, a bishop for almost 29 years and a cardinal for 16 years, that anniversary falling on the very day of his death.
We come here to this Pro-Cathedral in which he was ordained bishop and where he celebrated the major Christian feasts and preached the word of God as Bishop and Shepherd of this flock. After this Mass he will be brought to his final earthly resting place in the vaults of this Pro-Cathedral.
What is a bishop? The Second Vatican Council in its Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, notes that:
“Among the principal duties of bishops, the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. Bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ…”
Today a Bishop is called to carry out so many functions that it could easily be overlooked that the Bishop is in the first place a preacher and a teacher of the word of God. The centre of this Archdiocese of Dublin is not Archbishop’s House nor the Diocesan Offices. It is this Cathedral and especially this altar where the Bishop leads the celebration of the Eucharist and this Chair or Cathedra which is the symbol of the teaching role of the bishop.
Cardinal Connell when asked about his role and his aspirations always replied in the first instance that his role was that of preaching Jesus Christ and of drawing people to the person of Jesus and helping them appreciate how faith in Jesus brings deep fulfilment in our lives. He was an untiring preacher. He wrote over 20 Pastoral Letters, all focussed on what is most central in the life of a Christian and of the Christian community.
To preach Christ you must know Christ. The preacher must first be the disciple. Cardinal Connell chose as his Episcopal Motto Secundum Verbum Tuum, the powerful words of Mary which display what true discipleship means.
In many ways, one could see in Cardinal Connell something of those two disciples we heard of on the road to Emmaus whose hearts began to burn with wonder as Jesus slowly unfolded for them the mystery of salvation and as they begin to understand Jesus ever more deeply. Cardinal Connell was a man of prayer, that deep prayer which sought to understand the profundity of the mystery of God’s love which is revealed in Jesus Christ. In prayer we seek to understand Jesus and to identify ourselves with Jesus.
His prayer and reflection were like that of the Emmaus disciples in another way. The deeper we enter into the mystery of the love of God, the deeper our awareness becomes that this is not the fruit just of scholarship and personal giftedness: it is Christ alone who authentically opens the scriptures for us. It is only when we commune with Christ that he breaks down the barriers of our obstinacy and the limits our human understanding. We do not proclaim a Jesus of our own making or liking: we come to understand Jesus in the measure in which we abandon ourselves and allow the love of God to burst into our hearts and change our thoughts and our actions, our attitudes and our mentality.
And we can go one step further in our comparison with the Emmaus disciples: Cardinal Connell also realised in his personal life and in his teaching that we only come to recognise Jesus fully when we sit with the Lord and allow him to break the bread of the Eucharist for us and to nourish us into divine life itself. Eucharist was central in the Cardinal’s teaching and Eucharist was central in his life.
The fact that so many priests are with us this morning, or were here yesterday evening, is a sign of the respect and affection that priests had for the Cardinal and the affection he had for priests. But that again brings us back to the centrality of the Eucharist in his life. His love for priests sprang from his deep respect for those whose calling and ministry it is to celebrate the Eucharist and to bring the Eucharist as nourishment for his flock. His bond of friendship with priests was not just comradery: it was the fruit of that special bond with one another which is forged through the gift of Eucharist which builds up the Church.
Many people were surprised when Pope Francis in his first interview as Pope was asked by the interviewer: “Who are you? Who really is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” and the Pope without hesitation answered: “I am a sinner”. The interviewer thinking perhaps that this was something the Pope felt he had to say, asked the question again; but Pope Francis responded even more emphatically: “Yes, that is the correct answer, I am a sinner”.
The follower of Jesus Christ can never feel that he or she can sit back satisfied that they have reached perfection in life or say that they have done enough and can now leave it at that. Faith is a constant struggle. It is not that the Christian should feel oppressed by a God who demands too much. Christianity is not a faith of oppression. Faith in Jesus Christ is more like the struggle of knowing a loved one and experiencing each day the struggle between the richness of that love and the realisation of our own failings and inadequacies.
Cardinal Connell struggled in his thought and in his seeking for Jesus. At times he was troubled by a sense inadequacy in his prayer life, though he would put most of us to shame in comparison. He made mistakes in his decisions and he struggled with the consequences. He never sought ecclesiastical office but when called to office he gave his best. He achieved much, not for himself, but in response to the charge that he was given by the Lord of leading the Church of Jesus Christ in Dublin in his time.
On the day on which I succeeded him, I used words about Cardinal Connell which Pope John Paul I had used about his predecessor Paul VI. He spoke of how Pope Paul had shown us: “how to love, how to serve, how to labour and to suffer for the Church of Christ”.
Cardinal Connell became Archbishop at a difficult time in this diocese. Many comments in these days noted that he was slow to recognise the extent of the problem of child sexual abuse by priests. It is not enough to make that comment now from a distance. It must be said that he found himself surrounded by a culture and at times by advisors who were slow and perhaps even unwilling to recognise both the extent of the problem and the enormous hurt that had been done to children, a hurt they still carry with them. That hurt has still to be fully recognised; that wound cannot be consigned to past history. For victims it still remains.
It is also true that it was Cardinal Connell who was the one who finally began to realise the extent of the abuse and the extent of the damage done to children and with difficulty began to drag out information which some were still reluctant to share.
He must be remembered as the one who established the child protection service in this diocese, which was the beginning of a new culture which has now, thank God, been widely accepted and welcomed. But here there is never room for complacency. No one more than Pope Francis constantly puts us on warning – whether we like it or not – of the perennial dangers of a closed clerical culture.
Cardinal Connell is remembered by many as an academic and a speculative philosopher. But we have to remember that his philosophical ability was also constantly penetrated and challenged and made reality by his deep faith. He did not just talk about justice: he felt the needs and responded to the needs of the poor, of travellers, of refugees, of the homeless and of victims of addiction and of HIV aids. He felt those needs not just in an abstract way. He was not a politician or a vote seeker. He may have been at times insensitive in things he said, but not out of malice. He was criticized for being at times less than diplomatic, just as I am criticised by being over diplomatic.
As I stand now before the mortal remains of Cardinal Desmond Connell, what do I say? Let me come back to where I started. “Among the principal duties of bishops, the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ…” These are words which go beyond any individual. Most of the Bishop of Ireland are here this morning. We have representatives of every dimension of Catholic life in Dublin.
Let me say this. Most of us represent generations that are past. Cardinal Connell was born 90 years ago; he became a bishop almost 30 years ago. I am his successor now for thirteen years. I am already an old man. We no longer represent the challenges and changes of the world of the younger generations. The message of Jesus Christ, however, is always the same but always new and must be preached, lived and witnessed to with ever renewed vigour and sensitivity.
Cardinal Connell repeated, as I mentioned earlier, that his mission as leader of this Church in Dublin was that of “preaching Jesus Christ and of drawing people to the person of Jesus and helping them to appreciate how faith in Jesus brings us to deep fulfilment in our lives”. As we commit Cardinal Desmond Connell to his final resting place we must honour his memory by committing ourselves, as clergy religious and laity, to that mission of leading new disciples to Jesus Christ in today’s world, and in that of tomorrow and into a future full of many unknowns. Amen.