Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Fr Tom Stack: Rite and Reason, Irish Times, 27 February

At the funeral home, standing before the open coffin of Seán Mac Reamoinn, his friend, musician and former RTÉ producer Tony McMahon leaned towards me and pronounced: "There are no words to describe this man." And of course he was right, as I suspect all of you who knew Seán would agree. Certainly I'm not going to attempt that futile task.

Interestingly, Seán himself, veteran funeral-goer that he was, spoke vehemently to me on more than one occasion of his aversion to panegyrics, insisting that instead, the Gospel and only that should be proclaimed on such occasions.So I intend to follow his instruction on the matter. And anyway, anything I could say would be nothing less than cliches and limp truisms, to this congregation, so many of whom knew him so well.

I must admit to the sneaking thought, which of course quickly perished, that maybe Seán delivered himself against eulogies, sensing that no one could do him justice at his own obsequies and that that, at least subliminally, was the real ground for his opposition to funeral panegyrics in principle! But on this moot point, I opt for the safe and healthy Christian axiom: Nil, nisi bonum de mortuis.

But whatever one says or does not say about Seán, it is hardly a truism to say that he believed that the Christian vision of life was something well worthwhile. Seán used to say that mystery is not something about which we can know nothing. It is rather something of which we can never know everything. The recognition of mystery helps us moreover to avoid placing false limits or boundaries on reality. As Patrick Kavanagh's poem Hero reminds us: "They had the wrong ideas of God, who once all known, becomes ridiculous."

Issuing from this inclusive, mystery-inflected world view, Seán embraced the pivotal mystery of what we call the Incarnation: embraced it with gusto, but also with acuity. For the Christian, the Incarnation of the Word ushers in a new world of hope and meaning. The mystery of the Christian God, identifying totally with our flesh, becomes part of our human condition: enters into our own frailty and fallibility even, and shares our plight as well as our destiny, in the authentic humanity of the person of Jesus Christ.

This truth it is possible for Christians to assimilate, though imperfectly, through the gift of religious faith. That in turn enables the Christian, earthbound and restricted as we may be, to grasp and esteem the world of ritual and symbol; the world of what we call sacramental signs - pre-eminently embodied in the sharing of the Eucharist. And that to my mind was Seán's cherished attachment; the love of his Christian life.

I am reminded of an occasion in Rome which illustrates Seán's uncanny predisposition towards the celebration of Eucharist. One Sunday evening he and I were part of a small group invited to a friend's apartment for dinner. It was during an international Synod which both of us as journalists, in different capacities, were covering for RTÉ. Seán had being interviewing leading theological personalities all morning and for that reason was unable to attend Mass.

On arrival at our venue he was distinctly uneasy and suddenly declared "we have among us a 'clerk in Holy Orders' (referring to myself) so perhaps we might have a brief Eucharist before dinner". At that the hostess duly produced a Bible, but I demurred pleading that without a missal I could not trust myself to recite from memory the essential Eucharistic Prayer. With a growl of indignation, Seán grabbed an empty brown paper bag nearby (in which he had brought a bottle of wine), tore it asunder and proceeded to write out verbatim, the entire text of the Third Eucharistic Prayer which he then thrust at me with disdain for my perceived professional incompetence and tartly addressed me as follows "now reverend sir, please begin!".

May Seán, gifted soul, irrepressible and irresistible, rest in peace as he departs our company ar shlí na firinne. Amen.

Mgr Tom Stack is parish priest at Milltown in Dublin. He celebrated Seán Mac Reamoinn's funeral Mass.

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