MONTH’S MEMORY MASS FOR THE LATE TOMMY MAKEM
FRIDAY 31 AUGUST 2007
ST. PATRICK, CHURCH, KEADY
ARCHBISHOP SEÁN BRADY
I welcome you to this Month Memory Mass for the late great Tommy Makem.
At the Months Memory Mass we recall the memory of the person who has died. We sing his praises and remember his gifts. But I think that Tommy himself would be the first to remind us that on an occasion like this, we pray for the eternal rest – for the repose of the soul – of the person who has died.
Yet, many ask,
· What could prevent someone who has died from enjoying eternal rest?
· What could possibly keep perpetual light from shining upon the souls of the dead?
· What could possibly prevent them from resting in peace?
The answer – sins and sins alone is the only thing that keeps us separated from God. So, at this Mass we ask God to pardon Tommy all his sins; and to take away any debt of punishment that may yet remain to be paid.
Tommy Makem was a very gifted man – he had the gift of music and song in abundance. He was a Master of Kindness. He was always generous with his time, his talent and, most of all, he was kind with his good humour.
All of life is a journey, a journey of going back, going back home to our God and to our Creator. Because we are human, sometimes we grow tired and weary along the way. We need help to make our trail easier, to give us strength and to enable us to find meaning in life.
Tommy found meaning first of all in his faith, in his family and in his Irish heritage. He expressed that meaning in his stories and in his songs. Tommy was well aware of the great gift of faith in his life. He was thankful for that gift of faith and for the gift of music. He was thankful for the gift of music given to him by his parents, especially his mother, Sarah; a gift that was developed in Keady choir under the watchful eye of Canon Pentony.
Tommy Makem was grateful to God for his wife Mary and for his daughter Katie and for his three sons: Conor, Rory and Shane. That grateful heart made him a happy man. He expressed that happiness in his music and in his song and, in the process, he brought happiness to many others. That is why, at the great Irish Fest in Milwaukee two weeks ago, people stood in their thousands to bear their tribute to Tommy Makem – a tribute that was repeated on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at a festival that attracts some 90,000 patrons.
You see, deep in the depths of the human heart, there is this hunger for beauty and truth and love. The music and song and story of Tommy Makem went some way to satisfying that hunger but ultimately that hunger will only be satisfied fully in God.
Tommy Makem knew that and that is why, a couple of years ago, he spearheaded the efforts in his parish of Dover, New Hampshire, to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the building of the Church of St. Mary.
It was a church built by emigrants, for emigrants, from Keady and Armagh who simply could not, and would not, live their lives in a situation where they could not attend Sunday Mass. They so felt the need to be nourished with the Word of God and the Body of Christ and the Bread of Life that they simply were not prepared to carry on – no matter what the wages were – without being sustained by the Bread of Life. They were going to give it all up and come back home rather than do without the Mass. Luckily they did not have to do so. They built their Church, they got their priest and they stayed on.
Tommy was so impressed with the beauty and the truth and the love in that story that he composed a special Mass to commemorate that anniversary and to give praise to it. His grand-daughter was confirmed that weekend and it was a great celebration.
Singing, dancing, laughing and even weeping, all expressed the meaning of Tommy’s faith in God. In song and story he expressed his faith in God and in this goodness of other people, encouraging them to work together for peace and justice in the world. “He sang not to have a life of leisure” – his Parish Priest said at the funeral Mass, “but to give joy to people and to give them something that would strengthen their minds a little”.
He was once asked if he planned to retire. “Yes, of course” he said “I retire every night and in the morning I realise how lucky and privileged I am to be able to continue to do the things I love to do”. The Parish Priest told that one at his funeral and he went on to say. “They say they have choirs in Heaven and we can be sure that they make beautiful music there all the time”.
Tommy Makem did retire one last time on Wednesday the first day of August. When he woke up the next morning we can be sure that he found himself in Heaven and that he was all ready to join the heavenly choir and to be with his dear wife Mary and his mother and father, Sarah and Peter, and all who have preceded him on the journey of faith.
Embraced in God’s love, we can pray that Tommy Makem will continue to be lucky and privileged in Heaven. We can hope that he will be adding his deep baritone voice to sing with the saints throughout eternity. It is our prayer that Tommy will be able to do the things he loved to do all through his earthly journey with his music to bring joy and happiness to the lives of others.
If we desire to honour the man we admire, let us each try to live and care for one another as Tommy did. I believe that he followed the advice that St Augustine give us in the 4th century:
Love God first, then love your neighbour
St Augustine tells us that
· “many may sign themselves with the sign of the cross
· All may say Amen,
· Many may sing Alleluia,
· Others may come to church and line the walls of the basilicas
But there is nothing to distinguish the children of God from the children of evil
Except unselfish love
It means that we must love and reverence the God within ourselves and in each other and that is what Tommy Makem did when he used his talents of music and song on his journey of life.