My Brother Bishops, your Grace, my Lord Bishop of Down and Dromore, representing the Church of Ireland, Dr Hutchinson representing the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, Rev Kerr, President of the Methodist Church. Priests and people of the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise and the Diocese of Down and Connor.
My Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ, I welcome you.
I think there is something deeply symbolic about his dying on the last day of the civil year and in the middle of the Christmas season. He has indeed finished the race of a full, happy, and illustrious life. He has died in the season when we celebrate the coming of the Son of God to be our Saviour. It was a season he loved and celebrated so well. This year that celebration was marred by the news of the fire which engulfed his former Cathedral of St. Mel’s in Longford. It was news which caused him great distress. St. Mel’s held a very special place in his heart. It was here he started his ministry as Bishop. It was here that he began work of liturgical renewal and reordering of Churches following the Second Vatican Council. We extend our support and good wishes to his successor Bishop Colm O’Reilly as he prepares to rebuild the Cathedral following the tragic fire.
Many of you will have received Cardinal Daly’s now famous annual Christmas cards. They are a work of art in their own right. They also tell us so much about the man: about his abiding faith in Jesus Christ – the same yesterday, today and forever; about his loving devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Those Christmas cards spoke of a man who loved art and beauty, prayer and poetry, especially religious poetry, as well as Holy Scripture.
We are here today to pay our respects to a disciple of Christ who worked and prayed tirelessly for mutual understanding, peace and reconciliation. His support for the noble vocation of politics is well known. Today, at the beginning of a New Year, we renew our encouragement to those who serve the public good in the political arena. The hopes and dreams of so many depend on you. Remain steadfast in the search for a brighter future for all. Remember the distance you have already travelled together. Continue to work together to address social, economic and environmental challenges and thereby create the kind of country which Cardinal Daly and so many others yearned to see. I am certain that a reconciled, stable and sustainable future would be the best monument you could build to his memory.
What a consolation it is to welcome so many representatives from other Christian traditions here today. Your faith and friendship played an immense part in the development of Cardinal Daly’s own faith and ministry. From his earliest days in Loughuile he sought to understand the proud, confident tradition of his protestant neighbours. He knew instinctively that those who treasured the Word of God with such love and devotion, who professed Jesus Christ as Saviour with such conviction, shared a bond with Catholics that went much deeper than politics or nation. He never tired of reminding Catholics that ‘one cannot be authentically Christian or Catholic without the ecumenical spirit’. To be bound by the common bond of Baptism, he used to say, is to be related to a fellow Christian as sister and brother. As we take leave of our brother Cahal today, we rejoice in our common Christian conviction that, in the words of our Gospel reading, ‘whoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.’
It was his keen desire for eternal life that made Cardinal Daly so passionate in his commitment to the renewal of the Church initiated by the Second Vatican Council. The Council was an historic and momentous event which he attended as an advisor to his predecessor, the late Cardinal Conway. There his conviction that all the baptised share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission of Christ was given renewed energy and direction. In the three Dioceses where he served as Bishop the renewal set out by the Council became the dominant theme of his pastoral ministry and teaching. He set about establishing Diocesan Pastoral Councils and actively encouraged them at Parish level. He pioneered programmes of theological and spiritual formation for lay people in preparation for their increased participation in the liturgy, in catechesis and in administration. He established initiatives for young people and played a key role in developing a new national catechetical programme for Catholic schools. He was always anxious to ensure the effective renewal of the priesthood through initiatives of ongoing formation and fraternal support. He also had a very personal interest in the renewal and development of religious life. As many of the religious here today will testify, he was a regular visitor to the religious communities of his Dioceses. There he drew great strength from participation in the communal celebration of the Eucharist and the liturgy of the hours. I think he would have been very pleased with yesterday’s Evening Prayer in which so many women religious had leading parts.
Those who knew Cardinal Daly knew that he was never more content than when at prayer. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, his heart burned within him as he prayed the Scriptures and as he brought his lively intellect to the work of faith seeking understanding and understanding seeking faith.
In so many ways Cardinal Daly was ahead of his time. As early as 1973 he was working with other Christian leaders in the search for peace. A report which they prepared at that time set out principles for a non-violent way forward for the divided communities of Northern Ireland. Today its language bears a remarkable similarity to that of political agreements we have now. Cardinal Daly remained adamant always that justice, mutual respect and purely peaceful means were the only way forward. It was a source of considerable satisfaction for him later to see politicians take courageous risks for peace. As he would often pray from the psalms, ‘Mercy and faithfulness have met, justice and peace have embraced’. Our task today is to continue along the path of mercy and to tackle all remnants of sectarianism in our midst.
In his later years Cardinal Cahal was also prophetic in warning us of the importance of renewing our Christian commitment to the Minding of Planet Earth; what he would call our fragile and precarious home. This was rooted in his early interest as a seminarian in Maynooth in the Social Doctrine of the Church. It was something that would continue to animate his ministry and preaching throughout his life. It found expression in one of his most notable and enduring contributions to the work of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, the pastoral letter entitled The Work of Justice. Here he played a central role, as he did in so many of the publications of the Conference, in anticipating many of the social and economic challenges which would come to confront Ireland in an era of unprecedented change.
He was prophetic too in his appreciation of the contribution and role of the feminine in the life of the Church. Throughout his life he drew inspiration from his deep devotion to the Mother of God. He often noted that it was a woman Mary, whom the early Church celebrated in song as ‘The Highest Honour of Our Race’. He would always insist that every effort would be made to ensure a balance of gender on Pastoral Councils, Committees and in the leadership of prayer groups and pastoral projects. The image of the prayerful Madonna would always adorn his Christmas cards. He would often refer to Mary as ‘the woman wrapped in silence’, who carried the mysteries of the Lord in the depth of her heart. This was reflected in his particular appreciation of the role of female religious, especially women contemplatives in the life of the Church. He had a great devotion to St Bernadette and to the sanctuary at Lourdes. However, he had a particular devotion to St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She was the young contemplative who, although she never strayed from the grounds of her enclosed Carmel in Lisieux, is the patron Saint of the missions. She is the heavenly patroness of those who go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News, in season and out of season. It was in the life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux in particular, I believe, that Cahal Daly as a young priest found inspiration for his life of untiring apostolic activity rooted in deep, contemplative communion with the Lord and giver of all life.
Yes, Cardinal Cahal Daly was a prophetic, renewing and transforming figure in a time of immense change in the history of this island. But his mission would be misunderstood, his legacy misrepresented if it focused solely, or indeed principally on the social and political aspects of his work. Cardinal Cahal Daly was first and foremost a man of faith, a man of prayer, a man of God. He was consumed with the desire to know Jesus Christ, to embody his values and to make him known to others. He did this so that others might know the hope God’s call holds for them and for the whole world.
One of the Cardinal’s favourite scripture verses comes from the Acts of the Apostles. He quotes it more than once in his autobiography. He said it often gave him inspiration in times of difficulty. He gave it place of honour on his 2007 Christmas Card, the year of his 90th birthday. In his last will and testament he has directed that it be inscribed on his headstone.
It goes like this: ‘Life to me is not a thing to waste words on, provided that, when I finish my race, I shall have carried out the mission the Lord Jesus gave me – and that was to bear witness to the Good News of God’s grace.’ (Acts 20:24).
Those words come from the famous farewell speech of St. Paul to the Church at Ephesus. There Paul described how he came as a humble servant. He came to preach and to teach, to preach and teach people how to come to know God and his healing love. Cardinal Daly saw himself as having a similar vocation in life. Well, the great long race is over. His mission has been accomplished. His life is a challenge to each one of us. It challenges us to ask ourselves – to what do we bear witness? Is it the Good News of God’s healing and merciful love? His life challenges us to keep on running the race! It challenges us to continue carrying out our mission and to declare before all who will listen, the truth of God’s renewing presence and love.
In God’s providence, the life of this gentle, kindly, loyal and ever faithful shepherd of God’s flock, who sleeps before us in the peace of Christ, was a sure guide to God’s people on their pilgrim journey. He guided us with such certainty through the challenges and change of the post-Conciliar era, to the first decade of the new millennium. As we contemplate the manifold challenges which lie ahead for the pilgrim Church in the Ireland which he loved so dearly and served so generously, we would do well to draw strength from his tireless spirit and his boundless confidence. That confidence was not in his own power but in the power of God to do infinitely more than we can ask for or imagine.
Cardinal Daly would have been well aware that the next steps on that pilgrim journey for the Catholic Church in Ireland will be among the most critical and most challenging of its history. The abuse of children and its shameful mismanagement by those charged by God to protect his ‘little ones’, have wrought such damage on those who were abused. It has caused such justified anger and outrage on the part of the faithful and damaged trust so profoundly in the integrity of the leaders of the Church.
No-one can doubt the Catholic Church in Ireland is now at a defining moment in its history. The only way to authentic renewal is that of humble service to God’s people. The rebuilding of trust will entail making sure that children are safe at every moment and in every Church setting. It will require complete commitment to the path initiated by Cardinal Daly, of working with the civil authorities and whole parish communities to ensure best practice, cooperation and accountability in safeguarding children in all Church activities.
In the sadness of saying farewell to one who gave so much and who was loved by so many as Cardinal Daly, today’s liturgy speaks to us of hope. In the words of our first reading: ‘That is what I shall tell my heart, and so recover hope: the favours of the Lord are not all past, his kindnesses are not exhausted; every morning they are renewed; great is his faithfulness.’
In the Epilogue of his autobiography, Steps Along My Pilgrim Way, Cardinal Dalys leaves us with some compelling words of hope. ‘This is emphatically not a time for discouragement’, he says, ‘It is not a time for pessimism or fear about the future. The Holy Spirit has worked powerfully in the Church in our time, and continues to work mightily among the priests and lay persons who constitute the People of God. The fields are now ripening in harvest…. No one needs to save the Church because the Lord saves his Church, the Holy Spirit renews the Church constantly and always leads it back to the joy of its youth.’
As we now accompany our brother Cahal with our prayers on his journey to the eternal youth of the Church in heaven, we thank God for the gift of his long, generous and happy life. We renew our own hope in God’s promise to make all things new.
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.