Fr Colum McKeogh Funeral homily

Fr Colum McKeogh SMA

Homily preached by Fr John Dunne, SMA Vice Provincial Leader at the concelebrated Funeral Mass on Saturday, 4 June 2011 at 1pm in St Joseph’s SMA Parish Church, Wilton, Cork. Forty-one priests concelebrated the Mass which was attended by a large group of relatives and friends from Ballivor, led by their Parish Priest, Fr Oliver Devine. The former Ballivor PP, Fr Mattie Mullen, was also among the concelebrants. After the Mass, Fr McKeogh was buried in the adjoining SMA Community cemetery.

Isaiah 25: 6 – 9        Philippians 3:20 – 21      Matthew 5:1 – 12

The Scriptures are a valuable resource for us in all the events of life. For our funeral liturgy today they provide insight, consolation and challenge.

Our short second reading in a clear and concise way reminds us of the fundamental principle of our faith- our true homeland is in heaven and from there comes our Saviour. On this truth we build our lives as we lay claim to be church and missionary. What a powerful statement by St Paul to people like us, who from time to time tended to be caught up in all other sorts of dealings and pursuits; he reminds us “our mortal bodies will be transformed into copies of his glorious body”. This does not depend on us, but rather it is a gift of the Father who in Christ promised to transform the whole world. We are blessed to have this faith and we share the same faith as did Fr Colum.

The first reading today is a profound statement of hope. And we need hope to live lives that make a difference to our world while we are pilgrims on this earth for the lifespan given to each one of us. We need hope when we confront the reality of evil, of daily problems and personal struggles. Pope Benedict reminds us that “the dark door of time, of the future, has been opened wide. The one who has hope lives in a different way; he/she has been given a new life” [Spes Salvi].

In the song called the Power of Dreams we find echoed the same sentiment:

“Deep within each heart
There lies a magic spark
That lights the fire of our imagination
And since the dawn of man
The strength of just “I can”
Has brought together people of all nations.”           Celine Dion: The Power of Dreams

Benedict XVI further reminds us in his encyclical, Spes Salvi, that the “distinguishing feature of Christians is the fact that they have a future; it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know that their lives, as a whole, do not end in nothingness. Only when the future is sure as a positive reality does the present become bearable as well.”

Hope gives rise to questions and new perspectives; it impels us forward and generates a spirit of victory. Graced with the gift of hope we Christians move forward and not backwards, nor are we discouraged.

The Gospel passage chosen for this Mass is the familiar one of the Sermon on the mountain. The reading is relevant for this occasion as we celebrate the life of Fr Colum  we also allow him put before us a challenge – just as Jesus did for his hearers – to live up to our faith, to be people who take action to bring about a better world.  This reading signals the way forward by offering simple steps or principles by which we might live our lives in the years or the time given to us.

Here we find:

–        a call to be poor in spirit and just in all dealings with others.

–        an invitation to be gentle with all people and at all times.

–        a challenge to suffer for what is right even if it involves personal suffering.

–        an acceptance of the need  to mourn when death or loss comes our way.

–        a call to be merciful and forgiving, peacemakers rather than trouble makers .

–        and finally an invitation to rejoice and be grateful.

Our SMA Logo bears the words Faith, Hope and Charity. These were the last words on the lips of our founder. In different ways we can see that these same three virtues were important for Colum McKeogh. They are like the threads by which the story of his life was woven. An overview of the 50 years his priestly and missionary life can be given simply by saying that he worked in Nigeria from 1962 – 1984.  From there he went to South Africa where he worked for the next four years (1984 – 1988).  Then he took a sabbatical before launching into a new ministry of promotion and fundraising and he did work from 1990 until his retirement in 2006. But his life was richer and more complex than just outlining when and where he worked.

His faith was the driving force of his vocation and life as a missionary for 50 years. A little later this summer he would have celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his ordination. During those years he worked tirelessly in Nigeria, South Africa and Ireland in the belief that he was called by God and that he had something special to do. His committed missionary life reminds us that

“There’s nothing ordinary
In the living of each day
There’s a special part
Every one of us will play.”                 Celine Dion: The Power of Dreams

In Nigeria Colum was deeply committed to education and he was good at it. His faith gave him the will to be dedicated to education work in all its dimensions and his hope sustained him in difficult times as he saw a better future for those he taught. After his departure from Nigeria a teacher who had worked with him in Annunciation College, Irrua wrote to say “Fr McKeogh was a dedicated, hardworking and friendly Rev gentleman”. The different places where he worked are familiar to many of us. Today they have changed for the better and Fr Colum had a significant part to play in this as he lived out among the people the challenges outline in today’s Gospel.

In 1984 Colum, together with another member of his class, was asked to leave “his beloved Nigeria” and set up a new foundation in South Africa. In his letters to the Provincial around that time and when he accepted his appointment to the Homeland of Bophuthatswana he showed his real character and missionary spirit. He wrote, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity of being involved in the diversification of SMA mission. This change was to prove challenging and difficult for Colum, yet he generously and courageously undertook it with the same faith and hope that was part of his life.

With mission and SMA dear to his heart Colum undertook another challenging ministry here in Ireland from 1990 – 2005. He worked quietly and faithfully at promotion and fundraising. He did not see this as just collecting money for mission; he made good friends and found people to help him in different parts of Leinster during those years. Since he died we have had phone calls from many such people expressing their sympathy and sharing their stories of Colum.

Colum loved Parkstown where he was born and his native Ballivor. When it came to football and politics – and he always had a great interest in both – for Colum there was only one team and one party!

His retirement came due to failing health. He enjoyed the care given to him in his years at St Teresa’s, Blackrock Road where he was his usual quiet, independent and shy self. He was grateful and appreciative of the love he was shown. It was in that same spirit he quietly slipped home to the Lord on Thursday last, 2 June 20011.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.