Fr Tony Butler SMA – funeral homily

Fr Tony Butler SMA was laid to rest in the SMA community cemetery in Wilton, Cork following a Mass to celebrate his life in St Joseph’s SMA Church led by the SMA Provincial Leader, Fr Michael McCabe. The principal concelebrants were Bishop Kieran O’Reilly, SMA, of Killaloe diocese, Fr Dan Cashman [a classmate of Fr Tony] and Fr Tim Hazelwood [Parish Priest of Killeagh parish, Cloyne Diocese]. Assisting at the Altar was the Rev Marius O’Reilly [personal friend of Tony, of Cork & Ross diocese].

The Bishop of Cork & Ross, Rt Rev Dr John Buckley, DD, presided at the Mass and joined the family and community for refreshments afterwards which was greatly appreciated.

The Right Reverend Michael Mays, emeritus Church of Ireland Bishop of Limerick was also present for the celebration.

The chief mourners were Tony’s brother, Don, his sister-in-law, Marie; his nieces, Ruthe and Barbara; his nephew, David; his many friends, SMA confreres, and those present whose lives Tony touched through his ministry and who will miss him sorely. At the end of the Mass, Don spoke movingly of his brother and how he would be greatly missed by all the family.

Read OBITUARY here.

Introduction to the Mass

The death of any member of our community saddens us. Tony’s untimely death leaves us feeling particularly bereft and at a loss for words. But Tony did not want us to be sad. He explicitly requested that the Mass to be celebrated on the occasion his death would be the Mass of the Resurrection and that the Readings for the Mass would be those of the Solemnity of the Birth of St John the Baptist, the 24 June, his birthday. And he requested that the music for the Mass would be joyful instrumental Easter music rather than hymns

Fr McCabe delivered the following Homily

“In him the hope of blessed resurrection has dawned, that those saddened by the certainty of dying, might be consoled by the promise of immortality to come. Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.” (Preface for the Dead, no. 1)

In the face of death the Church confidently proclaims that God created each person for eternal life and that Jesus, the Son of God, by his death and resurrection, has broken the chains of sin and death that bound humanity.  All who are baptised in Christ share in Christ’s victory over death. As St Paul puts it in his Letter to the Romans: “When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised into his death; in other words when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.  If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection” (Rom 6:2-5).

Tony was born 73 years ago on 24 June 1941 – the Solemnity of John the Baptist – and, as I mentioned in the introduction of the Mass, he requested that the Readings for that Solemnity be used for this Mass. Tony also requested that there should be no eulogy on this occasion. To respect his request, I shall comment on the Readings, especially the Gospel, while relating them to Tony’s life and ministry as a missionary priest.  

The Gospel story of the birth of John focuses on the naming ceremony. Names were very important in the Bible. They revealed the essential character or destiny of the bearer. The name John means “God is gracious”. Tony’s second name was John and Tony showed how much it meant to him by always adding the initial J. to his signature.

 

 

The birth of John the Baptist signalled the dawn of a new era in God’s relationship with humanity, an era to be characterised by grace and not by law. It was God himself who gave John that name and it was revealed to his father Zachary in a vision (Luke 1:13). That this name was given to the child already before his birth shows that God has a purpose and plan for the child. The words of Isaiah in the first reading apply equally to John: The lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. … he formed me in the womb to be his servant (Isaiah 49:1, 5). In John we see that God already has a purpose for His children before they come into this world, and so the challenge of life is for them to discover this purpose and to be faithful to its demands.

 

 

The purpose for which God created us may require that we walk to a different drumbeat from that of other people. For John it required that he live in the desert far from normal human contact and civilisation. Tony’s calling also led him to walk to a different drumbeat from that of most people. Tony felt called to communicate the gracious love of God to everyone he met, but especially to those who felt themselves sidelined or rejected by society or by the Church. He personified God’s graciousness. Like Pope Francis Tony knew that “everyone needs to be touched by the comfort and attraction of God’s saving love, which is mysteriously at work in each person, above and beyond their faults and failings” (from The Joy of the Gospel, no . 44)

 

Despite indifferent health throughout most of his life as a missionary priest, Tony had an extraordinarily fruitful ministry – expressed in ordinary acts of kindness, compassion, and courtesy.

 

Courtesy, the outward expression of the grace of God, was a quality which characterised Tony’s personal relationships at all times and in every circumstance. He was fond of quoting these lines about courtesy from one of Hilaire Belloc’s poems.

Of Courtesy, it is much less
Than Courage of Heart or Holiness,
Yet in my Walks it seems to me
That the Grace of God is in Courtesy

Courteous towards everyone, Tony had a particular empathy with those wounded on the battlefield of life, an empathy born out of his own experience of woundedness and personal pain. He was a great communicator but even more than that, a great listener. He reached out to people where they were and as they were, neither judging or condemning them, but rather accepting and loving them. His attitude is captured in one of his favourite quotes from the well-known Jesuit author, Peter van Breeman: “I am accepted by God as I am – as I am, and not as I should be. To proclaim the latter is an empty message because I never am as I should be. I know that in reality I do not walk a straight path. There are many curves, many wrong decisions which in the course of life have brought me to where I am now and Scripture tells me that ‘The place on which you stand is holy ground’ (Exodus 3:5) [Taken from As Bread that is Broken]

 

The God whom Tony served faithfully all his life was a magnanimous God whose outreach extended far beyond the frontiers of the Church or of any Religious Tradition, a God of Surprises, a God we can never know, unless we are prepared to move out of our comfort zones and take risks. Pope Francis has reminded us that we (guardians of the Church’s tradition) frequently act as “arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the House of the Father, where there is place for everyone, with all their problems” (The Joy of the Gospel, no. 47). Tony was certainly a facilitator of grace not an arbiter.

 

His ministry concretely expressed our Pope’s vision of a Church “whose doors are open”, a Church with a missionary heart “that never closes itself off, never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness”; a Church which “realises that it has to grow in its own understanding of the Gospel and in discerning the paths of the Spirit, and so it always does what good it can, even if in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street”. That was the vision of God and Church which informed Tony’s entire life and ministry.

 

As we remember his life with gratitude and bid him a final farewell, let us strive to reflect in our own lives something of the beauty and attractiveness of that Gospel vision which inspired him. And may the God whose loving heart was so manifest in Tony’s life and ministry, embrace his gentle soul and grant him peace.