Fr Cornelius Murphy SMA – Funeral Homily

Fr Con Murphy died unexpectedly in the SMA House, African Missions, Blackrock Road, Cork on Thursday, 8 February 2024. After reposing in the SMA House, Wilton, on Friday, 9 February, his Funeral Mass was celebrated in St Joseph’s SMA Church, Wilton, Cork on Saturday, 10 February. Fr Con was later laid to rest in the adjoining SMA Community cemetery.

Fr Eamonn Finnegan, SMA Vice Provincial Leader, was assisted at the Funeral Mass by Fr Finbarr Crowley, PP of Innishannon, Diocese of Cork and Ross, Fr Alphonse Sekongo SMA, Vice Leader of the SMA Blackrock Road community and Fr Hugh Harkin SMA. Many other SMA priests travelled from all over Ireland to concelebrate the Funeral Mass. Fr Con’s twin sister, Sr Immaculata Murphy, Mercy Order and his nieces and nephew as well as their children and other relatives were in the congregation for the Mass and burial.

Fr Noel O’Leary SMA was the MC for the Mass, assisted by Fr Gus O’Driscoll. Fr John Dunne SMA was the preacher.

The readings for the Mass were from Ecclesiastes 3: 1-7 and 11, Romans 14: 7-12 and Matthew 5: 1-12.

Following the text of Fr John’s homily below,  there is at the end of this article also a link to an article written by Fr Dominic Wabwireh SMA called “A Legacy of Faith, Wisdom, and Cultural Reverence” – a tribute to Fr Con’s contribution to the formation of African SMA missionaries. 

HOMILY: St Catherine of Sienna reminds us to something very important in life when she said “be the person God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire”.

As we gather to celebrate Fr Con Murphy’s life I invite you to recall some memory you have of him……

Thanksgiving is sweeter than bounty itself.
One who cherishes gratitude does not cling to the gift!
Thanksgiving is the true meat of God’s bounty; the bounty is its shell,
For thanksgiving carries you to the heart of the Beloved.
Abundance alone brings heedlessness,
Thanksgiving gives birth to alertness…    
The bounty of thanksgiving will satisfy and elevate you, 
And you will bestow a hundred bounties in return.
Eat your fill of God’s delicacies,
And you will be freed from hunger and begging.   [Rumi]

We gather today to celebrate the long life and work Fr Con Murphy. On hearing news of his death, we felt we had lost a good friend. As we recalled and shared the stories of Fr Con’s life and his gifts we were grateful for his life. He loved stories and was blessed with a great memory. Now that we are here to celebrate his funeral Mass, we have the privilege of honouring his memory, celebrating his long, fruitful life and finally lay him to rest in the SMA cemetery adjacent to this church.

We surround Con’s immediate family and relatives who are gathered here and we extend to them our sincere sympathy and condolences.

One of the things I’m conscious of today is that Con would not like me or anyone else using too many words about him on this occasion. However, I have no doubt he would like to be remembered in this way. The Scripture passage chosen for the First Reading today speaks eloquently about life and its hidden mystery; and it also reminds us about the life of Con Murphy. There is a time to be born, a time for every purpose under heaven and then a time to die.  Too often perhaps we rush to fix the time and to manage it in our way and this in turn prevents us from grasping and appreciating the grace of the present moment.        

If we do not see the wisdom of the truth that for everything there is a time and a season then at a time of mourning or loss we may want to rush ahead or not wish to spend time grieving. But there is a time to be born and a time to die; a time to hold on and a time to let go. And so we are remembering and honouring the times of Con’ life as we gather to remember and pray for him.

Looking back now at how Con’s lived the years of his long life we can see that there were many different seasons, various invitations to do different things right from the beginning in Toames, Kilmichael – where he was born and grew up in his family.  Then there were the years when he went to the local primary school and then to De La Salle College for secondary education and played Gaelic games at which Con excelled.  Good, happy years I believe! On finishing school there came a change for him as he went to work for a few years before joining the SMA. He was dedicated, efficient and welcoming.

In life we are all searching for something important, that pearl in our lives. This is our vocational call. Con joined the SMA and was ordained 60 years ago. The poet RS Thomas reminds us of the importance of finding this treasure or naming something for which we then live and die:

“I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it.”                                  R.S. Thomas, The Bright Field

I think Con found his own treasure in his missionary vocation, relationships, and work and so lived a long and happy life.  Once he found the treasure, he gave it all he had through his quiet commitment to work, prayer and people, and ministry as a missionary in Ireland and in different parts of Africa.

Our Second Reading reminds us of how our lives are connected to others and how what we do and say has an influence far beyond what is merely visible. Like Christ we are each invited to give our lives in love for the service of the other. Fr Con did this in so many ways, but particularly during the years of active missionary life by caring for others, He sought to help people discover the dream of God for them through their choices in the difficult times in life. People in Africa liked Con for caring and encouraging them in their lives. I got a message from one person in Kenya yesterday mourning the loss of Mzee Fr Con. Mzee is the Swahili language means “the wise elder”.

Then during all his years in Cork – both in active ministry in his retirement – Con never forgot his roots and loved to visit the family and extended family and keep in touch with his many friends.

The Gospel chosen for this funeral Mass is the familiar passage of the Beatitudes or guidance on how to be and become your best self. These were the same Gospel principles or virtues that guided Con’s life, work and relationships.  He knew that in life, “things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” [Goethe]. The principles and values of the Gospel were the very things that guided his life in ministry be that in administration of the Irish Province of our SMA, education and formation of younger people in schools in Nigeria and later on in seminaries in Ireland, South Africa and Kenya, and his care for the poor where he lived and worked. Over the last few days since news of Fr Con’s death spread, I have received messages from those who met him and were influenced by his gentle, caring connection to all.

In all the seasons of his life Con learned about change and grew in an ever-growing awareness of the mystery of God and the presence of the person of Jesus in his life and work. He was ever conscious of the truth:

 “With the drawing of this love and the voice of this calling
we shall not cease from your exploration
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive at where we started
and know that place for the first time.”   [T S Elliot]

Then when life’s journey draws to a close there is the harvest time, a time of reaping and blessings. For the fullness of time, which encompasses all seasons, we depend ultimately on the mercy of God from whom our salvation comes. Rising from the dead, Christ became the light that illuminates all peoples, that lightens and saves the path of humanity and allows us to catch a glimpse of the face of God beyond the tunnel of death.  Christians, who have been marked by the seal of the Holy Spirit, are the enlightened ones. Dying with Christ they rise again with Him in the dazzling light of the Lord’s Day and the new creation. They are new creatures, they are like the stars and they have a mission to illuminate the dark and sometimes tragic path of history. Fr Con has now joined that blessed company and he can share in their care for us so we pray:

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.    [Celtic blessing]

Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Fr John Dunne, SMA

Click to read: Fr. Con Murphy: A Legacy of Faith, Wisdom, and Cultural Reverence – a tribute by Fr Dominic Wabwireh

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