Fr Connie Griffin SMA
Funeral Homily – November 26th 2007 at St Peter’s Church, Sabon Tasha, Kaduna, Nigeria
(Preached by Fr John Haverty SMA)
Your Grace, Archbishop Jatau, My Lord Bishops, Fellow Priests, Rev Sisters, Brothers & Sisters in Christ:
On behalf of Fr Connie Griffin lying here, l wish to express our sincere gratitude to all of you gathered here this morning to pay our final respect to the Late Fr Griffin SMA. He has indeed touched the lives of many people: he has touched my life to the very depth of its core: not only because we have been close friends and near neighbours and because we have spent many hours sitting in the moonlight at Kurmin Sara, sharing experiences and expectations, but mainly because he was a deeply spiritual priest.
On Monday last, November 19th on my way from Abuja, where I had witnessed the last days of Fr Griffin on earth, I called in to Kurmin Sara, his parish, to tell them the shocking news that ‘Griffin, Your Parish Priest, is dead’ one of his faithful friends shouted BA GRIFFIN YA MUTU BA, MU NE MUN MUTU : MU DUKAN MUTANEN K / SARA MUN MUTU. SHI YANA A NAN DA RAI AMA MU MATTATU NE. As he uttered these words I had a vision of Griffin being escorted by the Angels to his seat of glory in heaven and “l John heard a voice from Heaven say to me ‘Happy are those who die in the Lord. Now they can rest for ever, after their work, since their good deeds go with them. Then the One sitting on the Throne spoke: I will give them water from the well of life, free for anybody who is thirsty. It is the rightful inheritance of the one who proves victorious… he will never hunger or thirst again: neither the sun nor the scorching wind will ever plague him for the Lamb on His throne will be his Shepherd.” I was happy for Griffin but sorry for ourselves. MU NE MATTATU.
That Griffin of that vision was a different Griffin to the one of the past 4 days. On Tuesday I had called to him to pick up some letters for Abuja: he said he had ‘a bit of a fever’ but it was not serious. I tried to persuade him to come with me to Hospital in Abuja but he refused saying he was busy and he’d be OK. The following evening on my return I noticed that he had deteriorated but still insisted he’d be fine. I told him that in the morning he must come to hospital: next morning I came at 9.45 and he had to be carried unconscious from his room and when we reached the Hospital in Abuja he was almost gone. The Staff at the National Hospital all tried their best for the next four days but all in vain.
There is no inherent dignity in death except what the person brings to it by his patience and endurance. He never complained. While conscious he signed himself with the cross regularly. On the last morning he said to Sam “Zan mutu”. This suffering Griffin was a different Griffin to the victorious later Griffin of the Apocalyptic vision.
Fr Griffin was born on September 1st 1947 in the beautiful seaside resort of Schull in Cork, Ireland, the youngest of four, two boys and two girls. In due time he attended the Minor Seminary but to fulfil his Missionary ambition he later joined the SMA . After ordination to the priesthood in 1974 he came to Nigeria. At the initial stages one might have doubted ‘if he were built for the Nigerian roads’ as the ad says. He had a rather frail appearance and a sensitive and timid personality. He had his first few short appointments in urban areas of Zaria and Kano and then launched out into the rural areas where he would spend the remaining 28 years of his pastoral life.
He endeared himself to the people of Ikululand during his appointment there 1980 to 1984. The following 4 years were spent at Sabon Sarki and then to the vast parish of Dan Ladi (1989 – 96 where the familiar sight of Griffin shrouded like a Sheik on the back of a motor bike was certainly rather amusing. Back in Kagoro 1996 – 2004 he made a lasting impression: his buildings and decoration are adequate testimony. Kurmin Sara welcomed him with open arms in 2005: he was the answer to their prayers.
Fr Griffin was a man of many talents: the builder and decorator, the well digger, a social developer, etc. I will not dwell on any of these, worthy as they are: rather I will try to find the secret that gave him that charism to touch the lives of so many people. Many heartfelt tears have been shed by adult men and w omen on hearing of his death. He sure touched many hearts.
The key to his energy and inner strength was his personal relationship with God. I say that because I’ve had the privilege of sharing many relaxed hours of mutual visits and conversations and sometimes arguments. He was a man of God and his love for humanity sprang from his strong personal love of God. God was always p resent to him. God was in him and he was in God. He reminds me of Anthony de Mello’s story. He always had one of De Mello’s books at his bedside. He has one story about the Grandfather Fish who was swimming around very relaxed in the sea. A young fish swam up to him in a great hurry, so impatient: I am looking for the Sea: where is it? Relax, my boy, said Grandfather: you are right in it, swimming in it. But this is water, said the young fish impatiently, and swam away annoyed. Griffin knew God is here, all around him, always. Many of us are too busy like the young fish. De Mello said read a passage of Scripture, carry it around in your heart and let it light up your experiences of the day. The Hub of your life will be God.
During our sitting down together conversing he will sometimes break off and make the sign of the cross; equally when travelling there must be the occasional sign of the cross. I was expecting him to visit one evening at Kachia: I saw the headlights of his car turning in off the main road: I recognised his pick up: I waited, waited. No sign. I took a short stroll to see what was wrong: I was astonished: there I saw him kneeling by his car on the road….l retreated.
Most of us don’t even know where to look for God. Another little favourite story of Griffin from Tony de Mello: Nasruddin was on his hands and knees on the street busy looking for something. “What are you looking for asked his neighbour? My key, I lost it yesterday. They both searched for a while but in vain. Where do you think you lost it. I lost it in the forest. Then why are you looking for it here? Because it is easier to search here. Like Nasruddin we are looking for God sometimes in the wrong place and that’s why we don’t find him. Whether in Kurmin Sara or Danladi, Kagoro, Gidan Bako or Sabon Sarki or wherever Griffin knew God was there.
De Mello tells us to look into the eyes of the sick and the suffering and the needy and there we will see and meet God, the God of compassion. It was touching t a mass in K/Sara during the week to hear a poor disabled person giving testimony weeping and recounting all that Griffin had done for her. Another parishioner there confided in me that Griffin had told him that wherever he died(and whenever) he wouldn’t wish for an expensive coffin and an elaborate funeral: he thought such expenses should better be spent to assist the needy. When he realized that he was in that wonderful but rather expensive National Hospital he was quite concerned about such matters. And later on sorting through his personal items in his inner room at Kurmin Sara was a lesson on the right use of Mission money.
His little sense of humour and fun was well known to all. At any sitting with Griffin you must expect something funny from him. And so to end up on a lighter note I just recall a recent local party which we both attended. When it was time for “Riddles and Jokes” he was first to raise his hand and go to the centre: ‘The teacher in the classroom said: Who can make a sentence with the word ” INCOME “? One bright boy raised his hand: Yes, what is it? Sir, I opened the door and INCOME THE CAT.
AT 3.15 P.M. ON NOV 19TH 2OO7 ST PETER OPENED THE DOOR OF HEAVEN AND “INCOME GRIFFIN”. MAY HE REST IN PERFECT PEACE. AMEN.
Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh a anam dílis.