Fr Frank McCabe SMA
Funeral Homily – September 6th 2007 at SMA Parish Church, Wilton Cork
(Preached by Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll SMA, Provincial Superior)
Readings: Isaiah 55: 1-11
1 Thess 5:1-6.9-11
John 6: 35-4
“But it is not as if you live in the dark, my brothers, for that Day to overtake you like a thief”. These words from St Paul’s first letter to the disciples at Thessalonica were heard in today’s second reading. This in fact was the first reading at Mass on the morning that Frank died. Few people were as well prepared to meet the Lord as Fr Frank McCabe. His whole life was dedicated to the Lord: the greater part in active ministry; the latter years in full-scale prayer and adoration. It is a consolation to his family and friends that he went to meet the Lord not in the dark but very much in the light.
Frank was blessed to live a long and fruitful life to 89 years of age. As Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying “… in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years”. Certainly Frank packed a huge amount of experience into those 89 years. I will speak of some of this experience shortly but I first want to set his passing in its proper context. We gather not just as any happenchance grouping of people. We gather as a Christian community praying our brother disciple home into the arms of the God he tried to serve all his life. And we pray with firm conviction that the promise made by the Lord will be fulfilled.
That promise is beautifully outlined for us in our Gospel passage this afternoon. Jesus says “Now the will of him who sent me is that I should lose nothing of all that he has given to me, and that I should raise it up on the last day. Yes, it is my Father’s will that whoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and that I shall raise him up on the last day”. Those who knew Frank well know of his tremendous dedication to the Holy Eucharist. I know that at different periods of his life he would spend many hours in private adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. “He who comes to me will never be thirsty: he who believes in me will never thirst”. Such words ring through for Frank.
As, indeed, do the words of our opening reading from the Prophet Isaiah. These words come from a time well before the coming of Jesus but the message is similar to that of the gospel text. We are told that the ways of the Lord are very different to our ways. “my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways”. God’s ways are so totally above our ways that we cannot really ever grasp the awesome generosity of God. He provides all the things we need without our having to make any payment. This is so alien to our human way of thinking that we find it difficult to grasp. I believe that Frank McCabe did grasp it. He did not, as the reading puts it “spend his wages on what fails to satisfy” , and he continued throughout his life to “seek the Lord while he is still to be found, and called to him while he was still near”.
And these words provide us with a very good reflection for a funeral Mass, particularly, I believe at the funeral of a priest. When one recounts the good deeds done by a priest – as I will shortly do for Frank – there is the temptation to think that it was somehow these good deeds that earned him salvation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Because the simple but very profound truth is that salvation cannot be earned. It is a freely given gift of God. To our way of thinking of course that is preposterous. But God’s ways are not our ways; God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. It is important to understand, then, that Frank, like every other human on the face of the planet, will be saved not through anything he did in this life but simply through the free gift of God. Frank’s task, like our task on the last day, will be simply to accept that gift. But accepting such a gift is not quite as simple as it seems. It can take a lifetime to really prepare oneself to accept such an awesome gift.
Frank spent 89 years preparing. Born into a family of seven children at Derrinasoo in the parish of Ardcarne on the Leitrim/Roscommon border [I understand that Frank was given to altering county affiliation depending on the fortunes of the county football team!], he spent his opening years in the local primary school. It was here that he first learned of the SMA and applied for admission to Ballinafad secondary school. He moved from there to the school here at Wilton to complete his secondary education and then went on to Clough and Dromantine. He completed his BA degree in philosophy and education between UCC and UCG and completed his H.Dip in Education post ordination, in 1948.
During his student days he was a keen footballer. One of his more pleasant memories was the day he played for the Fenagh club in the Leitrim county final on the year of his ordination.
After ordination Frank was appointed to the diocese of Lagos, Nigeria which at that time included Ibadan. In all he spent the next 42 years in ministry in the Ibadan area. He spent the first 20 years in the education apostolate, founding many schools and being principal of many others. He served in Oke-are Minor Seminary where he taught many of the present day priests and bishops of Nigeria; he taught in Teacher Training Colleges and secondary schools in such places as Ile-Ife, Ikire, Maryhill etc.
After twenty years of school apostolate he was delighted to get the opportunity for pastoral experience. First assigned to Eleta and later to Moor Plantation, he is perhaps best known from his assignment to the parish of Igbo-ora. Along with the usual catechetical and sacramental ministry he became renowned here for his Family Unit Farming Project. This was a project to enable local farmers to learn new skills and provide mechanised machinery such as tractors which he was able to provide through funding from different international agencies. Frank was in his element in this environment, exercising all his farming knowledge and empowering the locals to cultivate to levels hitherto unknown. In a truly literal sense Frank was maintaining his hand on the plough. Every spare bit of land in the area was taken up with a vegetable garden of one kind or another. At this time he had yet to develop an interest in growing flowers, perhaps feeling they were an unwarranted luxury. Later he was to develop a wonderful taste for flower growing.
In all these years a number of characteristics were readily observable. He lived an austere and frugal lifestyle. Any donation to the mission was certainly not spent frivolously on himself. He had a great devotion to the Eucharist and Our Blessed Lady. He promoted devotion to the Family Rosary and supported the establishment of the Legion of Mary. But it was not a case of “all work and no play”. Frank was a very keen tennis player and I had the privilege of playing against him more than once. Though thirty-five years my senior he was still a formidable opponent and gave away no easy points! In fact, one of the few lighter moments in an otherwise questionable sojourn in Australia some years later was the morning he told me over the phone that at 81 years of age he had begun taking up tennis again!
In 1989, the pressure and stress of work on the African continent forced him to reluctantly agree to return to Ireland. But he was in no mood for retiring so he spent the next six years in the diocese of Clonfert, staying at the parochial house in Attymon in the parish of Kiltulla in the famed hurling territory of Killimordaly. Here he continued to promote adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, devotion to our Lady and the Family Rosary. Pilgrimages to Knock were also a regular feature during these years. He retired officially in 1995 and was to spend the next three years between Claregalway and here in Wilton.
But even in retirement he was indefatigable in his evangelising outreach. Devotion to Mary became ever more central to his spirituality and it was this that led him to join the Magnificat Meal Movement in Toowomba, Queensland, Australia. His going, however unwise, was undoubtedly motivated by a faith perspective. He was to spend the next six years or so here in what can best be described as quasi seclusion. Repeated requests from superiors and family to return to Ireland were refused. Then one fine day in 2004 he mysteriously appeared in Galway. His health condition did not allow for a rigorous investigation of what had transpired over the previous years or how he had suddenly appeared back among us. But perhaps that was not really important as the greatest feeling shared was one of relief that he was home.
He has been a valued and much loved member of the Blackrock Road community ever since where he has received top class care and affection from all members of staff. It was a great blessing that on June 18th last, though frail of mind and body, he was able to join his classmate Joe Maguire to celebrate 60 years of priestly ministry. All that remains for us now is to surrender him into the arms of Jesus.
Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh a anam dílis.