Michael McGlinchey SMA
Funeral Homily – 14/12/2004
(Preached by Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll SMA, Provincial Superior)
Eccles: 3: 1-8, 11
Titus 3: 4-7
John 11: 19-27
John Ayscough is quoted as saying, “Death is but a sharp corner near the beginning of life’s procession down eternity”.
These words seem appropriate in attempting to preach the word at the funeral of Fr Michael McGlinchey. In the last few years Mick’s walking style was considerably slower making sharp corners difficult to negotiate. As was observed of a famous man in his declining years, frail step following frail step – going nowhere with elegance.
Death is always sobering. But there is something very appropriate about dying just at the time when the year itself is dying. For the Christian, of course, death is not the end but the beginning of a new stage of life. And, so, it is equally appropriate that Mick should die during the season of Advent. Advent is the great season of expectation and hope. Hope for the Christian is a special concept. People speak of hoping that they will win the lottery. They know that their chances of doing so are statistically remote. This kind of hope is as far removed from Christian hope as it is possible to be. Christian hope is a confident hope; it is the hope of the little child on Christmas morning, that Santa will surely come. The child has not yet seen Santa but the possibility of Santa not coming is beyond the child’s capacity to imagine. As Christians we carry this quality of hope of resurrection and new life in our hearts throughout our lives.
When we interpret a life’s journey in the light of the resurrection it means that all of life’s events are not just significant in themselves but are significant in terms of the whole. That is brought out very clearly today in our first reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes. There is a time for every purpose under heaven, a time to be born, a time to die. Ultimately, then, our time is only a particular participation in God’s time. Mick’s passing came very quickly last Saturday evening. In a sense he died as he had lived, smoothly, calmly, without fuss or fanfare. As the reading puts it: God has made everything suitable for its time and we can grasp neither the beginning nor the end of what God does.
Mick McGlinchey was born here at Doorat, Donemana on 20 November 1929. He did his schooling at the CBS in Derry, to which he cycled each day. Mick often spoke with pride about these cycling journeys to school. He then followed the SMA programme of studies through Ballinafad, Wilton, Kilcolgan and Dromantine. He was ordained a missionary priest on 13 June 1956 and was to spend the next 30 years as a dedicated missionary in the diocese of Benin City, Nigeria. He was to serve here with great distinction and great compassion.
I will return to that topic in a little while but I want first of all to set it all in its proper context. I think there is a danger in any funeral homily, and, perhaps, especially at the homily of a priest when one records their contribution to furthering God’s kingdom, that one might give the impression that it was this work, on behalf of God if you like, that earned them salvation. Nothing could be further from the truth. This needs to be stated forcefully.
That’s why I chose today for our second reading that beautiful passage from St Paul’s letter to Titus. Paul states it very boldly, “it was not because of any good deeds that we ourselves had done, but because of his own mercy that he saved us and he goes on to say “God poured out the Holy Spirit abundantly on us through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that by his grace we might be put right with God and come into possession of the eternal life we hope for.” In other words, salvation cannot be bought, it cannot be earned. It is an entirely free gift, given out of God’s infinite mercy. Mick was not saved through anything he did, no matter how many Masses he celebrated throughout his life. He, like every woman and man on the face of the globe, is saved only through the gift of God brought about in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Mick’s story, like all our stories, is only a partial story. The real, complete story is that of Jesus. Because, through Jesus we know that we are people of the resurrection. As we see in our Gospel passage today that powerful response of Jesus to the grieving Martha on the death of her brother, I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Resurrection means that death is not the end anymore. It means that our destiny is life. So when we die we do not pass from life to death but from life to life. Death is that extraordinary moment when the Christ who is life can finally take me to himself for ever, when God and I can never, ever, be separated from one another. That is what it means for a Christian to die. That’s what it meant for Mick.
Mick not only lived that faith but he shared that faith for almost 50 years as an SMA missionary. He had a great loyalty to his call as priest, missionary and SMA. The first 30 years of his missionary life was spent, as I said, in the diocese of Benin City, Nigeria. He became renowned for his prowess as a builder. It was once said that common sense is genius dressed up in working clothes. Mick’s genius was revealed in the practical and the concrete. He built many fine structures of concrete and iron. But, perhaps more importantly, he built up also peoples self-esteem, and he built community. He built up peoples’ spiritual lives through celebrating the sacraments for them and offering solid catechetical programmes; he catered to their health needs by establishing health clinics; he catered to their educational needs by providing them with both school fees and, where necessary, school buildings. He was, then, far from being a one-dimensional missionary.
He was noted particularly for his kindness and compassion towards the people. The beautiful, warm smile that radiated from his open face right to the time of his death was evident from the very beginning. He loved and cared for his people, they knew it, and they reciprocated. He became director of the lay apostolate of the diocese, a job that meant he had to accompany the late, Bishop P.J. Kelly on his marathon C onfirmation tours. His placid, good humoured temperament made such tours tolerable.
In 1986 he was asked to take up a home appointment as Bursar of the SMA formation house at Maynooth. He very much enjoyed the cycles around the plains of County Kildare but his heart was still in Africa. On a personal note, there is one thing I am grateful for from that period. I succeeded Mick as bursar of SMA house. Not being blessed with manual skills such as Mick himself had I was anxious as to how I would attempt the various bits and pieces of ongoing maintenance. Mick gave me the soundest advice I have ever received – call an expert ! That simple but wise advice was to get me out of many a tight corner. The two years in Maynooth were followed by a year or so in the SMA parish of Wilton, Cork. But Mick was not really at peace until he returned to his beloved Nigeria. He was to spend another eight years there, this time in the diocese of Warri and a short time in the Ibadan Regional house.
Ill health forced Michael’s return to Ireland and he has been living in contented retirement in Dromantine since. Mick simply radiated contentment. The question “how are you Mick?” always elicited the response “never better”.. sure how could you not be good in a beautiful place like Dromantine”. As in his working life he had built up peoples’ self-esteem so now in his retirement through his God given gift of placid temperament and infectious optimism he built up peoples’ hearts.
Michael will shortly be laid in his final resting place among his closest family kith and kin. He will be missed by his family and friends, his confreres within the SMA and the people he served so loyally in Africa. A memory of him will long remain in their psyche as they contemplate the various concrete buildings that will continue to stand to his credit.
Michael McGlinchey has lived and died well. Ar dheis lamh De go raibh a h-anam dilis.