Fr Thomas Lindon SMA
Funeral Homily 28/12/2004
(Preached by Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll SMA, Provincial Superior)
Isaiah 52: 7-10
1 John 1: 1-4
Matt 11: 25-30
There is something very poignant and sad about dying on Christmas Day. And, yet, there is something very uplifting in it also. To die in the hope of eternal life on the very day when we celebrate the coming down to earth as man of the very Son of God, the one in whom all our hopes of eternal life rest, the one who himself incarnated hope, is somehow a beautiful rounding off to a life lived in this unquenchable hope, and dedicated to spreading this same message of hope to the very ends of the earth. Fr Tommy Lindon passed away very peacefully at about 7pm on Christmas Day. His death concludes one stage of his existence. His death also brings to a closure a time of suffering and unease when the quality of his life was far from what one would wish. For a man of brilliant intellect these last few years must have been shockingly disfigured. And, yet, not least because of the loving care he received in St Theresaâ€™s, he was gently released to meet his God when the time was right.
At death our Christian faith is a great solace. For Tommyâ€™s family, his confreres in the SMA, and his many friends there is the assurance of faith that his life is changed, not ended. We have the assurance in our Gospel passage today, that Jesus provides rest, a rest that is eternal, for those who labour and are overburdened. There is no doubt that Tommyâ€™s life has been laboured and overburdened these last few years. We give God thanks today that his labour is finally ended and he rests in peace. I particularly chose this gospel passage for Tommyâ€™s funeral for that reason but for another reason too. We are told, “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children”. Tommy was a very clever man, a man of vast learning; but I do not disparage his learning in any way when I suggest that it was not his learning that revealed to him this message of hope. In fact, it was because he refused to allow his learning to present a barrier to accepting this simple message of faith and hope that allowed him to live this reality in his own life and dedicate his life to communicating it to others. This gospel passage affirms that salvation is never earned, it is pure gift. The donor, not the recipient, is the focus here. A child can accept the message more readily than an adult because there are fewer walls of incredulity and scepticism to penetrate.
Tommy Lindon was born on 22nd June 1933 and from an early age discerned a call to missionary priesthood. Our second reading today, from the Prophet Isaiah, tells us “how beautiful on the mountains are the feet of one who brings good news, who heralds peace, brings happiness, proclaims salvationâ€¦â€¦.. for the Lord is consoling his people”. Tommy must have been impressed with such a vision because he chose to study for missionary priesthood in the SMA schools of Ballinafad and Wilton. Marked out as a bright student from the beginning it was no surprise that he was chosen to pursue further studies in Rome, after ordination in 1957. Because of young age he and some colleagues had their ordination to priesthood postponed for some months, which meant that unfortunately they were not ordained with their classmates to celebrate the centenary of the SMA in 1956.
Even a quick glance at his CV in the booklet lets us see that he had an enormous variety of ministries throughout his life. Tommy spent eight very enjoyable years in pastoral ministry in the diocese of Ibadan, Nigeria from 1980-â€™88, but much of his life was given over to teaching and academic pursuits. It would, however, be a mistake to think that Tommyâ€™s knowledge of the Lord remained on the intellectual level. He proclaimed a God who had intimately touched his own life. As that beautiful passage from St John that we read here puts it, something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have watched and touched with our hands; the Word, who is life – this is our subject. That life was made visible; we saw it and we are giving testimony, telling you of the eternal life which was with the Father and has been made visible to us”. Tommy strove throughout his life to convey something of the experience of meeting that God, not just an intellectual knowledge of a God out there.
Tommy had a very unique and individual sense of humour, a sharp wit that saw fun in events where others might be slower to see it quite in the same way. [I think Billy was very accurate last night when he described his sense of humour as whimsical. In fact, just this morning in my office I was led to make an interesting connection. I have on my desk one of these diaries that you tear away a page for each day with a little gem of wisdom printed for each day. For today, the gem of wisdom says: The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes. Somehow or other I think Tommy learned that lesson very early in life and never took anything or anybody for granted.]
And humour is one of the three Hâ€™s that links Holiness to Humility. This humour manifested itself in that crackling smile when his face opened in glee and his body shook with a sustained chuckle. Whether he was in Rome, in Ibadan, in Dromantine, in Cambridge, on the Provincial Council, in London, in Liberia, in Sierra Leone, in Zambia or back here in St Theresaâ€™s that same humour shone forth, bringing life and mirth to others. Tommy enjoyed a sing-song and a party get-together, and could always be relied on for a humorous party piece. In fact, it is nice to remember that his wit was one of the last faculties to leave him. Sr Rosalie recounts how some years ago when she was accompanying Tommy to hospital, being driven by Fr Paddy Barry, Tommyâ€™s wit expressed itself out of the blue. Passing along the opposite quay to the Opera House Sr Rosalie wondered aloud what might be on at the theatre at that particular time; quick as a flash a hitherto silent Tommy replied from the back-seat, “the roof”. Tommy also enjoyed a game of tennis and during his years in Ibadan he was a very faithful participant in the weekly tennis game at the Regional house.
Tommyâ€™s career was both various and interesting. He had the opportunity to watch the scene at the very heart of the church when he was a priest student in Paris, and gained a Doctorate in Theology in Rome; as a teacher of theology during the changes brought about by the Vatican Council he witnessed and participated in many of these changes; he served in Nigeria at a time when that country was establishing itself as an independent country just emerging from decades of colonial control; he served in Liberia during its darkest days of civil war, and was forced to move with the seminary students and staff into the neighbouring country of Sierra Leone in order to continue the programme of training; he served on the Provincial Council of this Province during a period when the beginnings of the decline of vocations to the priesthood was becoming perceptible, and I think he was the initiator of the programmes of on-going formation by organising the early summer-schools at our Maynooth house for those on holiday from Africa. He followed up his stint on the Provincial Council by taking a Masters Degree in African studies. This, allied to his Doctorate, prepared him well to focus his future teaching career on Mission Studies. So, a wide and rich experience was his and he gave of his best in the different ministries.
In these latter years when ill-health decreed that he could no longer serve on mission he returned to Ireland, first to care for his own sick sister, and then to be cared for himself at Blackrock Road. Here, while it is true that he received much, he never ceased being a giver either. Tommy was always a gentleman right to the end. He was easy to care about and to care for. He gifted others by allowing them to care for him without demur.
They say the mind grows rich from what it receives, the heart from what it gives. Tommyâ€™s mind undoubtedly received a vast amount in all those years of reading and study. But his heart also grew significantly because he was a generous giver.
So now it is time to pray him home to the God who is the ultimate giver. We can be assured that God will not be found wanting to provide a place at the heavenly banquet for this gentle missionary priest, confrere, brother, uncle, relative and friend.
Ar dheis lamh De go raibh a anam dilis.