Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A Funeral in Muckalee

I was at a funeral in Muckalee last week. The man being buried was Father Martin Ryan. Most, I suppose, won't have heard of him. Although, of course, he'd have been 'world famous' in Muckalee, as the comedian Mel Brooks might have said. And world famous in the Philippines too. Fr Martin was a Columban missionary and spent over fifty years ministering in those islands. The good work he did there – God's work – is proven by the high esteem he's still held in by the people of that nation … something shown by the large group from the Philippine community in Ireland that made their way to pay their last respects in Muckalee.

I first came across Fr Martin when he was in the District Hospital in Castlecomer after he'd had his knee replaced sitting in a wheelchair as he was saying Mass for the other residents. There was something both beautiful and humbling in the scene. His knee had become infected after his operation, causing it to swell and cause him a quite a bit of pain. You'd imagine a man already well into his eighties and in such discomfort would have preferred to lie in his bed and take it easy. And yet there he was, elderly and frail though he was, bringing his fellow patients the sacraments of the Church.

We had some great chats during his time there. We talked about things like his time in the mission fields and how he had loved it and how, despite all his time away, Muckalee and the surrounding area had always remained in his heart and was the home he had wanted to return to. Naturally enough we talked also about things like prayer and his love of God. For all his physical limitations he radiated with a spiritual energy that made it both humbling and inspiring to be in his presence.

The full church on the day of his funeral was a testament to how well loved he was, how people had appreciated his many years of ministry to the people of God. His many years of service, his long decades of sacrifice and what I would call holy heroism, deserved such a tribute. And it is wonderful to see that, despite all cynicism that exists in the world today about religion, and all the bile that is spewed out by some about the Church, the people of Ireland still love their priests.

During the Mass people from the Philippines gathered around his coffin and sang the Our Father in their native language. They were joined by others who had ministered with him there. There was beauty in the moment, but sadness too because it is hard to believe that even a generation from now such a scene could be repeated. People love their priests but too few today can bring themselves to emulate the heroism of Fr Martin and those like him. But I was blessed, I think, to be there to witness it that day in Muckalee.

this article appears in today's issue of the Kilkenny Reporter

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