Homily for Canon John Terry P.E
Died on 2nd July 2023.
Readings Ezekiel 34:11-16
2nd Reading 2 Timothy 4 : 1-8
Gospel 25: 14-23.
The death of each person is an unique moment in a family, a community, a parish and in the case of Canon John in the Diocese of Cloyne. I extend my sympathy to his brother Eamonn, sisters in law, Mary and Rita, nieces and nephews, grandniece, grandnephews, parishioners and friends. Canon John lived a long life, he would be 90 years on the 12th of this month.
When St Paul neared the end of his life and ministry, he wrote: “I have fought the good fight to the end. I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith: all there is to come now is the crown of righteous reserved for me which the Lord, the righteous judge will give to me on that day; and not only to me but to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Canon John has truly fought the good fight to the end, he has finished the race and kept the faith. In fact he ministered up to the very end until his recent hospitalisation, celebrating Masses in his native parish here, something he has done willing since he retired here fifteen years ago.
Canon John was ordained in 1958 and thus, was involved in priestly ministry for 65 years. He served in a number of appointments including in Wales, Castlelyons, St Colman’s College, Fermoy, Aghada Parish based in Saleen, Mitchelstown, and finally in Kanturk as Parish Priest and Vicar Forane of the Deanery. I welcome all who have come to pay their respects to him and pray for him today from all those places.
Like the Good Shepherd mentioned in the Prophet Isaiah today, Canon John brought the care of the Good Shepherd to his many parishioners over the years. He was particularly noted for his care of the sick, indeed visiting them several times a week with Holy Communion to comfort and console them. He was also very good to those who were troubled, going through difficult times and the bereaved. Only the Lord knows the true extent of this work over the years and what blessings it brought to his people.
At this point I would like to refer to a dream I had at the beginning of the pandemic in May 2020. Those were the first weeks of the pandemic and there were growing reports of people getting very ill from the virus and people dying in many parts of the world. People and priests were wondering what they could do or should do. As the restrictions increased a certain uncertainty and anxiety had entered the situation. Those were the weeks when only 10 persons were allowed be at a funeral and almost no visits to hospitals or nursing homes. I mention two related dreams because Canon John appeared in the 2nd dream. In the first dream there was a large brown canvas and on the canvas there appeared the outline of a priest dressed in his southane. Above the name was John L Sullivan. Blessed Fr John L Sullivan was a Jesuit who was noted for his holiness, the power of his prayer, the sick, poor and vulnerable. Two day later I had another dream and in this dream a funeral was taking place in a church. Canon John terry was incensing a coffin and he kept on doing it for a long while as was his practice. Gradually the coffin appeared like a red furnace so I took that to represent someone who was suffering. In the next part of the dream I was in a cemetery and two funerals arrived with about ten persons at each. They were facing a wall which is the sign of an obstacle and of course the obstacle was the virus. Within a day I got a call to go to a person who was dying and within three more days I got a call to go to another young person who was dying. The constant incensing Canon John did in the dream was a sign to us priests, even in pandemic times, that there should be no half measures in caring for the sick just as there was no half measures when Canon John came to use incense or celebrate in church. I got the message: Do your priestly duty come what may.
As you all know Canon John had a deep knowledge and great love for the liturgy of the Church. He had a deep interest in church choral music, at parish level, diocesan level and national level. He served on the various National Bodies for Liturgy and Advisory Committee for Church Music for over 50 years until he retired in 2020. He was deeply involved in the translation of the various liturgical book into Irish, the most recent one being the Missal. I was told he was meticulous in all this work as secretary.
The introduction to the Missal shows us the importance of music and song in the Liturgy. It gives a number of quotations. St Paul instructed the Christian believers to, “sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles” (cf. Col 3: 16.) In Acts of the apostles: Singing is the sign of the heart’s joy Acts 2;46. We know on the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem a whole throng of heavenly host arrived above the shepherds singing and praising God, “Glory to God in the highest heavens”. St Augustine says, “Singing is for lovers”. The Missal also reminds us there is also an ancient proverb which says: “whoever sings well prays twice over.” Canon John was steeped in that understanding of Liturgical Singing. In diocesan celebrations he embraced the role of Choir Director, psalmist and cantor to suit each occasion. His memory will be kept alive through his composition of the Song of Farewell, Receive his Soul, used at many of the funerals since 1992. It will be sung today when his remains are blessed and incensed.
His interest in music goes back a long way. When I was a student in St Colman’s College he taught us the Ward Method of teaching music in 1966. We performed for teachers and others outside the college in St Mary’s of the Isle, Cork and even on Frank Halls programme on national television on one occasion such was in interest in the method at that time.
The Psalmist say: “Unless the Lords builds the house in vain do the builders labour.” Canon John had a particular interest in building and in particular in Church buildings and in the maintenance of church property. He did a considerable job in Saleen Church and later on in Kanturk Church and he helped the diocese in other ways. He was also very skilled with his hands on various works.
Canon John enjoyed fifteen years of happy retirement here in his native parish. He spoke on several occasions and even in his final illness of how much he appreciated the welcome, support, and kindness he received from the people and priests of this parish. It meant so much to him that he mentioned it on several occasions and thanked the priests personally. He delighted being on the Sunday and Wednesday rota and was willingly available at many other times.
He got great care too during his life and particularly during his final illness from family and close friends. They were with him night and day. In the family circle he was there for their weddings, baptisms, family event and funerals.
In the Gospel the Master praised the servants who used their talents and gifts in the most productive way and brought joy to their Master. To each one, he said, “Well done good and faithful servant, come and join in your master’s happiness”. Today we commend this good and faithful servant to his Master. He has worked generously and faithfully in the vineyard of the Lord for 65 years up to his final illness. May Canon John enjoy the happiness of the Lord and the glory and peace of heaven. May he rest in peace. Amen.