Requiem Mass for Canon Michael Harrington
July 2nd , 2021
Homilist: Archdeacon Gerard Casey
My dear friends, we are gathered today in mutual respect and affection for Canon Michael Harrington. It is a time of sadness for so many of us. Firstly, for his immediate family, his brother-in-law Michael, his nieces AnneMarie, Patricia, Emer, and his nephew John, and for their families. Also, it is a time of sadness for many who have a great affection for Canon Michael, friends far beyond numbering. There is a great sadness today also for his bishops who have experienced his dedication and for us, his priest colleagues, that sadness is also special. We have been inspired by his deep faith, by his dedication and by his boundless energy.
We remember today also his late sister Eleanor, and let us remember their parents, Danny and Joanne, who handed on to their children the faith they had received. The homeland names of Coolavokig and Killnamatyra are ancient in faith as they lie close to Ballyvourney, to the shrine of St. Gobnait, where people of faith still come to honour her memory and to pray for their sick
The first thought that came to my mind when I heard of Canon Michael’s death was from the parable in St. Matthews gospel where the master says, well done, good and faithful servant, …., enter into the joy of your Lord
Michael was one of 69 priests ordained in Maynooth, June 1960, for the service of the Irish Church. He has given 61 years of service to that mission and only in very recent months has his enthusiasm for that mission become less apparent. Whenever a pastoral challenge arose and solutions were discussed, some would say why – Michael always said why not!
After his ordination, Fr. Michael served for a period in Wales, as we all did in those years, and was delighted in his new ministry in a different culture to that to which were accustomed in Ireland. In due time he returned to Mallow.
The mid 60’s were an extraordinary time in the church. The inspirations of the second Vatican Council were just being proclaimed. Ours was the first generation to carry the new vision of that council to our own people of God. If I may borrow a quotation: ‘Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive. To be young was very heaven”. (Longfellow.) It also coincided with the Charismatic
Movement coming to Ireland in those years. That Movement brought joy to the liturgy, it brought joy to our music, it brought joy to our communities. That joyfulness had not been part of our traditional faith and practice. Already gifted in song and music Fr. Michael delighted in enriching the spiritual life of his parishioners with a charismatic joy. In every parish in which Fr. Michael worked that joy brought yet more energy to his ministry. The Church was enriched by what was coming from these new resources. The best human communities form the best spiritual communities and so he worked in the building of community in every parish.
When the European economic community, the EEC of those days, was being proposed for Ireland Fr. Michael threw himself fully into its promotion, researching the origins of the concept, studying and lecturing on it widely in adult education groups with which he was heavily involved. He even brought Irish groups to visit Belgium and appreciate the concepts, where these new ideas were being worked out. His mind was never limited to what we always did.
Literally yesterday I received a letter from Boston from a friend of Michael’s, to whom he had previously introduced me. While she knew he was unwell, she had written to him and had no reply and she was asking me to let her know how he was. I answered that letter with the promptness and the sadness it deserved. It reminded me that Fr. Michael was ever a traveller. But not for him the beaches of summer, but rather he had contact with multiple families of Irish extraction across all North America, but also the vast territory of South America, where he had again many friends mainly, of a missionary dimension, particularly the Irish Christian Bros. Through their network, he travelled to many parts of South America where they worked, affirming them, encouraging them and supporting them in their exile from home. He even travelled, to the southernmost point of the South American landmass, to Tierra del Fuego, where he stood on the shores of the Antarctic Ocean looking in the distance to the ice block surrounding the South Pole. Distances made little difference to Michael. On one occasion, flying home from some such distant destination a journey of multiple hours of flight, he mentioned in passing to his travelling companion that he had a meeting in his parish that evening. Only Canon Michael Harrington could have arranged that.
But now Michael you have crossed the finishing line. We will recall the 29th of June as the day of your death. Our Christian ancestors would rather have referred to it as our “Dies Natalis”, – the day of our birth. Yes, it is the day we are reborn into the fullness of the divine life of our Heavenly Father, of Jesus our Saviour, of the Holy Spirit who has infused our lives from our baptism.
From the book of Exodus, through the biblical prophets, through the psalms, to the Gospels of Jesus, to the final Book of Revelation, God speaks to us of the sabbatical rest at the end of our labours. That Rest, Canon Michael is now your heritage. The Book of Revelations reminds us “Happy are those who die In the Lord! Happy indeed, the Spirit says: they can now rest from their labours, since their good deeds go with them” ! ( Rev. 14:13)
Michael, we pray today that you are now in that Beatific Vision. In that Divine presence, Michael, pray for us who remain. That beautiful prayer of the liturgy that we prayed last evening in this church assures us: “All the trials of friendship and affection that knit us together in this life, do not unravel with death”.
May the Lord bless us who gather at our farewell Mass for Canon Michael today, whether in this church or by electronic media. May he keep us from all evil and bring us also to everlasting life.