HOMILY FOR THE FUNERAL MASS OF CANON SEÁN BLAKE
TUESDAY, 26th JANUARY 2010.
Introduction and Welcome
Welcome to you all, to Canon Seán’s family, the parishioners of Clonberne/Kilkerrin, and to the people from places where Canon Seán ministered, to the religious and to my brother priests.
Conversion of St. Paul – Parallels
Yesterday, we celebrated the Feast of the conversion of St. Paul, an appropriate day on which to bring Canon Seán’s remains back to his own Church. There were many parallels in their respective lives. In the account of Paul’s conversion in the Acts of the Apostles, it is God who takes the initiative and chooses the apostle. Paul’s question was “what shall I do Lord?” During his life Paul was to bear courageous witness to Jesus Christ.
It was probably in the formative years with family and community at home in Milltown and from the example of the priests and people of the parish and St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam that an impressionable, strong- willed, talented and idealistic Seán Blake felt the first awakenings of such a similar call. We gather here today to commemorate, to celebrate and witness a lifetime of response to that call. The call to follow Jesus Christ.
On the 17th June 1951 a young energetic Sean Blake walked down the aisle of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, accompanied by three other young men for service in the Archdiocese of Tuam – Frs. John Fitzgerald, Tadhg O’ Moráin, and the late Charlie O’ Malley.
Call and Response
For Paul the call was puzzling and challenging. He didn’t and couldn’t have known all that the Lord’s call was asking of him.
Responding generously to that call – Ministry as Priest
Likewise with these young men almost three score years ago. Each of them and particularly Fr. Seán, because he recognised God as the source of his call he responded generously. That call would take on greater clarity as he ministered in different areas enabling them to integrate Christ’s gospel into their daily lives.
His first appointment took him to Leenane for four years, from there to Tiernea in Connemara until 1960. Here we witnessed the beginning of his building skills, both in construction and community building. He arranged for the building of the hall in Tiernea which served the social life of the people, while at the same time renovating the Church in Lettermullen. A coincidence, the next time work would be done on that Church was by another member of the Blake family, his nephew Fr. Ciarán. Fr. Seán loved Connemara, its people, their language, culture and traditions. An-fhear tógála a bhí ann. Bhí bua faoi leith ag an Ath. Seán caoi a chur ar thíthe cónaithe agus ar thíthe an phobail. Bhí ard-mheas air i gConamara. Chomh maith leis sin bhí ard mheas aige ar na daoine ansin; ar an gcultúir, an teanga, na nósanna, na tradisiúin.
At that time emigration was widespread. People from Connemara frequently headed for Huddersfield in England. Fr. Seán accompanied them and spent two years on loan in that city. On his return he was appointed to Bunnacurry in Achill and in 1964 returned to the Gaeltacht in Knock-spiddal. Nuair a bhí an Ath. Seán sa gceantar Cois Fharraige d’úsáid sé na buanna agus scileanna tógála go fairsing arís. Chomh maith le Pobal Dé a chruthú – chuir sé béim ar infra-struchtúir na hEaglaise a bheith suas chun dáta, nua aimseartha, compórdach, ealaíonta, deá-chumtha, liotúirgeach agus caoi mhaith a bheith air. Bhíodh caighdéan den scoth ag teastáil ariamh agus i gconaí ón Ath. Seán do Theach an Phobail. From there he moved to Kilmaine and in 1971 he was appointed to Castlebar becoming Parish Priest ten years later. That was my first contact with him and I quickly came to admire the great work he was doing. He underlined the importance of team work as he coordinated the work of the priests and the mission of the Church in a busy parish which was changing rapidly. His exceptional skill in construction and renovation was called upon; his advice in that area was frequently sought by many priests of the diocese.
Builder of Community – Building for the Future
Those who worked with him recalled the ways in which he fostered a wonderful sense of community spirit; he had an eye for detail but at the same time kept the overall picture in view. Considerable experience gained over the years equipped him to give wise counsel and provide courageous leadership. Canon Seán was a man who looked to the future and much of the building which he undertook in Castlebar at the time was preparing the parish for the years ahead ensuring it would be ready to meet the challenges today.
Clonberne as A.P.
Eighteen years ago he came to Clonberne as your priest. Very quickly you came to see him as a friend, a priest who enjoyed his ministry, one who loved the people and wanted the best for them. He had a wide range of interests. He excelled at Gaelic football in his day. He continued to keep an avid interest in it all through his life. Canon Seán was an outstanding golfer, playing off single figures for many years. His playing partners say he was a very keen competitor and that he simply hated to lose!! Games were for winning. Christianity began on the 19th green!!! These and other interests like farming, card playing and many other diversions – all enabled him to relate in a very meaningful way and provide leadership in the local community. Canon Seán was very conscious of the inter-relationship between faith and everyday concerns of the people as they endeavoured to rear their families. As a priest his prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist had huge implications for what took place in the community. Always to the fore in supporting local initiatives and anything that would enhance the identity of the people and improve the locality.
Versatility in relating to young and old
He was equally at home with children in the school situation, with their parents and grandparents at home. I recall many occasions when he relayed stories told to him in the classroom by the children.
Importance of family for Canon Seán – Is treise dúchas ná oiliúnt!
In his own family Canon Seán was a father figure. Always interested in his nephews and nieces and their families. When one of his brothers died leaving a young family he assumed the role of father for them, on one occasion designing a house for a niece who was getting married. He was intensely proud of the many achievements of family members, especially in the area of sport and recreation whether in the area of music, drama, swimming or most especially Gaelic football. Always the link-man in the family, I know that he will be missed very much by them.
First and foremost – a priest of Jesus Christ
Returning to the apostle Paul he witnessed to Jesus Christ with intelligence, with courage, with friendship and love for all. Today we thank God for Canon Seán and the witness he gave to Jesus Christ for 59 years of priesthood. We thank God for the people and the priests who worked with him in the various places where ministered and particularly want to express my heartfelt appreciation to yourselves, the people of Clonberne/Kilkerrin for the support that you have provided for him.
Prayer for Salvation
Today we gather, not only in remembrance, but in fervent prayer. Ní bhíonn saoi gan locht a deirtear! We pray that the Lord may forgive Canon Seán whatever small shortcomings he may have had in life, that he may today be welcomed into the loving, caring arms of Jesus our Saviour and Lord. In the Irish language there is a phrase: Bíonn grásta Dé idir an diallat agus an talamh. The grace of God often comes between the fall from the saddle and the ground. It is perhaps no small coincidence that St. Paul’s moment of conversion, moment of grace, his call to follow Christ is portrayed in popular art as coming from a fall from his horse. In our weakness, in our human fragility, in our dependence, in our mortality we pray for the forgiveness, the mercy, the benevolence of God – that He might overlook our human failings. In our hour of need, facing the impasse that is the fall from this life to the next we entrust ourselves in hope to God. That is our prayer for Canon Seán in this requiem Mass. Like St. Paul we pray that he is now experiencing the transforming, tranfigurative power of the Risen Christ.
Condolences – Commiserations
Joining with the Parish Priest, Fr. Tommy Commins, with my brother priests, the whole congregation gathered from different parishes throughout the Archdiocese, I offer my sympathy and the support of my prayers to Canon Seán’s family, to Fr. Ciarán, his nieces, nephews and grandnieces and grandnephews and to you the people of Clonberne and to his devoted housekeeper.
Comhbhrón agus Beannachtaí
Comhbhrón croí le chuile dhuine anseo ar an ócáid bhrónach seo, an Canónach Seán a bheith imithe ar shlí na fírinne. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam usual gaelach agus go raibh leaba aige i measc na naoimh! Amen.