This is a day that all of us – and none more so than Bishop Edward Daly – knew would eventually come. Having retired on the grounds of ill health almost 23 years ago, he had faced recurrent illness and the frailties which come with increasing age. But he always seemed to bounce back with his usual poise. However, over the last couple of weeks, he had to face his final great challenge and he did so with his customary equanimity, prayerfulness and dignity.
So, today, we come to hand back to God one who was grateful for how he had been blessed in life – and one whose ministry has been an instrument of God’s peace for so many people. It was a privilege to stand at the door of the Cathedral over the last three days and hear stories of invaluable acts of kindness, both great and small. The people of the diocese – and beyond – held Bishop Edward Daly in the highest regard for his loving faithfulness to them over a period of 59 years as priest and bishop in this diocese. He could say, as Jesus did, ‘I know mine and mine know me.’
His ministry was marked by total dedication to the people he served, wherever he was called to minister. That dedication was visible in outstanding courage. He showed physical courage on Bloody Sunday. And his moral courage was evident in his passionate struggle against violence and injustice from all quarters. It takes enormous courage to be a peacemaker. And he was an apostle of mercy, whether as a curate, as a bishop or as chaplain in the Foyle Hospice. For that courageous service of God and of his people, we give thanks today. We have all been blessed by it.
We come to prayerfully hand back this man to the strong hands of the Lord who – as the psalmist says – knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. We stand below the Cross where the carpenter of Nazareth stretched out his arms to bear the world’s sin and to reveal the face of the Father’s mercy. And we commend him to the free abundant gift of grace.
So what do we thank and praise God for today? There is the paradoxical truth that, because mercy is free, it comes at a hefty price. For Edward Daly his call to be a disciple of Christ was nourished in the heart of his family, where he was the eldest of five children. When he sensed a call to be used by Christ as one of his ordained ministers, he accepted that invitation with a full heart, being open to the Gospel truth that discipleship always demands a dying to self. The call to follow Christ is an invitation to be a worker who prepares the way for the coming of God’s kingdom, built with the little bricks of kindness, generosity and compassion with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone on whom the whole building is aligned. In a fragmented and often self-centred world, there is still a huge need for that sort of dedicated and selfless service. The crowds who have come here over the last few days show that they value loving, courageous, generous spiritual leadership. Bishop Daly would not seek praise for himself. He would ask that more young people dedicate their lives to his sort of service to God and his people.
The motto that he chose for his episcopal ministry some 42 years ago revealed something of how he saw his calling. It is a quotation from today’s Gospel, where Jesus tells Peter to ‘feed my sheep’. As Jesus says to Peter, this is a call, not to glory but to humble service. Ministry in the model of Jesus is not fitting people around my plans, but expending my energies and sacrificing my desires, to prioritise the healing of others. Like Peter, he would often find himself in situations and places where he would rather not have gone – places of pain, loss, injustice, confrontation and incarceration. In those places, blessed are the merciful. Like Veronica and Simon of Cyrene, thrust into the limelight on the way to Calvary, he knew that carrying an unjust cross with others was painful. But he continued to give of his all that the sheep might be fed and built up.
In those hurting places, he also remembered Jesus’ words, blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. It took enormous courage to build healing on the burning sands of war. We are all blessed because we have seen how love can transform a blood-stained piece of cloth into an unforgettable symbol of divine compassion. Today we are grateful for Edward Daly and thousands of others across our community and churches who took risks and paid the price that peace might take roots in our hearts and communities. Those who feed others with the hope of peace are a blessing on us.
A key element of his peacebuilding was his growing friendship with other church leaders. In his early years as Bishop, he accepted the groundbreaking invitation to attend the consecration of the young Bishop Robin Eames. He then had a long friendship with Bishop James Mehaffey, who became bishop here in 1980. Their courageous work and real friendship were key factors in building up relationships across the diocese. They attended as many events and occasions as possible together, as a mark of unity and a sign of hope. Today, we are immensely grateful for that legacy.
My first encounter with Bishop Edward Daly was when he visited the Irish College in Rome in 1974. He was a young bishop and we were studying theology. He asked us to do one thing – he said ‘please pray for me’. This was not merely a pious expression. Rather they seemed to come from a heart which knew the maelstrom that was NI in those awful years. He knew about murder and loss. He knew that the years of conflict followed upon decades of terrible poverty and discrimination – as well as heroic generosity. He knew the enormous resilience of people who could face almost anything together. The famous song of Phil Coulter caught that resilience so well.
Now the music’s gone but they carry on
For their spirit’s been bruised, never broken
They will not forget but their hearts are set
on tomorrow and peace once again.
He also knew so many people, steeped in the language of faith and of the Cross, who would not let themselves be crushed by the terrible burdens that many of them had to bear. And we still see the legacy of that resilient faith today in a strong sense of community and an ability to face tragedies together.
The young bishop asked us for prayers because he knew from the Gospels that it takes a humble person rather than a haughty one to step out of the boat and face the choppy waters. It takes a prayerful heart to be convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord. It takes a trusting and generous heart to act in good faith and to believe that God can bring good results from our less than perfect decisions. Prayer allowed the Lord to mould his heart.
Because of that prayer-filled heart, thousands were blessed by his service in Jesus’ name. That is why there was a never-ending stream of God’s people, streaming through the Cathedral doors since his remains arrived here on Monday evening – perhaps 25,000 over the last three days. That was their response to a man who loved them and whom they loved.
On the altar today for the Liturgy of the Eucharist we will use the chalice that was presented to the newly ordained Fr Edward Daly by the people of his native Belleek in March 1957 to mark his ordination as a priest. That chalice is a sign of his own 59 years of dedication to the regular celebration of the Eucharist. The sacramental presence of Christ was central to his life and he knew how the sacrament of the suffering Christ was such a consolation to the sick. With it he celebrated Christ’s victory over sin and death – for therein lies the mystery of our salvation and our hope.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus appoints disciples ‘to be with him and to go out’ (Mk 3:14). For Bishop Daly and for all, of us who believe in Jesus Christ, faith is not a placebo for the weak but something that gives strength to face the challenges of life, of illness and dying, to go out, as Pope Francis says, to the peripheries. A person who has made room for the Transcendent in their life can courageously face the mystery of living and dying. Those who walk with God in the 21st century do not seek to escape from life. They have the strength to travel into the heart of life in all its diversity and complexity, believing that they will find a spring to satisfy their thirsting heart. The journey into the mystery of God is not a childish distraction but a maturing journey into the mystery of living and loving, of pain and forgiveness, of hoping and trusting.
One of Bishop Daly’s favourite prayers, that he would recite in the hospice for those who were dying and which was read with him in his last days, was John Henry Newman’s Lead Kindly Light. The person of faith need not fear the future nor have to see it, for they know the One who is Lord of the past and the future. I prayed it with him on the evening before his death, when we said with trust:
So long thy pow’r hath blest me, sure it still/ Will lead me on
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till The night is gone.
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
He could also apply to himself other words from Cardinal Newman.
He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.
I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place,
while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.”
Edward Kevin Daly, your time of faithful service is over. You have fought the good fight, you have run the race, you have kept the faith (Cf. 2 Tim 4:7). As you breathed your last and commended your spirit into God’s hands, you could pray the words of Simeon in the Gospel ‘Now let your servant go in peace according to your promise’.
With gratitude, we hand you back to the fine strong hands of the Lord who created you in love and give thanks for all the things that have been worked through – in the words of Zechariah – ‘the tender mercy of our God, who visits us like the dawn from on high, to give light to those in darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace.’