I tell this story about Gerry McCafferty and I hope that family don’t mind me mentioning it today. I tell it more against myself than Gerry. Gerry was a visitor of mine in the parish and liked to come for a tap, for his bus fare, for food, for gas or light or whatever it might be. But whatever it was it wasn’t for any of these. He was a frequent visitor over the years. He came to see me one Boxing day and I could see him and I know what he was going to ask. Instead of coming to the door I hid behind the door and he went away. I felt like a bit of a heel. Anyway he returned again just a few days later at the beginning of a funeral asking to see me. I agreed to see him after mass and when he came into the house he said that he had been given a couple of thousand pounds which he wanted to give to the parish.
Here was I thinking he was going to ask me for money and in actual fact he was giving me money. In fact he gave me more money than I ever gave him. Not sure what the moral is, God has a way of surprising us, don’t judge a book by its covers etc. There was a side to Gerry’s personality which was very generous and people knew kindness from him.
But I have to tell you that most of his adult life was in turmoil through drink. It was an insane form of drinking, he could drink copious amounts. It was the kind of drinking that led him into the most miserable of situations but it did not deter him. He would be banned from places, hospitals, surgeries, pubs, shops. He would be carnaptious, argumentative, hostile, easily take offence. He would be blind to see the misery his actions created, he set the house on fire almost killing himself and the other inhabitants but even this didn’t stop him. There were periods which he stopped because his life was on edge but ultimately he couldn’t sustain it. Over 40 years he never worked but was on the road of self destruction.
We are reminded in the Gospel of today’s mass that the Lord came to save that which was lost. The very heart and core of the Gospel story is this – he comes to save the prodigal son, he comes to find the lost sheep, he comes to search out the lost coin, he sits down with sinners at table. Everything is about finding that which was lost. Because that was what was at the heart of his ministry – there were 99 sheep but the lost one mattered just as much, there was coins aplenty but it was the small coin that was sought after – the father had a son but he was looking for the lost one.
In God’s heart there is always a place for the one who is lost, who has strayed, who struggles, who has gone down a wrong path in life. It is the very reason which Jesus laid down his life and came from the tomb, to save that which was lost.
Today I wish to express my unbounded admiration for this family who are here today, for their parents who looked after Gerry and suffered much and to each of you who took him under your wing and looked out for him. I mention especially Ellen, his sister, who was especially good to him and had the patience of a saint; they lived together for years . She was buried from here not so long ago and if ever anyone deserves a gold medal it was her, she is in many ways was an unsung hero. God sees everything, God knows everything, God understands all things – God will reward her for the times, she forgave, for the times she kept going, for the times she turned her cheek, for the times she walked the extra mile.
If ever a family deserve the name of Catholic and Christian this family deserves it – it is easy to be kind to somebody once or twice but over a whole lifetime to support someone in the ways they did, that is superhuman. This is a family that has taken to itself those words – how many times must I forgive my brother 7 times , not seven times I tell you but 7 times 77. This is a family that has looked out for their brother returning in the open road. This is a family who has no abandoned the lost sheep. My admiration for them is absolutely unbounded. Whatever you learned along the road from your earliest days you put into action. Go away from this Church with a great blessing and for the work that you have done over a lifetime.
Trust Gerry to land on his feet. He died at Easter. When the church is celebrating its greatest feast he died in the midst of all this. Not for him to die on a day of no meaning but to die at Easter when the heaven and earth celebrates. Maybe just like that incident that I mentioned at the beginning, where God had a message for me. Maybe he has a message for us all – he came that all might be saved. Where we put limits on love he puts no limits. Where we forgive once he forgives always. Where our mercy is conditional his is not. He came to save all, he came on earth that all might live and none should perish. For all who know Gerry there is consolation in this fact and this truth.