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Homily for funeral Masses for Fr. Calum MacLellan
On celebrating Mass on last Saturday morning after hearing of Fr Calum’s death I was struck by the appropriateness of the reading from the Prophet Isaiah which we had in the Mass for the day. We listened to the same passage today and I think we can easily see how the prophet’s words can be applied to Fr Calum:
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: “Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?
I answered, ‘Here I am, send me’.
If somebody needed to be sent to speak on any matter Fr Calum was your man – he went without fear or trepidation, confident he would do a good job and that his words would be persuasive enough to win the day in any argument. He took ill a few weeks ago as he was preparing to go to Canada to speak in Gaelic at an ecumenical service in Cape Breton – he wasn’t that well but he was ready and keen to go because that is how he responded to every request. Unfortunately he took ill at his sister’s house in Glasgow and subsequently was taken into hospital, where he spent his last weeks, struggling and hoping to get well enough to return home to Eriskay.
Although he involved himself and excelled in many other matters, the call at the heart of his whole life and activity was that of the Lord – he heard that call as a boy in Eriskay and he responded willingly and completely by offering his life to Christ and his Church as a priest. I thought he spoke very powerfully and movingly in the recent Island Parish television series of how happy and fulfilling his life had been as a priest and how privileged he felt to have had such a vocation. The Lord’s words in today’s gospel – “Shoulder my yoke and learn from me…..Yes my yoke is easy and my burden light” – are fitting for Fr Calum also. The yoke of the priestly ministry which he accepted joyfully from the Lord was borne with much dedication and loving service throughout the whole of his priesthood – Fr Calum did not loss any of his enthusiasm for the priestly ministry from the day of his ordination until that of his death. He loved celebrating the sacraments, preaching and leading the people in prayer, visiting the sick and the dying, and he carried that contact and love for the Lord into all the communal and social activity, which he also enjoyed so much and through which he brought so much goodness and encouragement to others.
Within the big vocational call to be a priest there is in every priest’s life the particular calls, received through his bishop or superior, to minister in particular places, and in this sensitive area Fr Calum was especially open and generous in responding to whatever was asked of him by his bishop. Through the almost forty years he spent as parish priest in the Southern Isles – in Bornish, Northbay, Benbecula, Castlebay, and Eriskay – there were occasions when he was asked to move parishes at times which were particularly inconvenient to him, for family reasons when he was moved from Bornish, and in regard to his responsibilities as local councillor, and indeed Vice-Convenor of Comhairle nan Eilean, when he moved from Benbecula. He found the bishops’ decisions difficult, but his willingness to go where sent (“Here I am Lord, send me”) determined his priestly service, and he brought all his enthusiasm and care for the people to his new parishes, and to the issues and needs he found awaiting his undoubted abilities as a campaigner and advocate for social development in the Islands.
The years after he retired as Parish Priest were marked by great generosity in his willingness to help wherever he was required – throughout the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles where he became known and loved in a number of the mainland parishes also, and then in the English-speaking communities in the Costa del Sol, and even further afield in the Comite del Pueblo in Quito, Ecuador. One of his proudest mementos was the certificate he got for learning Spanish in two weeks in Quito! As bishop I have certainly appreciated Fr Calum’s willingness to fill a gap and go were asked and I am sure many of the priests have been most grateful for his generosity in supplying for them, as were the parishioners who enjoyed his presence among them.
St Paul said to us today “The life and death of each of us has its influence on others”, and he put this general appraisal of human living and dying in a strongly Christian context when he added “if we live we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord, so that alive or dead we belong to the Lord”. Fr Calum’s life has had an influence on many of us here – some perhaps in a very deep and personal way, because he was particularly good at speaking to people and being with them in their trials and sorrows, also in his cheerful greetings and in his sometimes sharp remarks and comments (I understand that is part of the Eriskay, or the MacLellan, gene). His death also touches us because we will really miss him as a friend and priest – many words have been expressed already in his memory, and I am sure we will hold these memories long into the future as we recall his presence among us both in story and in prayer. I am sure he will appreciate our prayers today as we celebrate Mass for him as he gives his account of his own life to God. He certainly excelled himself as a priest at the many funerals he conducted, always giving great hope to those who mourned their loved ones as he proclaimed our faith in the Lord’s death and resurrection and our firm and sure belief that we will share in this new eternal life by remaining faithful to the Lord here on earth.
In the last conversation I had with Fr Calum in Raigmore Hospital last week he was reflecting about the new stage he had reached in life – as an elderly sick man, who would have to be patient through long periods of treatment, which left him weak and very cold. He had got over being angry about this or feeling sorry for himself, signs of which he had shown earlier, and he was ready to face what lay ahead with a firm faith and a hope that he might to get back home to Eriskay. He didn’t expect to die so soon but he was reconciled with the Lord and ready to accept his will for him – he was most grateful for the attention of the medical and nursing staff and for the many people who had visited, as well for those who brought him Holy Communion and prayed with him. He had his rosary beads round his neck, and said he managed a few basic prayers when he could – whatever crisis he still had to face health-wise he was at peace with and in the Lord, whom he had given his life to, and who would soon take him as one of his own into his eternal embrace.
The promise of eternity is indeed a strong motivation for us to be faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus. He encourages us to grow to be like him throughout our lives, so each day of life is an opportunity to follow in his steps and to be other Christs. Sometimes that takes a lot of courage, leaving behind our own fears and facing the reality of what is present and what lies ahead. The situations we face can be very different, but the principles of being upright and honest, true to yourself and true to what we believe, remain the same for us all and require strength of character and also the Lord’s grace. Fr Calum was certainly a very determined character, who persevered in the causes he became involved in, and was fearless in putting forward his point of view even when others disagreed with him. Usually the issues he became publicly involved in where for the benefit of others and he carried that understanding of service and following in the Lord’s footsteps into his work in the Council and the other public bodies on which he served. He became a priest in a time when this element of representing the people in social and community matters was still very strong and he brought his own passion and integrity into this and it was always clear that he did this, as best he could, for the benefit of the community. He was therefore a good ambassador for the Church and the communities of the Southern Isles, and he was effective in getting results because he worked well with others while not being willing to concede any point without a good fight being put up. In that sense he was a good politician but he understood this to be an important part of his priestly service and his own following of Christ, his teacher and master.
In mourning the loss of such an admired and much loved priest it is justifiable to wonder if the Lord will provide us with somebody in his place. It is well over 100 years ago now since Fr Allan MacDonald died on Eriskay as the island’s much loved priest. It is almost 60 years since the ordination of Fr Calum, a native of Eriskay and also a much parish priest of the island, and as we come to bury him today beside his parents and fellow islanders, perhaps it is time to appeal that another young man from this community will hear the Lord’s call and will respond by coming forward to offer his life to the Lord as a priest. We used to be more proactive in encouraging boys to think of the priesthood, but in more recent times some of our confidence has been sapped and there can be some reluctance in promoting the priesthood and praying for vocations. On an occasion like this when we are reflecting on Fr Calum happy and very full life as a priest I feel I should ask if there are boys or young men here you have thought of the priesthood and, if you have, be brave like Fr Calum and come forward and let us know that you have heard the Lord’s call and would like to respond as Fr Calum did. You can have a wonderful life also, and not many people get a funeral like this when our earthly life ends and we are called to the Lord in eternity.
As we offer our Requiem Mass for Fr Calum, we pray for his family and all his friends here, and his fellow priests who will miss him also, and the many people across the world who remember him with such affection. A special thanks to everybody who has expressed their condolences by word or by letter, both to Fr Calum’s family and to the Diocese – your thoughts and prayers are much appreciated. He was a special man, and we were privileged to know him. May he now rest in God’s peace, redeemed by the Lord’s saving passion and death and breathing the fragrance of the resurrection.