Monday, January 08, 2018

Homily for the Funeral for Fr Tim O'Toole CP at St Paul Apostle Endeavour Hills, 30th December 2017 .


How do you die? This is a question that surprised two of our Passionists at the hospital last week, as Tim tried to make sense of what was happening to him.
Back in 1976, Tim joined the Passionists in January, I was ordained in February, and by April I joined our community in Geelong. That brought about many encounters with the O’Toole and Hennessy Families. During the following four years I would encounter Tim the student at Templestowe, Tim the family man in Geelong. Of memory was Tim taking a few of us the listen to some Irish bands in pubs around Carlton, as Tim shared his love of music.
From the time of his ordination in December 1983, Tim became a specialist as a Parish Missioner, and his capacity to engage in the lives of families was amazing. Tim had the “smell of the sheep” before Pope Francis popularized the term. His parish assignments have taken him to Terrey Hills, Kamberatoro, Hobart, Endeavour Hills, Bourke, Endeavour Hills, and finally Marrickville. His Mission in Parish was by total immersion. He was there, in the thick of it. He knew everyone’s name, and who was related to who.
Immersing in the ordinary events of people’s lives placed him at the centre of a national tragedy in April 1996 with the Port Arthur Massacre in Tasmania. He was called to the Royal Hobart Hospital, where he hung out for days, assisting in the grief of those who had lost loved ones, and those seriously injured and awaiting return to their home cities. That work continued into weeks and months for some.
Tim was there.
In the midst of this National tragedy, Tim was there.
As new lives were born and parents sought the Sacraments of Initiation for them, Tim was there.
In our wonderful parish schools and regional colleges, Tim was there.
As young people from here married in our fancy city churches, and sometimes here, Tim was there.
As people wanted the Healing Sacraments, Tim was there.
And as your family members died and returned to the Father, Tim was there.
At Men’s Clubs, and RE classes, and Dinner Dances, Tim was there.
He had the smell of the sheep because he was a Shepherd.
I worked with him three times, twice here and once in Marrickville. He assumed leadership from me in both places, and continued the good work of all his predecessors, here the wonderful founding Father, Frank Martin, and Gerry McKernan. In both places, both of us reveled in the work of partnership with great lay leaders on parish committee and groups. The joke we shared this year was, that I’m only working in Marlborough NZ to prepare the place for him to take over in a few years. He was planning to come to NZ in November for a break after his operation, but alas, that was not to be.
Kevin Dance has now inherited 20 years of Passionist Ministry here. He has also inherited the partnership we enjoy with our Sisters, Joan, Brigid, and Karen. I wish them all well. They are all excellent pastoral practitioners, and I know there are many good leaders here today who will share this Parish Mission. And they continue to enjoy the support of other Passionists in Endeavour Hills and Templestowe.
As you would realize, working with Tim was a lot of fun, but it also had some frustration and uncertainty.
• Would he be here for the 9am Mass?
• Would he come to the dinner dance?
• Would we have dinner tonight?
• Oh, and more so, will he answer his phone?
In our early weeks here after 1 July 1998, yes, early 20 years ago, Tim and Ray and I were doing house preparations on the afternoons and evenings. Tim went off to get some dinner for us. After waiting 45 minutes, I went shopping! When Tim arrived later, he said “Sorry, had just dropped in the see someone!” That became the predictable pattern of life. Always visit the Sheep.
Being No 2 on the Parish Team was frustrating for him. Once he became PP, he said to me “I was saying to myself, someone should do something about … (some issue), then I realized I was that someone!” He had the great gift to laugh at himself.
Saturday afternoons we played a non contact sport called, “don’t contact me!” He would beach himself on his bed with Gospel commentaries galore, and sweat it out for hours wondering, what can I say this weekend? What came forth during the homilies, might have been a bit clumsy at times, with a few ums thrown in, but we related to him because he was sharing our stories, and God gave him the ability to help us make connections between the ordinary events of our lives and our faith. We shared his struggle. He was for real.
At Thursday’s funeral in Sydney, John Curtis spoke of him as the great procrastinator, always putting things off. Yesterday a couple of people here used the same words. But we know that once that inner bomb exploded inside him, the message was, “step aside, here we go”. And what a wonderful journey we shared.
The Word of God today is spoken to us as an encouragement in these times we are sharing, of an unplanned loss:
• I have appointed you as a prophet/messenger to the nations. Don’t be afraid, I put my words in your mouth.
• We have this God given treasure in clay jars.
• A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.
As Tim did, so we should do:
• We are God’s messengers … share the message, God is here, he won’t abandon us.
• We are as fragile as stone jars, but we hold the gift of the Lord to share. Drink of God’s love and share it.
• If we were all to lay down our lives, share widely our lives, the world would be so much better.
Tim’s question, “how do you die”, needed to be asked for Tim. The Answer? Be open to the mystery of God here amongst us. It may simply mean, hop in the boat of life and go with the flow, and let Jesus the Good Shepherd take the rudder.
How do you die? You live!
John Pearce CP.
30th December 2017.

Postscript: This post is shared with condolences to the Passionist Community and the O'Toole family in Geelong. Tim and I never met but we shared a common heritage in our birth city, our time at St Joseph's College Newtown and our mutual connection to the Passionists. As a young teen I often visited St Gabriel's Monastery with my family.  The Passionist connection thickens as another member of the community, Kevin Hennessy and I were altar servers at Ss Peter and Paul's Geelong West known to the locals as "Ashby".

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