Fr Michael (Leonard) Cremin, O.Carm. 1934 – 2019

Sermon given at the Funeral Mass in the Carmelite Church, Moate, on October 2, 2019, by J. Murray, O.Carm.

Welcome again as we gather to celebrate Fr Michael’s life and all the goodness and kindness we associate with it. Before he died, St Ambrose said; ‘You who loved me in life, remember me in death, and especially in the Eucharist’. That is what we do for Fr Michael today.
Today we are saying thanks to someone for being an important presence not only in the life of his Carmelite Community, but in the wider community as well. Occasions like this bring so many of us together. We meet in an atmosphere of shared faith, shared prayer and shared pain. There is an instinctive sympathy that makes us one.
The gospel just read is appropriate to the occasion that brings us together. It is taken from the feast of the Ascension. The Ascension is a marvellous occasion for the Christian celebration of death and everlasting life. It is there to confirm our belief that we are also invited to share in the life that Jesus made visible through his own death and resurrection.
The Ascension, in essence, is the mystery that explains the transition between the earthly and the enduring presence of Christ. Far from distancing us from Jesus, it is our first step into his presence. When Jesus was preparing his disciples for his Ascension, he told them ‘it is better that I go away, you don’t understand this now. You will grieve and your hearts will be sad, but later this will turn into joy and you will understand why I had to do this, because unless I go you cannot receive my spirit’. These are the unspoken words of all who leave home, of all who have to say ‘goodbye’. The paradoxical interplay between presence and absence in love is a great mystery.
We bring a blessing when we visit someone and when we leave them. The mystery of saying goodbye is really the mystery of the ascension. The ascension is about going away so that our loved ones can fully receive our spirit. It deepens intimacy by giving us a new presence, a richer one but one that can only come about if our former way of being present is taken away. Christ has ascended and we are the richer for it. The same can be said of Fr Michael. It was only after Jesus died that his disciples were able to grasp what he had meant for them.
But isn’t that rue of all who died? We have to let go of them, but in our tomorrows we shall possess them in a new way. A certain kind of going away keeps us together for ever. Such is the dynamic of the Ascension. When someone you know and love dies, they take something of those who are left behind with them, and that perhaps is what is meant by the ascension because part of us is already with them. Time can heal, but its rhythm cannot be rushed.
Today we gather to celebrate Fr Michael’s accomplishments as teacher and priest. It’s easier to talk about the Trinity than about him. At least with the Trinity you know where to start. As a man of passionate inclinations, he achieved much. He had a spectacular lack of boundaries in the wide range of activities in which he was involved.
We need dream of what might give us energy for the journey, and he had that. He was strong willed with a great work ethic. He did so much and he did a lot of it differently. He took the road less travelled. I don’t mean that he travelled less, only that there were fewer such travellers on that road. A Cork man and proud of it. He loved to laugh and be with people.
Fr Michael was educated at University College Dublin and the Milltown Institute. He was ordained in 1959. After ordination he taught in Terenure College, and came to Moate in 1960 where he worked as priest and teacher until 1993. Our lives are a series of stories that go to make up one story. As well as his priestly work and his teaching, he got involved in the world of football. He succeeded Fr O’Hea as trainer of the college senior team. In those early days he played for Moate and was on the team that won the junior championship in 1961. On the football field he could be very competitive, just ask any Rosemount man! He trained the Westmeath Minor Team in 1962, and in 1963 they got to the All-Ireland final. Bro. Tom King, who is laid to rest beside this church, was on that team.
He was convinced that he could achieve a dream with the college team, and he did. The Golden Era was 1975 to 1981. His team reached their first All-Ireland final in 1975 and won the All-Ireland in 1976, 1980 and 1981. He brought zest to whatever he did. His enthusiasm was contagious. The energy and passion with which he worked was electrifying. He had a gift for communication and a flair for dramatic delivery.
He had a caring and personal pastoral style which permeated his work. Compassionate to the sick or poor, he made trips to visit them at the local hospitals or at their homes, and that has been part of what has given meaning to his years of priesthood. He was always available to give advice and encouragement. As a friend, you were part of his world. Pain is part of the human condition and sharing that pain is a deeply human task.
At school, he shared pupil’s problems, rejoiced in their success, and provided a good role model. He never smoked or drank and often wondered why others did. He lived a life grounded in reality, and God was part of that reality. Fr Michael found fulfilment in his work. Anyone who does whatever they can, and does it well, leaves their signature.
In his latter years he was called to powerlessness and suffering. He had taught technical drawing at school and so it is not surprising that he should take up painting. Like most artistic people, he was right-brained. Those are the people with a capacity for a depth of feeling the rest of us can never understand. They’re creative, spontaneous, intuitive and often non-verbal. They wrestle with a vision and long for healing and affirmation.
There is a song entitled ‘Fill the earth with love’ and is based on a theme from St John of the Cross. That song was used in the movie ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’. It expressed much that could be described as his ministry: ‘In the evening of my life I shall look to the sunset, At a moment in my life when the night is due. And the question I shall ask only I can answer: was I brave and strong and true? Did I fill the world with love my whole life through?’
It was a life shaped by gestures of friendship and punctuated by remembered blessings. He was always available to give advice and encouragement. As a friend you were part of his world and you were included in his zeal and encouragement. Every life is a profession of faith and so was his. His death brings home to God a great and faithful servant who now sees clearly what he believed in life. The writer Steinbeck once remarked that ‘it’s so much darker when the light goes out than it would have been if it never shone’.
It’s autumn with its special goodness, a basic contentment and peace, a sense of duty done, life lived, love given and received. In his illness he drew strength and comfort from the care, kindness and love of so many but especially from the Gort Muire Community and its nursing staff.
A prayer he liked, and which he himself so often said at funerals, was Cardinal Newman’s lovely reflection: ‘May the Lord support us all the day long until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, And the busy world is hushed, And the fever of life is over and our work is done. Then, Lord, in your mercy give us a safe lodging and a holy rest, and peace at last. Amen.’
Today he could say with the conviction of St Paul: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith’. With equal conviction we could say to him: ‘Once again death’s mystery holds us in its arms and we are memoried, by a thousand things, you were and are and now always will be’. May he rest in peace.