Thursday, November 23, 2023

Words of Bishop Donal McKeown at the funeral Mass for Bishop Anthony J Farquhar (1940-2023)


In October of 1958, the long reign of Pope Pius XII came to an end – and it was a surprise to many that the conclave elected the 76-year-old Pope John XXIII.  

It was this cheerful pontiff who unexpectedly called the Second Vatican Council.  

That huge gathering of bishops and others was concluded in 1965 by Pope Paul VI.  

At that period of seven years almost overlapped exactly with the seminary life of a young man called Anthony Farquhar. He entered formation in autumn 1958 and was ordained in spring 1965.  

He had no idea what lay ahead of him as he sought to be faithful to Christ’s call.

Firstly, he lived through the turbulent years in church as people sought to do what Pope John XXIII is supposed to have said – throw open the windows of the church and let the fresh air of the Holy Spirit blow.

Then he had to minister in Nothern Ireland as the awful years of the Troubles blighted the life of so many people.  

And for his last 30+ years in ministry, he was in leadership position as an Auxiliary Bishop when the credibility of church was damaged by reports and scandals.  

As Saint John Henry Newman said, to live is to have changed often. He was a wise pastor who knew that, even in the midst of abundant difficulties and changes, God is working for our good.  

In the words of Newman, he could say ‘I do not need to see the distant scene or one step is enough for me’.  

We are called to do our best and to leave the rest to God who can knit together whatever we do in love.

Secondly, he was true to himself. Through his father, he had a life-long interest in football.  

And through his grandfather, he had a deep connection with the Scottish Presbyterian tradition.  

Grace builds on nature.  

He used those natural gifts and openings to build bridges of friendship and understanding in a context where sectarianism was a resource used by many to build walls and justify division.  

His ministry in both Queen’s University and Ulster University meant that he both touched many young lives and was able to influence the direction of university education in changing and often turbulent times.

Thirdly, while he was a great raconteur and very witty, he was also a remarkably understated pastor. His stories were always used as tools for teaching, not merely for entertainment – and young people knew that he loved being with them.  

He could read people and situations with great insight. So much of his work was done in the background for he did not seek high office. He knew that leadership would have been hugely stressful for him.  

So, he was a great team player who generously gave of his profound wisdom in pastoral planning and in inter-church dialogue at the highest level.  

Those who worked with him knew that he could listen quietly to a conversation – and then cut right to the heart of an issue with a wise and gentle comment.  

Real strength knows how to be gentle.

We thank Christ who called a young man in the 1950s and graced him to be a blessing on so many over 58 years of ministry.

I had the privilege of knowing him from his arrival as my A-level Latin teacher in Garron Tower in 1966 until I sat beside him last Friday night, praying the prayer of Simeon -  'Now let your servant go in peace according to your promise.'

Today Bishop Tony would want us to commend him to God’s mercy – and to love one another as he has loved so many people.

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.