St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302
As we gather here to pray today, as we offer this Requiem Mass for the repose of Nathan's soul, we are confronted with a number of things around this altar. Firstly, there is the wooden coffin bearing the body of a beloved son, a loving brother, a strong uncle, a devoted friend, the good-hearted young fellow who was Nathan Farrell. We are confronted therefore with the mystery of death, with it's ugly cocktail of sadness and regret, of grief, mourning and loss.
We are confronted too with the pain of his family and friends: his heart-broken parents, his brothers and sisters left confused by the enormity of their loss, his friends and extended family who are left speechless that one so young and so kind should be gone, and a parish community left asking, what can we do, what should we do, what must we do to ensure that the unspeakable carnage of death on our roads, especially amongst our young people, will become a rarity.
In the Easter garden displayed before the altar, we are confronted with the empty tomb and the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ – another mystery which we must forever try to understand – a mystery which consoles us, comforts us and encourages us to remember that, just as the story of Jesus Christ and his love for us did not finish upon the cross, in the dereliction of death, for his followers, for those who, in the words to today's Gospel, receive the bread of life, neither does their story end in death. We all share the promise of resurrection, given to us in baptism, and fed with the Bread of Life eternal, the Holy Eucharist which we gather to receive, to celebrate and to live every day of our lives.
For it is only in the one who stands upon this altar that we can try to make sense of death itself, of the death of Nathan Farrell, of the death of his friend Nathan Dixon (Gill), of how, far too often it is the old who gather to bury young. Only in the example of his suffering, in the witness of his death and in the assurance of his living presence with us this day and every day can we ever hope to understand the mystery of life and death and the eternal life to come.
Nathan Farrell was a superb young man of prayer and faith, he appreciated the wonderful, though fragile gift which life is; he lived his eighteen years to the full and looked forward to living many more – as so, despite his dreams being interrupted, despite his family's expectations for him being confounded, his hope of life with God, in his presence – a hope he grew to understand more and more every day in his recitation of the Rosary – this hope was not, is not and will never be destroyed – for he placed his hope in God. The tragic events of Saturday morning, the terrible loss of life, the pain which those who thankfully survived now carry – all of this is a grim reminder of how tenderly we share in the gift of life.
Today's first reading gives an account of what happened on the road between Jerusalem and Gaza; an encounter between Philip and an Ethiopian official. In that encounter, the Ethiopian official was reading from the prophet Isaiah, from what is called the Song of the Suffering Servant. However, he was confused.With hindsight, we can easily see how the text referred to Jesus.But the official, who was not baptised, could not see that. So Philip sat with him and explained the Good News of Jess to him.
Because of the events of Saturday morning, along another road, many hearts and broken and minds confused. As in the Song of the Suffering Servant, Nathan's life on earth too has been cut short.It takes someone to sit with us and explain the Good News of Jesus to us. And that has been going on over the past six days – in your droves, you have come from near and far to support Nathan's family, to tell the lovely stories of his goodness and his love; you have come to show your tenderness and support.
And again, this morning, as we gather here, this community, yet again, shows its gentle strength and its deep faith.In every handshake offered, in every prayer said, in every tear shed there has been profound pain but also the quiet resolve that death cannot have the final word – that belongs to God, and that word is life.
Nathan was, by nature, proactive and respectful of everyone.He was the one to whom you turned when something needed fixing around the house. From his earliest days he was an 'honest to God' individual – one time having to run the gauntlet of his neighbours in Millfield when, innocently enough, he told the Dog-warden how many dogs everyone had, the cross ones and the lovely ones! When going abroad, it was he who would be looking out for others. In the trip that was planned for Santa Ponza, I could imagine that other parents felt better when they heard that Nathan as going! His Mammy's blue-eyed boy, even as a child, even if it got him into bother, he would repeat exactly what he had been told, or what he had heard. He loved getting home from his work in Dublin, getting changed, working his hair with gel, and innocently lapping the town with his friends. When he went missing one day as an eight-year-old, he was found with his go-kart tractor parked at the back of a wake house, sitting in his wellies with all the adults, expressing his sorrow for their loss and asking, 'what's the world coming to anyway!'
It is a question which we all ask today. And we must confront it as we confront everything else. Nathan was up-front and honest in what he asked and what he said. So, faithful to his memory, I feel I must do the same. When I see signpost after signpost around this parish saying 'Wake', my heart always drops a little. Over the past few days, when I saw these signs, I felt they should have read, "Wake Up!' I say this not only to you, as young people, but I say it to everyone, and I say it to myself, 'Wake up! Be careful as you drive. Be mindful as you carry a precious cargo with you. Be prayerful as you get into your car and be thankful as you get out of it. Regret is not the best way to respond to Nathan's death and the deaths of so many like him – resolve is better, that resolve to make our roads safer by driving more cautiously and taking our time. It is an uneasy feeling to bury someone like Nathan who ironically was so into protecting everyone else but who died in this sad way.
From his childhood days, Nathan loved diggers and dumpers, and was to have begun a new job at Inishowen Engineering on Tuesday morning last. That was not to be. Perhaps a new job began for him then. For I pray that, with God in the heaven where we hope we'll meet him again, he'll be engineering moves. He will be close to Junior and Jennifer his parents; to his family, Rachel, Gerry, Jessica, Michael, Jodie and Chelsea; to Ricky, Sophie and Rachel – he always slept with a relic under his pillow – he'll still be close to you all, checking the locks and the plugs to make sure everyone's safe. And to you, his many friends, and especially those who survived the accident, he'll be saying,'Guys, learn from this, learn from me, learn from God! Cherish life and act accordingly.'
He never liked to be dressed the same as anyone else. If jackets or other items of clothing were the same – he'd try to figure out who would change, and what would be changed. With his friend Nathan Dixon (Gill), this once happened and he (Nathan Farrell) went home to change. As it happens, they died together, and now they will be buried close by each other – dressed exactly the same. But it is the robe to eternal life that we pray they will now wear for eternity. May their lives teach us how to live and may their deaths not have been in vain. May we confront the things which bring us pain and may we console one another in the faith of Jesus Christ.
May Nathan Farrell and Nathan Dixon (Gill), and all for whom we pray, rest in peace.
Fr Francis Bradley PP
Thursday, 4th May 2017