From the Gospel of St. Matthew, we heard these words of Jesus, “I assure you as often as you did it for one of my least brothers/sisters, you did it for me” – these words are from the Gospel that Fr. Eamon Tobin chose for his Funeral Mass. Fr. Eamon embraced the Gospel message, teaching and living these words.
Fr. Eamon was a man of words, but he was also a man of action. He didn’t just preach the Gospel, but he lived the Gospel. Ascension Parish is an example; the people not only listened to the Word of God, but also acted on the Word of God. The pastoral and spiritual ministries of this parish – of reaching out not only to the parishioners of the parish but to the wider community of Brevard County and to the greater world community of Haiti, Dominican Republic and Africa and other areas of which are unaware. On one of his visits to our sister diocese in the Dominican Republic there was a village very isolated because it lacked a bridge over a mountain river. Fr. Eamon asked Fr. Fred Ruse, “Why not build a bridge?” The reply – lack of money, engineering and building skills. But Fr. Eamon said, “I will find them both.” And he did. The bridge was built and today this community has running water and are building homes for themselves. At every natural disaster, Father Eamon would phone me to ask if he could take up a collection or how could his parish help. Compassion, love and mercy of the Lord were the soul of Fr. Eamon’s life and ministry.
Fr. Eamon born in Ireland, one of 5 children of Edward and Johanna Tobin. Ireland of the 50’s and 60’s was deeply imbued with faith and the Church. It was an environment where faith was a lived experience; family rosaries and Mass together on Sunday. It was in the family that young Eamon experienced the sacredness and mystery of a life of faith. Everything you did reflected on your relationship with God. Priests and nuns were part of the educational, social and family life of the people. Sports were a very important part of the social life of the people. The game of hurling was particularly popular in Fr. Eamon’s young life. He played hurling like all young boys for his parish, school and county. It is a very fast and skillful game. Fr. Eamon was very knowledgeable and up to date on players and scores. I would get a call early on a Monday morning to talk about the match score – Kilkenny versus Limerick.
Florida in the 1960’s began to grow and develop and the Church up to that time was considered a mission territory. The priests and nuns who served in Florida were either from up north or from Ireland and Spain. When the Irish priests went on vacation to Ireland, they were told by the bishop to visit schools and seminaries to recruit more priests and nuns. These priests would tell great stories of adventure and intrigue about Florida. Any young man would be fascinated to even dream of coming to Florida yet alone to become a priest. Fr. Eamon embraced the Gospel message, teaching and living these words, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matt. 28:20). Fr. Eamon was ordained on June 11, 1972 for the Diocese of Orlando. The first parish he served was St. James with Msgr. David Page. He also served at St Mary Magdalen with Fr. Paul Henry. The first parish he served as pastor was Our Saviour. He became pastor of Ascension on September 12, 2001 and has been faithfully serving until his sudden death on January 10, 2021. This beloved pastor returned to our Lord on the Feast Day of Mary, Mother of God.
Fr. Eamon had a deep love of the Word of God. He was a prolific writer, up early in the morning, devoting a few hours to reading and writing. He authored books, articles and commentaries on topics close to his heart: praying, forgiveness, the Sacraments, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sunday Mass readings, the rosary, dealing with death, fear and guilt. Like St. Patrick, he discovered the depth and meaning of the Word of God, the lived experience of life. The readings and music for this Funeral Mass were chosen by Fr. Eamon, which leaves me asking, what is Fr. Eamon saying to us today? What message is he leaving us?
The first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah (Is. 43:1-7) offering comfort and consolation to the people in their time of tribulation and suffering. God promises hope and restoration. Isaiah tells the people, “Yes the grass withers and flowers fade, but the Word of our God endures forever” (Is. 40:8). The name “Isaiah” means “God will give salvation.” Good people and priests, yes! God will give you salvation, but you must be strengthened and encouraged by God’s Word, which endures forever. Jesus gathers us here together to hear the Word of God, to pray as Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer and to receive the Eucharist. As Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me.” This was the prayer that Fr. Eamon prayed every day. Let it be our prayer too.
Second Corinthians (Cor.5:1; 6-10) “We know that when the earthly tent in which we dwell is destroyed we have a dwelling provided for us by God, a dwelling in the heavens, not made by hands but to last forever” (2 Cor.5:1). Fr. Eamon shares with us St. Paul’s longing to put on the new life that Jesus promises us in Heaven. Despite the pain and suffering of our physical bodies, Christ has promised us a new body free of all pain and suffering. Fr. Eamon was compassionate with people who suffered. He went out of his way to help them by consoling them with faith, hope and love. In Chapter One of the Vatican II document, Gaudium et spes, we read, “By suffering for us He (God) not only provided us with an example for our imitation, He blazed a trail, and if we follow it, life and death are made holy and take on a new meaning. Fr. Eamon in his own life suffered but in faith he believed the Lord’s words, “a dwelling provided for us by God . . . not made by human hands but to last forever.” May Christ’s life and death make us holy and give our lives more meaning. St. Paul tells us, “We walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).
Fr. Eamon chose the Gospel of St. Matthew 25:31-41 for his Funeral Mass. It is a summary of Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem and His response to those who refused to listen or believe. Fr. Eamon’s life as a priest was not clerical but a pastoral caring for the people of God. Jesus asked Peter just two questions in the Gospel; “Do you love me” and will you “tend my sheep.” Here at Ascension I have seen for myself how he loved and tended to the people. He was a good shepherd. Fr. Eamon also had a desire to reach out to those who had not heard the Word of God or had left the Church. He was a true teacher of faith – an evangelizer for the Gospel. He taught the people to reach out to all God’s people whatever their needs, physical, temporal or spiritual. Pope St. Paul VI said about people like Fr. Eamon, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 41). Fr. Eamon was a witness to the Gospel not just by what he said but also by his care and concern for all God’s people.
I was here at Ascension recently after Fr Eamon death and as I stood outside Church after Mass, people came up to me to tell me what Fr. Eamon meant to them and what he had done for them and their families. His care and concern were matched by his actions to reach out to whomever was in need.
He was also very active in the lives of his own family. They looked forward to his visits home to see them. His brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews are devastated with the loss of their brother and uncle. They are sad at the fact that they cannot attend his funeral and be here with us today. They are with us on live stream this afternoon. We will keep them in our prayers.
The school community of Ascension has suffered the loss of the principal, Anita Brady, and now the pastor, Fr. Eamon. I can only say he loved all of the teachers, the students, the parents. He saw in the school the future of the parish and Church. He would walk me around from classroom to classroom and have something good to say about each teacher and each student. He loved to learn the names of the students and they beamed with joy when he called them by name and asked them a question. He would proudly speak of the teachers who were educated at Ascension and who came back to teach. He loved to talk to former students and learn about where they were now. The school and office staff were his team and he spoke fondly of all of them. Sr. Joseph and Sr. Immaculata are not with us today; but, are also on live stream. I thank Fr. Martin for your care of Fr. Eamon and the pastoral care of the people of Ascension.
Fr. Eamon left us priests with many memories; there are pastors who are more than pastors; they truly the shepherds of their people. That is how I saw Fr. Eamon Tobin live his priestly life. To our future pastors, take note of Fr. Tobin and how he lived his priesthood and cared for the people of God. I am sure he would not want us to be nostalgic about him; today we must thank almighty God for the life of a good priest and friend to us all. At Funeral Masses, one does not honor the deceased by praising them; but we remind ourselves of God’s gift of priesthood lived out in the life of Fr. Eamon. At a Funeral Mass, we pray, “Eternal rest grant to our brother, Eamon, O Lord. May his soul and the souls of all the faithfully departed rest in God. Amen.
Tuesday, January 12, 2021, 1:00 p.m.
Ascension Parish, Melbourne, FL
Homily by Bishop John Noonan