Faith Matters

Jim Fitzpatrick: An exemplary layperson who, with conviction and consistency, witnessed to his Christian faith in a long and well-lived life

Irish News chairman Jim Fitzpatrick was guided throughout his long and well lived life by his profound Christian faith. At his Requiem Mass on Tuesday, Fr Edward O'Donnell reflected on Mr Fitzpatrick's committed Christian witness

The remains of Irish News Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick are carried by his family from St Brigid's Church, Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann.

JIM'S life was long and well-lived, and filled with many blessings - blessings which were never taken for granted; as a result, they were shared generously with many others.

Those most blessed are Jim's family; they were everything for him, and their sense of loss is great. To Anne, Brid, Bernard, Eileen, Dominic, Clare, Jim and Andrew, to their spouses, and Jim's 26 grandchildren and six great-granddaughters, we offer our sincere sympathy.

In that sympathy, we include Jim's surviving sisters, Dympna and Anne, and his many nephews and nieces.

We also hold in our prayers Jim's beloved and late wife, Alice. At the end of this Mass we will pray: "Merciful Father, we give you thanks for the blessings which you bestowed upon Jim in this life: they are signs to us of your goodness."

Having been educated in Limerick by by the Redemptorist Fathers, Jim decided to join the Redemptorists, with the intention of becoming a priest.

However, in time, he discerned that this was not his calling. Some might say that this was the Church's loss, but they would be mistaken, because it was in fact the Church's gain. The Church gained an exemplary layperson who, with conviction and consistency, witnessed to his Christian faith, as a husband and father, as a professional man, and as someone who involved himself deeply in the cultural and civic life of our society, acutely aware of the importance of ecumenical outreach.

Jim understood the laity to be on the front line of the Church's mission; he was aware that it is in the circumstances of everyday life, in family, work, and civic involvement, that Christian men and women become the instruments of God's presence in the world.

It comes as no surprise that Jim had a life-long devotion to St Thomas More. He, like Jim, was a family man, a lawyer, and greatly involved in the affairs of the state.

More, standing on the scaffold, before his execution, described himself as "the King's good servant - but God's first". He had prayed, "Good Lord, give me the grace so to spend my life that when the day of my death shall come... I may, through Your grace, depart hence into Your glory." This Requiem Mass is a prayer that Jim, through God's grace, now departs into God's glory.

In every life there are successes and failures, joys and sorrows. It was so in Jim's life, as it is in the life of each of us. May whatever needs to be healed in Jim's life, now be healed, whatever needs forgiving, now be forgiven. Christian life is not static, but is, as St Paul says, a "straining forward to what lies ahead" (Philippians 3:13.)

Jim Fitzpatrick with his late wife Alice

The steps of life's pilgrimage, although sometimes small and hesitant, even, at times, stumbling, take us towards the future and the ultimate: life with God.

Recently, Jim remarked that he felt that, in many ways, it was a privilege to know that he was reaching the end. He reached the end, endeavouring to live as St Paul once advised the first Christians of Rome: "Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer; contribute to the needs of God's people, and practise hospitality" (Romans 12:11-13).

Throughout his life, the Mass was a constant for Jim. It was of profound significance - an actual "straining forward" towards God, source of life and love. The Lord himself said: "For wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be too" (Matthew 6:21).

Perhaps, all who loved Jim, can in their hearts hear him say, "I will be close to you through the Eucharist." Christian faith promises that "all the bonds of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death".

Through the Eucharist, in the simple action of Holy Communion, we are at once one with Jesus, and at one with all who are with Jesus; in words borrowed from Seamus Heaney, "Never closer the whole rest of our lives" (Clearances 3, The Haw Lantern). This is a simple but wonderfully profound thought, which chimes well with Jim's deep love for, and faith in, the Mass.

Jim's desired last grace was that desired by Cardinal John Henry Newman: "My Lord and Saviour, support me in my last hour in the strong arm of your sacraments and by the fresh fragrance of your consolations.

"Let the absolving words be said over me, and your own body be my food, and your blood my sprinkling; and let my sweet mother, Mary, breathe on me; and my angel whisper peace to me, and my patron saint smile on me; that in them all and through them all, I may receive the gift of perseverance, and die, as I desire to live, in your faith, in your church, in your service, and in your love." Amen.

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