Archive for May, 2017

Prayer of St.Brendan

PRAYER OF ST. BRENDAN THE NAVIGATOR

“Help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown.

Give me the faith to leave old ways and break fresh ground with You.

Christ of the mysteries, I trust You to be stronger than each storm within me.

I will trust in the darkness and know that my times, even now, are in Your hand.

Tune my spirit to the music of heaven, and somehow, make my obedience count for You.”

AMEN.

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Con Harvey – The Harbour ‘Master’.

Funeral Homily

Con Harvey

Church of The Most Holy Redeemer, Bray

Saturday the 29th of April 2017

A colourful card I once saw carried the following quote; ‘A ship is safe in a harbour, but that is not what ships are made for’. Harbours are a continuum in Con Harvey’s life. He grew up in Dun Laoghaire with his mother and father and his sisters, Bríd, Catherine and Mary. He met Máire who lived in Blackrock, a town by the sea without a harbour, and before she graduated they were married and eventually they moved to another harbour town; the one in which we now gather namely, Bray. He spend his life passing the places of his childhood and indeed the town of Máire’s childhood as he journeyed to Ringsend on the DART  – a town that hosts another harbour.

A harbour is a place of safety, a place of rest and a place where one shares the spoils of the ocean. Con Harvey was all those things. He provided safety for his family and those who were in his care in Ringsend College or ’The Tec’ depending on your vintage.  His presence inevitably brought rest and calm. He had an unbelievable ability to bring even a restful calm where there was once heavy turbulence and strikingly strong storm clouds. And Con had no problem sharing his spoils with the world; in actual fact he cared little for himself in terms of possessions.

We are here today because we are reminded in a deeply painful way that we are like the ships in that we are not made solely for the harbour; we are made for what is beyond seemingly safe arms of the harbour and the horizon of human experience. This may sound exciting, energising and hopeful but when one is called from the harbour when one has so much left to live for and so much to share, the excitement, energy and hope dissolves and we feel the rawness of a pain, grief, anger and loss. And as we sit here in the Church of the Holy Redeemer Con’s family and friends wonder can they ever be redeemed from that raw pain.

This may be our reality but the reason we are here today is that Con asked to be brought to this Church for burial. He said to me that at times ‘I didn’t know what I believe but I love the ritual’. Ritual is what we hold onto when we run out of words and when we lose our understanding of things. Ritual digs deep into the tradition and the belief of others to carry us when we weaken or when we are lost.

To quote from some reflections on Australian Aboriginal practice:

Ritual relates to order in nature. We find it everywhere. In every natural process there is a sequence…There is ceremony in all the functions of creation. Even in chaos where all order seems to have collapsed there are undetected processes and hidden rituals by which the centre holds.[1]

Our ritual today asks us to place Con’s goodness before God; to ask mercy for his failings, to celebrate his life, to give thanks for the gift of his presence among us, and to help us let go of him and bid him farewell as he leaves our harbour for the richness and mystery of what lies beyond.

There are three ways in which these elements are seen in the life of the one we commend to God. In Con’s family, his work, and in the man himself we see goodness and life abounding. Even in his sickness – his mind and emotions were alert. He remembered the name of a horse I gave him way back in the early nineties which came in second in Cheltenham at 33/1. When I’d recall a student; he’d remember everything about that person; he’d even remember their parents and at times even their grandparents.

The first – his family. Con and Maura created in their home life a place of hospitality. Maybe you think that this is something easy – the provision of food, drink and a comfortable chair. I mean by hospitality something quite different but those of you who know Con and Máire well and those of us who worked with him will understand what I mean when I share this quote with you. I came across it when I was writing something last year and it describes hospitality as;

primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbour into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment …To convert hostility into hospitality requires the creation of the friendly empty space where we can reach out to our fellow human beings and invite them to a new relationship[2].

His life created a hospitable space where ideas, difference, doubt, belief, love, struggle, pain, and attainment were comfortable and compatible. This the hallmark of his family life and of his home, characteristics which he brought with him wherever he went. We place an emphasis on faith in our Church today but writing in the year 100 C.E., Clement of Rome in his Epistle to the Corinthians noted that ‘it is by faith and hospitality that Abraham became the son of the Covenant’[3]. Interesting that in the early writings of the Church it is faith and hospitality, in equal measure, that cultivate the presence of God in our world. Faith can be the reflective mind at work in the world but hospitality is the work of God in our world.

Con’s teaching was just an extension of this. He brought all these gifts and dispositions to the classroom and the school. On one occasion when we talked recently we spoke about how hard it was starting off in the school. He shared a belief that I share, ‘once they realised you weren’t going away they stopped annoying you’. I added, ‘yes Con, but you had to also realise that you weren’t better than them either’. He said, ‘too true’. Furthermore you had to love what you were doing as an educator. These three sentences show an underlying ethic of education that has resonances in our second reading today. Faithfulness to the task particularly in the face of adversity, humility and regard for those in your care and a love for what you do. ‘You should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience..and above all these things, put on love’. Apart from all that – he was fun to be with while in the staff-room; and his company was never boring! Especially when he talked about all the horses that nearly won!

Finally Con the man. Before he is husband, father, grandfather, teach or vice-principal. He was Con Harvey. A man who brought you into a space of honesty in a gentle and self-effacing way. I can see the man Con in the words of the author Colum McCann in his book Let the Great World Spin. It’s a beautiful work in which he says at one point ‘it takes great courage to live an ordinary life’. And so it does. To withstand the temptation to be someone extraordinary in the eyes of the world demands courage. His description of a character called Corrigan gives expression to how I see Con the man and gives further expression to the qualities that he’d never admit to in himself.

Corrigan told me once that Christ was quite easy to understand. He went where He was supposed to go. He stayed where he was needed. He took little or nothing along, a bit of a shirt, a few odds and ends to stave off the loneliness. He never rejected the world. If he had rejected it, he would have been rejecting mystery. And if He rejected mystery, He would have been rejecting faith.

What Corrigan wanted was a fully believable God, one you could find in the grime of everyday. The comfort He got from the hard, cold, truth – the filth, the war, the poverty – was that life could be capable of small beauties. He wasn’t interested in the glorious tales of the afterlife or the notions of a honey soaked heaven. To Him that was a dressing room for hell. Rather he consoled himself with the fact that, in the real world, when he looked closely into the darkness he might find the presence of a light, damaged and bruised, but a little light all the same. He wanted, quite simply, for the world to be a better place, and he was in the habit of hoping for it. Out of that came some sort of triumph that went beyond theological proof, a cause for optimism beyond all the evidence. ‘Someday the meek may actually want it’, he said.

 

As we watch you leave our harbour Con, we turn to the ritual that reminds us of the infinite possibilities that this journey opens up to us, and we wish you God’s speed.

[1] Cameron, R.(1992) Alcheringa: The Australian Experience of the Sacred, St. Paul’s, NSW, Australia, pg. 63.

[2] Quoted in Gerschutz, Jill Marie and Lois Ann Lorentzen, Integration Yesterday and Today: New Challenges for the United States and the Church IN Kerwin and Jill Marie Gerschutz (Ed) And You Welcomed Me; Migration and Catholic Social Teaching, ML: Lexington Books, pg. 127-128.

[3] De Béthune, Pierre-François, (2002) By Faith and Hospitality; The Monastic Tradition as a Model for Interreligious Encounter, Herefordshire, Gracewing pg. vii

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Frank Cullen -The Master Craftsman R.I.P.

Francis X. Cullen

Funeral Mass

Church of St. Brendan, Coolock

Tuesday the 25th of April 2017,

Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist

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As I read and listen to what is going on in the world today I am of the very strong opinion that more and more people will have the following three words emblazoned on their headstones … ‘I should have’. The near addictive compulsion to adrenaline like experiences that is a force for fulfilment today seems, at times, to be replacing a way of life when we savour the simple things that surround us. The good life that we have control over is substituted with a scenario where we many are chasing ‘life’ that is constructed by others who do not have their interests to heart.

We bid farewell today to a man who has no need of the words ‘I should have’ on his headstone.   In his last weeks on this earth Frank acknowledged his sheer and utter contentment with all that life has brought him. Like most of us there are many misfortunes that came his way; there were dark moments, times when the odds were stacked against him but these all dissolved in the face of all the good he knew. His life with Anne for fifty three years of marriage were exceptional years as they revealed their ability to work together with calm and with fortitude.   His children, John, Sondra and David were the apple of his eye. (At one stage on Tonlegee Road we thought Frank and Anne were opening a Divisional Station!) Frank delighted in what they achieved with their respective wives and husband (Emer, Sean, and Niamh) and he lived for his grandchildren, Eoin, Aileen, Oisin and Cliodhna. As regards his work he was exceptional.  He was the quintessential Master Craftsman. His shared his trade with openness, generosity, pride and deftness. He won the admiration of many and the scorn of very few. He loved his early life in Seville Place and indeed brought a lot of the values of neighbourliness and charity with him when he emigrated to the country to a small, rural, village called Coolock in 1965.

Frank was a wise and a deep man and as any craftsman knows when you work steadily over a particular piece of work it is not only time of patient persistence – it is also a time of contemplation. It is a time when you live between what is – and what is possible. If you loose sight of either – the project falls apart. Franks craft was a wonderful image of Frank the man and indeed, a wonderful image of life. To live between what is and what is possible. To be honest Frank’s realm of what is possible was deeply informed by his faith; his belief in the God who watched over him all his life.

It is only right to say at this stage that we know Frank had his fair share of suffering. His heart attack in 1991 nearly stole him from this world but he managed to outwit its effects. As a child he had polio and anyone of his vintage will know how polio was treated. It meant long, lonely, hours in hospitals when you became an observer of life rather than a person who was immersed in its activity. You were on the stands while others were on the pitch. I know a number of people who have polio and they nearly all have that self same ability to stand back from life, evaluate it, and make a comment that makes everything right.  Anyone who was a beneficiary of Frank’s wisdom knew he lived in the bigger picture and could, in one short sentence, make sense of the most complicated thing. People I know who contracted polio have an innate awareness of the value of kindness because they discovered the importance of kindness when they were all but imprisoned in a hospital ward – and they never forgot that kindness.

To go back to that instance where we talked through a project that we shared. I received a gift of a chalice from a carpenter who lived on the island of Lampedusa. It was simple wooden chalice made from a migrant boat. To use it at Mass it required an inset to prevent leakages and to make it worthy of the purpose for which a chalice is intended to be used. Frank was the man who came to my aid and he undertook the task a love and care which was inspirational. With his colleagues in The Calderwood School of Silversmiths they brought this chalice to life.

Apart from the joy of watching it take shape; the conversations about what a chalice represented were deeply profound. I’d explain something; he’d listen, repeat some of the words and respond with his own little wise addition. Frank Cullen; Silversmith and Doctor of Theology. One such instance went as follows.

There is one theologian who sees the Eucharistic in the context of sacrifice. The Old Testament is littered with occasions of sacrifices that aimed to appease the God the people believed in. Even among those who believed in Yahweh God, they often sacrificed someone even by stoning in the belief that this person was bringing bad luck, even pestilence on the community. By scapegoating them, by punishing them, they felt they restored peace in the community. They did for a while until the next problem occurred and the same cycle started again. There is even an account of the prophet Jonah being thrown out of the boat to calm the storm that was causing the boat to sink.

This theologian states that the reason Jesus came among us was that his sacrifice on the cross was a statement by God that there was no need to scapegoat or sacrifice anyone of His creatures ever again. There is no need for anyone to be a victim ever again. When the chalice is raised up we are reminded of that. But today we are reminded of something more wonderful. Frank didn’t make a victim of anyone; he never claimed the role of a victim and if did anything it was to reach out and alleviate the plight to those who were genuine victims of situations not of their own making. Any of us in the neighbourhood know that only too well. So it is right and fitting that these two chalices were made by his hands. Mine may not be worthy to lift them but his were certainly worthy to make them.

The conversation continued to reflect on the suffering of the world and the needless amount of victims there are daily in the name of all sorts of ends. During one of these conversations I shared with him the words of a nun I met in Rwanda who saw horrendous murders, violations and mutilations. Many acted (Hutus) in the belief that if they ridded the country of one group of people (Tutsis) that order and well-being would be restored on the land. The sister who had lived through it all when asked did you ever ask where God was in all this she simply said; ‘I would not put this on the shoulders of God’. Frank said these works over and over again ‘I would not put this on the shoulders of God’. He continued, ‘When my time comes and you lift my chalice we’ll remember those words’. I think this particular conversation helped him accept where things were at and helped him begin to look at not what he was leaving behind but what he had been blessed with.

In this life we can seek salvation in so many things but there is only one that is important. We can be distracted, addicted and busy but the truth of our Christian faith is that the answer to everything lies in the Eucharist we celebrate here today. Frank’s message to us all is what really matters in life is what we come to know as the ‘touch of the true Master’s hand’.

Fr. Alan Hilliard (alan.hilliard@dit.ie)

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