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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