Tom Brady R.I.P.

Prayer Service for

Thomas F. Brady.

Former Ambassador of Ireland to Cyprus and Slovenia.

Church of the Holy Child Whitehall,

9thAugust, 2019.

 

 

I first met Tom in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Sydney. It was St Patrick’s Day and he was hosting the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen. What was memorable was that Tom had only one lens in his glasses that morning. He mumbled something about tripping, but what was even more memorable was that he was designated to do one of the readings at the Mass. He did this with his hand held over the eye with the broken lens. But as many of you who know Tom professionally know that no matter what the obstacles were in his way he usually  delivered.

 

Another person I encountered while in Australia (and not in person) was a cartoonist with the Melbourne Agenewspaper called Michel Leunig. I followed his satirical cartons while I lived there but so inspired was I that I’ve continued to buy his books and DVD’s. One of his poems is reflecting on life consists of a few short lines. In summary and paraphrasing the poem states that  ‘Life is simply knowing when to hold on and when to let go’.  Tom found it hard to let go. There was no conscious moment when he decided to let go into the mystery of death; he slipped into it. He knew it was the end of the line but didn’t feel comfortable enough to address it.  Holding on and letting go and the reflected capacity that this requires was never one of Tom’s strong points even though he was a most brilliant and insightful negotiator on matters political. Indeed it is the inward journey that is often the most hazardous and complex.

 

These have been difficult days and indeed difficult weeks for Ciara, James and Fiona. It all started with a trip to the doctor to get a medical for his driving licence. The doctor took one look, sent him to the Mater, and after various investigations he was transferred to St. Vincent’s whereupon it was decided that he was too weak for treatment. For you guys (Ciara, James and Fiona) too it has been a time of holding on and letting go to. Not just at the conscious level but at the deeply unconscious level you’ve been deciding what to hold on to and what to let go of. Now that he is gone this process continues in a markedly different and real way.  This is called grief and grief  ebbs and flows at the corners of your souls in these days and in the times ahead. You see holding on and letting go at a time of loss is about holding on or letting go to what is, holding on and letting go to what could have been in the past, and holding on and letting go to what is of value and of importance now that you have experienced the death of someone close.  No matter how close or distant we are to the one who has died, as a family member, it leaves us holding on and letting go in strange and mysterious ways. Having lost my own mother at Christmas I know these things to be true.

 

One of the questions I’ve been asking myself and it is a question that has been floating around in my work with students is as follows. For many years with the growth of existentialist thought many were preoccupied with the question of ‘Who am I?’ Over this period people would take time to dwell in a narcissistic like fashion into this solitary question of ‘who am I?’ and find themselves at the bottom of a well sometimes with no water in it. The true question if we want to seek ownership of our journey is the question ‘Who do I belong to?’ I learnt this following an involvement with a tragic situation aboard. When I did the debrief I asked the team what did they remember about the tragedy. Thinking they’d answer blood, first responders etc., I was quite amazed when one of them said, ‘This may sound strange but the thing I remember is phone chargers…we went to the local shops and bought as many as we could get…people just want to connect with those they loved and reassure them they were alright and they just wanted to hear the voices that mattered’ This crisis  reinforces what I say; when you are traumatised you don’t go down the existentialist path wondering who you are rather you unconsciously reach out to those to whom you belong. If more attention was paid to this question we’d have the key to the way out of the problems that today’s world is placing on our doorstep. Particularly if we can celebrate and be happy with those to whom we belong

 

When I asked Tom where he’d like to have his funeral he said Whitehall…for him it is where he had the greatest sense of belonging despite having lived in some amazing places. He grew up around the corner; he served Mass here and when he came back from Australia he lived here for a while. Tom was not the most religious but valued his Jesuit education and the role of Church in civil Society. We had many respectful conversations a lot of the ending in silence because there was no answer to the discussion. The great mystic and monk Thomas Merton   said, ‘faith is a decision, a judgement that is fully and deliberately taken in light of  truth that cannot be proven’.

 

I have a book coming out for Christmas and one of the reflections I think has merged some of my conversations with Tom. Funnily enough it’s called agnostic.

 

#agnostic[1]

 

‘I’m an agnostic anyway’ , he said. This ploy is used by many when you get into a spot of theology or life that requires a little bit of drilling down; it’s a reaction to change or even a ploy to get off the subject so I wasn’t going to let him away that easy. ‘On a scale of one to ten, ten being good, how good an agnostic are you?’, I asked rather mischievously. There was a pause; in actual fact the pause was painful as he was trying very hard to comprehend my question. ‘Do you know what an agnostic is?’ I offered. It was like I’d released a safety valve and he visibly relaxed  and said in his defence, ‘I’m not sure really, I think it’s that you don’t know whether or what or who to believe or not!’ ‘Well then’ I said, ‘where are you on the one to ten scale!’ He held his head back and let out a guffaw. ‘Tell me a bit more…I think I need to brush up on my agnosticism…ironic that it’s a Catholic priest who is helping me understand it a bit better’.

 

‘To begin with’ I said, ‘Agnosticism is not a belief’ He looked at me quite puzzled,  ‘ Oh yes’, I continued, ‘ People talk about it as if it’s a belief system but in actual fact it’s a methodology only not a faith. A methodology is a process that we put in place to help us understand things  better. We use them all the time for things like hobbies or when we are trying to check something out’. He seemed more interested, ‘A guy called Thomas Henry Huxley coined the term in the 1860’s. He was of the belief that everything worth knowing had to be scientifically proven and if it couldn’t be proven then those beliefs were of little value. However he did admit that science could not be certain whether God existed or not so I could surmise then that like religion it is not a perfect system!’

 

I was actually thinking out loud myself rather than trotting out a tired script. ‘He didn’t really have a problem with ‘not knowing’ because he saw this as a precursor to knowing… he was just very intense about the methodology that was employed to prove something’. Then I served the killer left hook, ‘In fairness to Huxley, agnosticism was never supposed to be used as a copout or a lazy man’s approach to religious belief; it demanded rigour and application and answers’

 

There was silence for a while; ‘I don’t think I’m even near a one on the scale’ he said rather despondently. ‘Take heart’, I said, ‘there is a starting point if you are interested’. ‘Go on’ he replied rather enthusiastically, ‘He was of the view that while he saw no reason for believing in religion, especially Christianity, he admitted to having no means of disproving it’. ‘I’m listening’… I continued, ‘Do you mind if we have a chat about those bits of Christianity that you can’t disprove or would that be an offense to your agnosticism?’ We talked late into the night and it was great.

 

So now with all the articles of faith that we can rightfully question and have questioned what are the ones that we can’t ignore or let go of? One thing that our tradition tells us is that though we may have trouble negotiating our way through relationships the one that that doesn’t have to be negotiated is God. He is ever present, ever loving and ever merciful. This allows a space for not just transformation but restoration. We can be restored into the person whom God intended us to be. Tom died on the 6thof August the Feast of the Transfiguration -that is why I chose this gospel today.  I often reflect on this Gospel and it is as if the lord is saying to us that no matter how disfigured we become we can be raised up and transfigured into something beautiful. Tom struggled with alcohol. Alcohol, helps us to get along better together and to socialise, however it  can also diminish us and disfigure us. Often those whom you love stand around thinking of the person you could be and aren’t if you are too dependent on the substance. In death we Christians believe that we are fully restored; we are fully alive again. It is my dearest wish that Tom can look into the eyes of God without having to put a hand over one of his eyes and  with his two eyes he can see the splendour of the love that created us and become more fully the person that the Almighty intended us to be. We may be at various stages of agnosticism ourselves but maybe we can start with this belief that we can all be transformed and may this give us daily hope and joy. Now, in this funeral service, we hand him over to a power greater than ourselves.

Readings:

A reading from the Book of Sirach (38:16-17,23)
Bury the dead with fitting ceremonial

My people, weep for the dead, lament to express your sorrow and bury the dead with fitting ceremonial and do not fail to honour the grave. Weep bitterly, cry out with full voice, and observe the mourning period in accordance with the merits of the deceased. When the dead are laid to rest, let their memory be one of peace, be comforted on their account once their spirit has departed.

This is the word of the Lord.

 

A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans (I4:7-9)

The life and death of each of us has its influence on others; if we live, we live for the Lord; so that alive or dead, we belong to the Lord. This explains why Christ both died and came to life. It is so that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

The word of the Lord.

 

Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. There in their presence he was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them; they were talking with him. Then Peter spoke to Jesus. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud covered them with shadow, and from the cloud there came a voice which said, ‘This is my Son; the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.’ When they heard this, the disciples fell on their faces, overcome with fear. But Jesus came up and touched them. ‘Stand up,’ he said ‘do not be afraid.’ And when they raised their eyes they saw no one but only Jesus.

As they came down from the mountain Jesus gave them this order, ‘Tell no one about the vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.’

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

 

[1]Hilliard, Alan, (2019) Dipping into Advent, Dublin, Messenger Publications.

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