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Friday, 23 February 2001 11:16

Homily for Requiem of Fr Pearse O'Byrne

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Today we have come together to celebrate the life and ministry of our brother, Pearse. We thank God for Pearse's life, a life that spanned almost 85 years. It began in Dublin on 11th March 1917 and came peacefully to a close last week in Nazareth House, Hammersmith.
For almost 68 years of his life Pearse was a Salesian of Don Bosco. Together with his younger brother Brendan, Pearse completed his secondary school studies at the Salesian College, Battersea. And it was, there in Battersea that Pearse first got to know St John Bosco and his Salesians and subsequently experienced the call to become a Salesian himself. He entered the Salesian novitiate in Cowley, Oxford in 1933 and made his first vows as a Salesian the following year. Ten years later, in 1943 Pearse was ordained priest at Blaisdon. Immediately after his ordination he went to Chertsey where he remained as a member of the community and the teaching staff for eight years. In 1951 he moved to Battersea for further studies at London University. Having obtained his BSc in Chemistry Pearse joined the staff at Salesian College, Farnborough. He taught there for more than thirty years till his retirement in mid 1980's. He remained a member of the Farnborough community till about a year ago when the need to provide him with the medical and nursing care he now required necessitated his transfer to Nazareth House, Hammersmith.
It was in Hammersmith, less than a fortnight ago that I met Pearse for the last time. The staff had just washed and dressed him. He looked very smart and was sitting in his wheel chair ready to move to the dining room for lunch. He still had a twinkle in his eye and I remember him laughing when I reminded him that he had to behave himself. For by any standard Pearse was one of life's characters.
All of us who were privileged to know Pearse benefited from his wonderful sense of fun. He was blessed with a great sense of humour and had a marvellous fund of stories and anecdotes. Pearse was eminently approachable and personable. He was a gifted teacher whose his hard work and scholarship won the lasting respect of many hundreds of students. He was able to share with them his love for science. A love, I believe, that grew out of Pearse's own personal and life-long quest for truth and knowledge.
The gospel of today's Mass recalled two of Jesus' parables: the parables of the treasure and the pearl of great price. Both parables focus on a quest, a search. They describe the joy of one who discovers something of inestimable value, and the nature of the response the discovery inspires. The poor man finds a treasure buried in a field. He has to sell everything he has to buy the field and gain possession of the treasure. The merchant discovers a pearl beyond compare, a priceless specimen. He is prepared to sacrifice everything he owns to possess it. Taken together these two parables focus our attention on the true nature of Christian discipleship. The genuine disciple of Jesus responds to the discovery of the Father's kingdom and the Lord's invitation to share in the proclamation of that kingdom with joy and total commitment.
Pearse knew at a comparatively early age that the Lord was asking him to do something special with his life. That conviction found expression in Pearse's profession of the three counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience that are the foundation of the consecrated life. Pearse's profession and the life long commitment it initiated gave substance and direction to the rest of his long life. The commitment he made for the first time on 8th September 1934, that initial public declaration of his freely made choice to give his life totally and radically to the Lord's service, had to be reconfirmed over and over again.
In and through this ongoing gift of himself Pearse became a "man for others". Someone whose life to use the words of St Paul in his Letter to the Romans, "had its influence on others", many others. Pearse was someone who could put both the young and the old at their ease and win their love and affection in an instant. He took seriously the duty of every disciple of Jesus to work for the spiritual and material well being of others. This is the particular hallmark of the Christian community. Within this community each has a responsibility for all. Another person's destiny is a part of my own, and mine is a part of his. This is a truth beautifully expressed in the words of the poet, John Donne:
"No man is an island, entire to itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well is a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls: it tolls for thee."
I cannot remain complacent if I discover a brother or a sister falling away from his or her true freedom and dignity. I have a responsibility for that brother or sister. I have a duty to affirm what is true and eternal in that person. Such is the nature of true service. It is the essence of the life to discipleship to which Pearse committed himself on the day of his profession, and committed himself "to be faithful to the end". As the moment of his death approached, Pearse was asked to give once again to God the last proof of his love and his filial abandonment to the Father, to make his own the words of the dying Jesus, "It is accomplished". His life's work had been well done.
As a consequence of his fidelity we believe that Pearse now enjoys that fullness of life that the Lord has promised to all those who love him. Faith in the resurrection of Jesus gives us the assurance that whatever has been of value in a person's life, whatever has been achieved in terms of his or her personal relationship with God and with others, in terms of that person's work and other activity, has an eternal value and significance.
I don't think it is too outlandish to suggest that this transformation had already begun as Pearse's life drew to a close - a period of weakness and increasing dependence on others to which our activity-driven society attributes little or no value. I close with a couple of paragraphs from an article by the Jesuit, Gerard Hughes, an article that I think Pearse would have approved of:
"This body of ours, however weak and ailing, is connected with everything else in the universe, is intimately interwoven with everything that exists. We are intimately connected and interwoven with everything else in the universe. What goes on in our hearts has repercussions throughout creation. The mystics have been saying this for centuries. Modern nuclear physicists are beginning to say similar things - that human observation, for example, can affect the behaviour of subatomic particles, and change in one part of the universe affects immediate change in other parts separated by thousands of miles. St John of the Cross said that one act of perfect love is more effective than any amount of activity.
In our old age, with diminishing physical and mental powers, our heart can still long for the well being of all peoples. Perhaps those prayers, wrung from us in our weakness and helplessness, we will one day discover to have been the most effective moments of our lives preparing us for the next stage of our journey, when we can more effectively work for the salvation of all peoples and all creation. [Gerard Hughes, The Tablet, 18th December 1999]
Our Salesian Constitutions remind us of the same truth: "The memory of our departed confreres unites, "in a love that will not pass away", those who are still pilgrims with those who are already resting in Christ." [C. 55] As we remember our brother Pearse and pray for his speedy entrance into paradise, we ask for the continued help of his prayers. May he rest in peace!

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