At this time 500 years ago the great Michelangelo was on the flat of his back painting the Sistine Chapel in Rome. But what must have he thought before he started it? Wondering was he mad to take it on? What would his critics say? Wouldn’t it be quicker and easier to just whitewash it? And yet he took on the 4 ½ year project, a triumph of beauty and endurance, combining art and theology. In an increasingly cynical culture we need to cherish the dreamers, the people of hope and vision who believe that great things can be achieved and that the world can be changed for the better.
Each of us have our own memories and thoughts on Fr Pat, but for me, I have always been struck by the man who never settled on ‘what is’, but dreamt about something better, something more beautiful. Growing up in the Sandpit House in Dromtarrif in Cork, Pat was not trapped by the world of everyday popular things, but in the quietness searched for something greater. After all, in Bethlehem 2000 yrs ago, it wasn’t at the popular roadside inn but at the quiet stable behind that beauty, life and hope came among us.
The greatest threat to faith isn’t doubt or disbelief, no, a greater threat is from the mediocre or the practical, captured in the line ‘sure that will do’, because that kills vision and beauty, it stifles hope and faith. I doubt Fr Pat ever spoke the words ‘sure that will do’. No, he knew that God calls us to life in its fullness – he dreamt of something greater and pushed himself and others to strive for that, in so many ways.
In St Brendan’s College in Killarney, in St Michael’s College in Listowel and in the primary schools he visited, he reminded the students and the staff that we should always strive to better ourselves and the place around us, reminding them that education isn’t about what can be utilised but is more about what will nourish.
Through the Kerry Mental Health Association and the St Vincent de Paul Society he fostered dignity for people. Just because people knew no better didn’t mean that that was good enough for them. Each person deserves to dream for something more beautiful, something more life-giving, and not be condemned by circumstance. It’s no wonder that Fr Pat was so involved with the Mgr Hugh O’Flaherty Association, promoting the life, courage and vision of one individual which had the power to brighten the world.
Fr Pat knew the blessing of priesthood of 61 years, and the challenges of it too, and knew, as was said once, that the history of the Church testifies that the Church survives not because of the clergy, but sometimes in spite of them. But at all times he dreamt of something greater for priests. Living through the time of the Second Vatican Council, Fr Pat pushed new ideas, new approaches and helped new seeds in the Church to take root in the clergy, to celebrate the Mass and liturgy as prayerfully and as beautifully as possible. He brought that to parish life too in Our Lady and St Brendan’s in Tralee, in Rathmore, and here Killarney where we were blessed to have him for the past 9 years. He encouraged people to deepen their faith, to reflect on it more, to be more deeply involved in parish life, and to be more active participants in the Eucharist through the responses, congregational singing, and through stillness.
Now don’t get me wrong, all of this seeking the best and being so particular came at a cost to those around him – sometimes he could be so pernickety on something that he could drive you nuts! It was never to be awkward, just that he knew what was best and wanted you to know it too!
It’s no wonder that Fr Pat was so drawn by St Brendan, the saint who said that there is better, greater, more beautiful than what is around us, and set out on unknown waters in search of the Promised Land. And it was Fr Pat who deepened our devotion to our patron saint by commissioning the icon of St Brendan the Navigator. Because aren’t we all on the voyage, or at least we should be. Through Fr Pat’s always-wonderful homilies at Mass or on Radio Kerry’s Horizons he did the same as Brendan – essentially saying: “let us together continue on the quest for the Promised Land, and let us trust the God of life.”
And now the voyage is over for Fr Pat, he has reached the shore. We are the worse for that, but it’s a mighty day for him. I think of Fr Pat’s love for a good meal with good company and I pray for a place for him at the heavenly banquet. I think of Fr Pat’s quest for beauty and goodness, and pray that it has come to fulfilment in God. I think of Fr Pat’s family and pray God’s support for you who have lost one who was loyal, wise, dedicated and compassionate.
We give thanks for Michelangelo of 500 yrs ago who brought beauty to the world, and we give thanks for Fr Pat who brought beauty to us and our diocese in so many ways. And I think of how Fr Pat often finished a homily with a question meant to challenge us, and so in memory of Fr Pat who sought beauty, goodness and God, I ask you: where have you settled for the mediocre in your own life or ministry? Where do you need to push yourself, to look again, to search further for that which is more life-giving, more beautiful, more God-centred?
May St Brendan guide us, and guide Fr Pat into the warm embrace of our loving and mercy-filled Father whom Fr Pat served so devotedly. And there may he rest in peace.