"I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: 'Give them something to eat' (Mk 6:37)." (Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (November 2013), #49)

 

A Tribute to and Reflection on David Herbert

JDavidHerbertDavid Leonard Herbert was a brilliant radiologist. He died of cancer at the age of 70. His funeral service was held in Port Macquarie where he had worked in private practice for more than 25 y. He leaves his wife Della - they were married in 1969 - and four children, Joanne, , Elissa, David Jnr and Ceci. The following is the text of Michael Whelan's sermon at the funeral service on Friday December 13 2013.

 

"THE POET IS NOW FREE"

Sermon for David Herbert (13/12/2013)

Michael Whelan SM

Once upon a time there was a small grammar school in England, where a remarkable teacher was renowned for his imaginative educational methods. One day he called on two of the boys to perform a special task. He asked them to ride into the countryside to a particular place where they would find a field with many flowers in it. Their task was to write a report on that field of flowers. One of the boys was called Francis and the other was called William.

When the class gathered the following day, the teacher called for the reports. He invited Francis to give his report first. Francis began:

In the said field I discovered approximately 9,000 flowers - the number being calculated on the basis of 6 flowers per square yard over about 1500 square yards. The flowers were of the genus 'Narcissus' and the family 'Amaryllis' - commonly known as 'Pseudo Narcissus' or 'daffodil'. The stems were about 10-15 inches in length with a single-flowered spathe. The yellow flowers were drooping, with stamens shorter than the cups etc. etc.

When Francis had given his report, the teacher called on William:

I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils; beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze. Continuous as the stars that shine and twinkle on the milky way, they stretched in never-ending line along the margin of a bay: ten thousand saw I at a glance, tossing their heads in sprightly dance etc. etc.

When William had finished, the teacher invited the boys to say who had given the more truthful report.

Would I be out of place if I suggested that the spirit of both Francis and William vied for ascendancy in David?

David was the brilliant and exact empirical observer of things, deeply appreciative of science and its many achievements. But there was something of the poet's sensitivity there also, the soul of an artist that would not let him settle for science alone. He was, I choose to believe, healthily distressed by this, a haunting that saved him from rationalism that otherwise might have become his refuge.

It was David's appreciation for the American artist, Edward Hopper – every artist is also a poet though he or she may not use the medium of words – that sparked my own interest in Hopper, an interest that has grown over the years. Robert Hughes' commented on Hopper's painting, Early Sunday Morning, suggests to me something of David's interest – and my own – in Hopper's art:

"You are in the real world, but it is a stranger world than you imagined. The screwdriver slips under the lid of reality and lifts it a crack, no more. What's inside? Ask early Auden:

'The glacier knocks in the cupboard,

The desert sighs in the bed,

And the crack in the tea-cup opens

A lane to the land of the dead.

'O look, look in the mirror,

O look in your distress;

Life remains a blessing

Although you cannot bless.'

(Robert Hughes, American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America, The Harvill Press, 1997, 424.)

The Australian artist, Jeffrey Smart, who died in June this year and with whom Sr Marie and I had a memorable evening in an old Italian village house near Florence in August of 2003, shared some of Hopper's instinct for the ineradicable aloneness in the human heart and the hunger for something more than "this" yet "this" is all there seems to be.

The Irish poet and Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney, who died two months after Jeffrey Smart, had an amazing ability to combine poetic sensibilities and matter-of-factness, linking an unerring spiritual compass with an urgency for truth that might have real social ramifications. In his speech of acceptance of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, Heaney spoke

"of a line I wrote fairly recently instructing myself (and whoever else might be listening) to 'walk on air against your better judgement'. .... poetry can make an order as true to the impact of external reality and as sensitive to the inner laws of the poet's being as the ripples that rippled in and rippled out across the water in that scullery bucket fifty years ago. An order where we can at last grow up to that which we stored up as we grew. An order which satisfies all that is appetitive in the intelligence and prehensile in the affections. I credit poetry, in other words, both for being itself and for being a help, for making possible a fluid and restorative relationship between the mind's centre and its circumference." (Seamus Heaney – from his 1995 acceptance speech on receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature.)

Later in the same speech Heaney says:

"Poetic form is both the ship and the anchor. It is at once a buoyancy and a steadying, allowing for the simultaneous gratification of whatever is centrifugal and whatever is centripetal in mind and body. And it is by such means that .... (we are able) to touch the base of our sympathetic nature while taking in at the same time the unsympathetic nature of the world to which that nature is constantly exposed. The form of the poem, in other words, is crucial to poetry's power to do the thing which always is and always will be to poetry's credit: the power to persuade that vulnerable part of our consciousness of its rightness in spite of the evidence of wrongness all around it, the power to remind us that we are hunters and gatherers of values, that our very solitudes and distresses are creditable, in so far as they, too, are an earnest of our veritable human being." (Seamus Heaney – the ending to his 1995 acceptance speech on receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature.)

Each of us, at one time or another and in one way or another, got to meet the poet that I have no doubt struggled to be free in David. The poet is now free.

We have just heard one of the greatest poems ever written – Psalm 139. Given David's particular affinity with light, it is appropriate that I conclude with a few verses of that psalm:

"Where can I go from your spirit?

Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning

and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me fast.

If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me,

and the light around me become night,"

even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is as bright as the day,

for darkness is as light to you." (Verses 7-12)