Before he died, Fr. Jerome expressed the wish that I preach the eulogy at his funeral Mass. When our Provincial informed me of this, at first I hesitated. I felt that there were many others who could preach more eloquently: one of our young men perhaps who will be continuing the Carmelite work accomplished by Jerome during his long dedicated life. But then I reflected: a request of a dying person about funeral arrangements is a sacred trust which should be carried out. Secondly, I am the only one in our province who was companion to Fr. Jerome since the beginning of his religious life. It was in 1939, in our Carmelite novitiate in Loughrea, Ireland, that we together received the habit of Carmel. It was precisely on September 2nd, the day that World War II was declared. I often joked with Fr. Jerome that we also declared a war of our own that day: a spiritual war against the world, the flesh and the devil--a terminology in use at that time, but lost, I am sure to succeeding generations.
Loughrea in County Galway was a very pleasant country town. One of its amenities, for boating and fishing, being an extensive lake, from which it got its name. The Carmelite monastery was known simply as "the Abbey". The novitiate building was of relatively recent construction. But as we young novices looked across the lawn, we could see the ruins of an old church, roofless, just the walls. We would learn that this was the church of a Carmelite foundation that went back to the early 1300's. It spoke volumes to us to realize that the presence of the Carmelites in Loughrea had endured so long. Carmelite beginnings went back to about 1207 in Mt. Carmel in the Holy Land. And, already, a century later a foundation had been made in Loughrea. Symbol of endurance, tradition, inspiration.
The novitiate had many amenities at the time. Some fields for gardens and for hay, some cattle for dairy products, even hives for honey. We had plots of potatoes and vegetables for kitchen use. I recall especially the string beans. Our cook, Brother Dominic, placed them on the menu regularly. But he was always careful to remove the strings. He commissioned us to do that chore for him. I came to think that some relationship existed between prayer and the removal of strings from beans. And maybe there was, and Brother knew it. Did not St. Teresa say that our prayer might not be very genuine if we were not able also to find God "among the pots and pans".
Novitiate ended with first profession. And soon we were ready to go to our house of studies in Dublin. This was a big change. The austerity and rationing of the "Emergency," as we called the war, had begun to bite. Everything was strictly rationed in the big city. At that time, before any Theology, a course of Philosophy was "de rigueur." Our text book was by a Benedictine, Fr. Gredt, and was in Latin. Soon we were discussing the metaphysical reality of "space," and so on. We had a way to lighten the rough going every now and again when we had theatrics at Christmas and Easter. Regarding "space," we acted out a skit about a student (imaginary) who supposedly got very confused indeed studying space. You could say he got "all spaced out." We had him appearing on stage, holding his head, and muttering, "Quid sit spatium?" in Gaelic, which made it sound more serious. Incidentally it was Fr. Jerome, another actor, who served as physical aid to the "spaceman," and healed him of his malady. Fr. Jerome was always rock solid; not one to be unbalanced too long by metaphysical notions of space.
So our study went on until ordination to the priesthood for us in 1946-47. Then came some years--a parting of the ways. He was destined for teaching in our college in Castlemartyr; I, elsewhere. It was well over a decade later that we came together again, as members of the retreat community in Redlands. All during his religious life here, his work was in Southern California--invariably in the retreat house, as regional superior, and so on. A slogan among us at the time characterized all our apostolates (Alhambra, Redlands, Encino--for awhile), as being in the "sinful South". A reference perhaps to the presence of Hollywood and so on? When we thought of new vocations, we looked to the "saintly North". And foundations were made in Oakville (novitiate) and San Jose (study house). Fr. Jerome did not play any major part in these; his apostolate remained in the South. A break with this occurred later when for six years he was engaged as Provincial in the mother province, Ireland.
His life at this time was characterized by a keen appreciation of the Carmelite charism which is stated so masterfully in the original Carmelite Rule of Albert: "to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ, and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a good conscience". He was prominent in extending the Carmelite spirit to our sisters and to the Secular Order and the faithful in our parishes. He was skilled in spiritual direction. The presence of our sisters in great numbers here at his funeral is testimony to his work of spiritual direction and his lecture work in their regard.
In his administrative work, he was suitably kind and considerate. In this context he could be said to have "walked the walk". He led by example rather than by regulation. During all this time, he gave of himself generously to work for the Secular Order, organized groups of layfolk who, while living their Christian lives, are inspired by and share in the Carmelite spiritual ideal. His influence in the development of these various groups was immense. He was a good community man; it was good to have him around.
He was a regular golfer. He seemed to think it could hold a community together in common recreation. The day after I arrived from Ireland to join him in the Redlands community, he took me to a little golf shop owned by a friend named Mario. Out of a barrel they selected for me a rough set of clubs and an old bag. And off we went, Jerome and I, to play what was my first game of golf. The addiction still continues. He was a very earnest golfer, and could get very testy after playing an errant shot. In that context I recall a day when he hit a tremendous hook of a shot off the tee. We knew how to keep silent on such occasions. As we walked off the tee box, he started swinging the club back and forth. As he walked on, he saw a beer can, bottom up, on the ground. As he passed, he took a swipe at it. His club broke in two! He had not known that the beer can was covering a sprinkler on the course. An immovable object. The silence was deafening.
Though he lived a very busy apostolic life, he found time for study. He loved literature, poetry especially. He wrote some sparkling articles for magazines, our own Carmelite Digest especially. I recall one especially, just a few years ago, because of the content and the attractive title, "Those Pesky Little Appetites". It concerned those little habits and faults which prevent us from giving ourselves to God with full generosity. Among his writings was a little volume called, "Praying with St. Teresa: Through the Way of Perfection," now out of print, but soon to be republished, I am told, by the Oxford Teresian Press. (Note: This book is available for sale; click here X).
Sometimes we speak of a funeral as "putting a closure to things" and then "moving on..." I am not so keen on that terminology in the context of Christian death. Perhaps, in the case of Christian death, we should rather speak of a new way of loving. In our graveyards the headstones are always marked "In Loving Memory". Our departed are always with us in the communion of saints. They have a new place in our hearts.
I love to think, in this context, of the "Showings" of Blessed Julian of Norwich, that remarkable hermitess centuries ago. She often repeated a phrase from one of her revelations: "A great deed of God will ensure that all will be well, and all manner of things will be well". God is never angry; nor can He be. His mercy and love are all the same. Death is largely a matter of new life in God.
It is fitting perhaps to conclude this eulogy in the words of a beautiful hymn. It was composed by Henry Lyte, an English pastor, shortly before he died of cancer. The date was about 1847. The music was added by William Monk. It is called, "Abide with Me," and goes as follows:
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
Thou who changest not, abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
Note: Fr. Michael Buckley, OCD, who gave the above eulogy, died himself on Thursday, December 22, 2016, at the Carmelite House of Prayer in Oakville (Napa Valley) after a brief illness. He was 96.