Recognising a Jesuit Life

Recently the Campion Hall community mourned the death of one of its own, Rev'd Prof T Frank Kennedy, SJ. T Frank was a Senior Research Fellow in Music at Campion and held the Canisius Chair in Humanitites and Music at Boston College, where he also directed the Jesuit Institute and served as superior of the Jesuit community there. T Frank's presence was a constant source of joy and inspiration for the Campion community, and his absence will long be felt. 

The Master of Campion Hall, the Rev'd Dr James Hanvey, SJ, delivered the following eulogy on the occasion of T Frank's funeral. In addition to calling to mind T Frank's many remarkable virtues, Fr Hanvey's eulogy illuminates the many graces of Jesuit life. 

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T. Frank Kennedy: Recognising a Jesuit Life

We have gathered here this morning because all of us, in many different ways, know, love and respect T. Frank. We are grateful to him and to God who blessed us with his life, his priesthood and his Jesuit vocation. We know what a unique and great gift he was to us and to many who could not be here this morning.

Now, as you know, Jesuits do not have a great reputation for liturgy. But fear not! Everything here this morning was planned by T. Frank – he, above all, knew our reputation and was leaving nothing to chance.

Early in July I had the happy grace of meeting with him to discuss the different elements of the Mass today. Of course, he already had it all worked out.

He particularly wanted the introit which we have heard from Adré Campra, a 17th Century Baroque composer. He asked me if I was familiar with the piece. Well, I’m a theologian and therefore schooled in ignorance so, not surprisingly, I didn’t know it.

Frank’s eyes lit up: “Well, you’ll love it!” And then we began to listen to it.

We both knew that the next time I heard it would be today, but that did not seem to matter. He was busy conducting, explaining to me that real point in choosing it was not the gentle, beautiful solemn opening, but, as we heard, how that gives way to a burst of joy and even playfulness.

There you have T. Frank!

He wanted us to share that joy too, especially today.

For him music was not simply an entertainment, it was a way of recognizing truth.

He put it succinctly when, only a few months ago, he received the award from the University for his contribution to music. In a way, it was his personal credo about the importance of art:

“I have come to see that ........The artist then takes those materials and refashions them into a new statement about human identity in whatever artistic form he or she uses. That experience of the creative not only encompasses the life of the artist, but is also the artist’s gift to us. As we human beings experience these works of art, we are challenged to understand at an ever deeper level our own human identity. We are always adding new perspectives to our understanding of who we are.”

Now, I think T. Frank always managed to add a new perspective.

This was never forced but came naturally from a deep faith. It was the source of all his imaginative and creative energy; it was his wisdom which allowed such a generous and sensitive appreciation of our loves and our frailties. It was the truth that he wanted us

to see and share: his faith, his love of Christ, and his love of the Society and of the Church. And that love, whatever the ups and downs of life, was always a source of joy. How could it not be?

For Christ is no fiction, and our faith no soothing story told in moments like these, to offer some false and short-lived consolation for a life that has no meaning beyond its own worldly achievements.

Christ is alive! He is real and our faith in Him and His Church is more true today than any day.

Today, we mourn but we also celebrate a Jesuit, a priestly and wonderfully human/humane life lived in that truth. It was at the heart of all he was and gave to us.

In a few moments Fr. Francis Hermann will help us recall something of T. Frank’s character and many accomplishments, but at this point in the liturgy the Church asks us to see T. Frank in the light of Faith which illuminates his deep, constant, wise and simple love and service of Christ.

That’s why after having settled the music - note the priority! - we then turned to the readings.

He chose those beautiful opening lines of the first letter of John, and the account of the ‘the road to Emmaus’ in which the gospel of Luke displays, with exquisite delicacy, a profound theology of the resurrection and our own post- resurrection journey of faith.

These reading were special to T. Frank. At the heart of the gospel which we have heard are two mysteries: the mystery of recognition and the mystery of Eucharist. And, of course, they are intimately connected.

There is no doubt that throughout Frank’s life both were important and fundamental. He explained to me how in conversations with another Jesuit, Pat Lee – provincial of the then Oregon Province, he had come to recognize how central the Eucharist was for Jesuit life.

In this sacrament we always meet the Lord. Time, matter, circumstance are no barrier, so much does he desire to meet us and enfold us in his saving, healing and restoring love. A Love that raises us up.

Each day, in this communion, we come to Christ and here we find Him. He is faithful to this meeting, not because we command Him ritually and liturgically, but because He is free and choses to be here in this way for us. This is why we know and trust this sacrament of His love.

And though we come with all the furnishings and moods of our lives, we need no pretense, no disguise, no brilliant words or prayers, we need only to be ourselves in our joy, our poverty, our need and our hope: at our best and also sometimes – often - at our worst.

Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we can come in flight from disaster, carrying our broken dreams, our disappointments and despair. Our incomprehensions.

Like them, we too know the story. We have heard the testimony of the women, but sometimes it’s not enough. The pain and the loss are too much; they overwhelm and rob us of the happier times, the times of hope. We don’t understand and we don’t see Him. We can’t recognize that even when we’re running away, He is with us. For there is no darkness too deep or death so absolute that can prevent Him being with us.

And the Risen Lord walks with them. He listens to their story, their confusion and pain – a story of death and lost hope. Then, in with such delicate pedagogy, He takes up their story and re-narrates it within His own story, His own truth.

What he does for his disciples, he does for us: he retells the story of our lives, the real story, and inscribes it within the inexhaustible story of God’s love. He places us within His life, His Eucharist, and nothing is lost but the truth is seen, and maybe for the first time we are known.

Before they could grasp with their minds what was happening, their broken hearts had already understood. Had already been mysterious touched and brought back to life – As they walked and listened their hearts were mended and consoled. Their hearts were taught how to trust and love again – how to hope again.

Not only do we need this sacrament of the Word and the Eucharist for ourselves every day. It is our school in which we learn how to listen, how to console, how to walk with those we love and those we serve – whoever they are – on the many roads of life. The Lord is with us and He never ceases to teach us.

The loving pedagogy of grace which Christ shows us on the way to Emmaus is the same pedagogy of service He teaches us in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius. T. Frank recognized this. It was how he walked with us and he never stopped learning.

And, of course, he never lost his sense of humour.

He might be inclined to remind those poor, lost disciples, as he often reminded me, with a characteristically mischievous smile, ‘Remember, things can only get worse!’ A peculiar combination of Irish pessimism and Jewish realism.

The other reality we come to see at Emmaus is the gift of hospitality. It is the offer of hospitality that changes things. Whatever His guise in whatever moment of our lives, when we invite Christ ‘to stay with us’, share with us, we receive the gift we could never have imagined or earned - ‘and they recognized him in the breaking of the bread.’

The disciples thought they were the hosts and, as so often with Christ, once we invite Him in, we become His guests. He waits on us.

T. Frank understood the grace of hospitality. It could be practical, in the way he gave us a home and made us ‘at home’. But it was also spiritual and filled with humanity; he was always ready to make room for us in whatever way we needed. And now we know that we will always find him, here, in this breaking of the bread, still wanting to make space for us.

For in the Eucharist our lives do not cease, but grow eternally as our hearts and our minds open ever more into Love.

St Thomas sums it up:

O sacrum convivium!
in quo Christus sumitur:
recolitur memoria passionis eius: mens impletur gratia:
et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur. Alleluia.

O sacred banquet!
In which Christ is received,
The memory of his Passion is renewed, The mind is filled with grace,
And a pledge of future glory to us is given.

St. Ignatius, like T. Frank did not like to leave things to chance. In the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus there is a very short chapter: On How to Die. It’s shortness, though, should not lead us to undervalue its practical beauty or significance.

It reminds us that even in our dying Jesuits are still on mission. In these last few months of T. Frank’s life we could see that chapter lived and understood. He lived his Jesuit life and the mission that it is to the very end. To use an old fashioned but not outworn word, he was edifying.

We could surely recognize in the honesty, humour and consideration that he had for those who visited him, a sense of consolation and peace: we glimpsed the depth of his life of faith. And we knew it was genuine.

The chapter also speaks about the ways in which the community is to care and support a brother in the last stage of his mission. We have also seen that so sensitively and generously done in the communities of Campion and BC. And especially supported, too, by T. Frank’s family.

Whatever we may think, we can do nothing in life – whether in this world or the next – without the strength and grace of community.

So now, now what happens? Well, perhaps the reading from the first letter of John gives us the answer. Frank and I did not spend much time discussing this reading; we both knew it would be right. In this moment it is clearer than ever. Another text which we discussed was the opening of that 1st Letter. It sets the context for the section we have just heard – 1 John 3: 1-3.

In the 2nd week of the Exercises every Jesuit will have asked for the grace to receive, ‘a deep interior knowledge of the Lord, who has become man for me, that I may more love and follow him.’

It is not just a prayer made once in a life or only on the annual retreat. It is a prayer for the whole of our life. It is the deepest desire that informs all that we are, all that we do. And that little phrase ‘for me’ – so characteristic of Ignatius - opens up a vast depth of gratitude, of thanksgiving for knowing and experiencing such a Lord – such a God.

Now, maybe we can see how much this was T. Frank’s desire. This was the prayer of his life. It never wavered. It was his ‘cantus firmus’.

Now, that prayer has become real for him, more real than he could ever have desired or imagined. And because of him, in his life with us, we, too, have caught a ray of its glory.

This is how the beginning of the First Letter of John puts it:

Something which has existed from the beginning, Which we have heard,
Which we have seen with our own eyes,
Which we have watched

And touched with our own hands,
This is our theme
That life was made visible;
We saw it and are giving our testimony, Declaring to you the eternal life

Which was present with the Father And has been revealed to us.
We are declaring it to you

What we have seen and what we have heard, So that you may share our life.
Our life shared with the Father
And with his Son, Jesus Christ.

We are writing this to you so that our joy may be complete.

And there is joy!

Today we pray that Frank’s joy will be complete, – a wonderful banquet – and we all know how T. Frank enjoyed a good meal! – and, of course, lots of glorious music.

James Hanvey SJ Campion Hall Oxford