Easter is a time of hope as Christ breaks the power of death and opens the way of life for us. We have the hope that we will be transformed and share in Christ’s risen glory. That is a different vision to Professor Hawkins who the other day likened us to computers that cease to function and that’s it. We are more than machines, because we are made for love, and Christ’s commandment is that we love one another and that God loves us as friends and has chosen us to be in that loving relationship. Elsewhere the Gospel tells us that to believe in Jesus means we have begun eternal life.
This belief and a commitment to loving friendship were at the heart of Tony’s life. He grew up in West Belfast, part of a loving family during the War and its aftermath. These were hard times but Tony’s home was a place of faith and the local Catholic Church was a beacon of hope. Tony left school at 14 and began working life, but again the Church was a key element as he joined the choir, then the Legion of Mary and finally the Third Order of Carmel. All of this gave him friends and awakened in him a desire to serve God as a priest. A chance meeting with Fr. Eltin Griffin, a Carmelite friar, brought Tony to the Carmelites. After novitiate in Aylesford and studies in Ireland, Tony was ordained. He was not a natural student but he was tenacious in applying himself.
Tony’s life after ordination saw him ministering in various Carmelite communities in Britain. I remember him when he was in Aberystwyth and among his responsibilities was university chaplain. I gave a retreat to the students one winter’s weekend and it was obvious that the students loved and respected Tony. What I also remember was his enthusiasm. Tony went on to work in our parish in Walworth but perhaps he is best remembered for his time in Faversham. Here his energy and enthusiasm was freely given to young and old. He organized parish pilgrimages and enabled young people to go to Toronto for World Youth Day. He enjoyed company and is emembered for his laughter as he shared a drink. All this time he was supported by his family, and he in turn was a caring brother and uncle. I must not forget Tony’s reputation at golf, a game he loved, a game he excelled at.
What I also remember about Tony was the sustenance he drew from his involvement with charismatic renewal. The prayer and praise resonated with his outgoing friendly temperament and was to prove bedrock in difficult times. Aberdeen was a difficult time – not easy when your church is burnt down – but that set back was not a road block because, helped by friends, Tony took on a new ministry as chaplain to Maidstone Prison. Here again that gift of friendship helped him minister to inmates and staff.
I know that when the men there heard of his death they wept. Tony’s last journey was short and to begin with not easy. He was lovingly cared for by his Carmelite brothers and Trish the community nurse; and his family held him in prayer. What I saw over the last while was a longing to let go and be with his Saviour. He felt loved by his friend Jesus Christ and was ready when the Lord willed to be in full communion with the Father.
Tony’s faith, his warmth, and his friendship with so many speak of a life lived to the full, so humanly, but also allowing God’s grace to have freedom to transform and fulfil.
Fr Wilfrid McGreal, O.Carm. Prior Provincial