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Homily for John Eddy


When asked in recent months, 'How are you?', John Jude Eddy would caress his scalp, straighten his hat, adjust his cuffs, massage his moustache, purse his lips, train those keen eyes on his inquirer, and answer, 'I'm headed for Grand Central. But I don't know when this particular service is due to arrive.' As the Hazaribagh missionaries whom he so admired would say, he has now reached.

We come, sadly already missing him in Canberra's Churches, coffee houses and corridors of academe. We come to this Cathedral, as he did so often, to give thanks for the one departed, to pray for those left behind and commend us all, living and dead, to the Lord's mercy.

Twenty years ago in this Cathedral, John presided at the service for his beloved Manning Clark who had asked that 'my friend Dr Eddy read prayers at my funeral'. John recalled that it was in this Cathedral that Manning 'was strangely moved ... (having) been vouchsafed a vision of what (he) had previously searched for in vain'.

Later when asked about Manning's relationship with the Catholic Church, John commented, 'I do not make windows into men's souls. We were privileged to offer Manning and his family the hospitality of St Christopher's especially because he himself had often visited and felt at home' here. John's prayer would be that you all feel at home here today, the Cathedral in which he was most at home.

This priestly Australian historian whose father William had fought in both World Wars would be well pleased that we are gathered here in prayer as the clock moves towards 11am on the 11th of the 11th of the 11th. And we do remember them.

Last Saturday was the Feast of All Saints and Blesseds of the Society of Jesus. John's local Jesuit community gathered at his bedside at Clare Holland House to share the Eucharist with his sister Margot and a handful of those to whom he was uncle and great uncle.

Michael Pidcock, his oncologist of twenty years who had cared so professionally for John alongside with Cam Webber, was also there with his wife Mary. I was presiding because that is what local superiors in the Jesuits are supposed to do. John promptly took over — because that's what he usually did. John, on oxygen and morphine, rallied to offer us a 15 minute homily and life reflection — Dr Eddy's apologia pro vita sua.

I recalled that at the time of last year's Floriade we needed to surround the 60th anniversary of John's entry to the Jesuits with various other celebrations because he would never allow a public party to celebrate just him. His rejoinder was that his whole life has been a private party sharing God's love with people.

Even life's tragedies such as the premature death of his beloved brother-in-law John Traill in 1983 resulted in his being given a family to whom he was father in all senses, sharing their love and fortunes in the world. John gave thanks that he had been able to enjoy a little of heaven here on earth, always known affectionately as 'Unc'.

He told us that he never did meet Joseph Stalin. And though he had not met Gaddafi, Ahmadinejad, or Berlusconi, he thought he had met just about everyone else of any significance on the planet. His last dinner party was with the Archbishop and the Chief Justice who had attended the same Jesuit school in Perth as had he, and who had just delivered a judgment protecting the rights of asylum seekers who had been John's concern for these last 40 years.

He admired the beauty of the scene outside his hospice window, remarking that the poplars by the lake were a touch of Monet. He noted that it was fashionable nowadays to be atheist but that he became more confirmed in his faith the closer he got to Grand Central. Like Paul he could proclaim:

We believe and therefore we speak. We know that he who raised the Lord Jesus to life will raise us up with Jesus in our turn, and put us by his side and you with us. For we know that when the tent in which we live on earth is folded up, there is a house built by God for us, an everlasting home not made by human hands, in the heavens.

Though he spent almost 40 years here in Canberra, he said he had been a missionary all his life — a missionary of God's love, privileged to share that love intimately with so many people especially in the national capital at the most difficult and celebrated moments of their lives. So many of you packing the pews of this cathedral know how universally avuncular he was.

When I phoned an embassy this week to deliver the sad news of John's death to the Ambassador, the secretary became a little weepy as did I, recollecting that he had helped her in a time of crisis, advising, 'Trust your God, love your family and stay close to them.' Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Twenty-four hours before his death he was visited by a vast array of people including those who had occupied the offices of prime minister and chief justice. Yesterday, Sir William Deane sent a message from overseas saying, 'He was a truly good man who cared greatly about the things that matter.'

John knew there were times to speak and times to be silent; but behind the scenes he was always an encourager. To one of you, he wrote recently:

Once again congratulations on your perspicacity, enterprising mind, probing spirit and sheer guts! You may sometimes feel that our frail world is spinning uneasily to disasters of our own making. But in my humble opinion you have pulled much more than your weight in the effort to serve your fellow creatures and enable us to work together towards a happier, more ethical and beautiful future by the grace of a Designer who has given us so much potential and free choice in our brief mortal life.

He was very proud of the course he designed at the ANU entitled 'The Peopling of Australia since 1788'. He grew increasingly agitated about our treatment of those fleeing to our shores seeking asylum. In his last published utterance he wrote:

The 'schemes' of various governments which brought thousands of 'unaccompanied minors' to Australia (cf. the movie Oranges and Sunshine etc.) may have been well-meant, even strictly speaking 'legal'. But we (and especially religious orders and NGOs) surely must exercise great moral caution before falling into the trap of supporting modern equivalents, no matter how insistent political vote-catchers may urge them for perceived electoral advantage.

People 'smuggling' may be reprehensible or necessary, depending on circumstances, but it at least responds to the asylum seekers' wishes. People 'trafficking' consists in forcibly taking innocents where they do not wish to go.

Usually these remarks from John passed under the public radar. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be silent and a time to speak.

His Oxford doctorate was published by Clarendon in 1969 under the title Britain and the Australian Colonies 1818-1831: The Technique of Government. He rightly described the historical basis for Mabo and Wik. Three decades before the High Court spoke, he wrote:

The central authorities never deviated from their determination that the natives be conciliated and that relations with aborigines be always governed by 'amity and kindness'. But official benevolence and goodwill proved sadly deficient as time brought more drastic collisions between settlers, convicts, sealers, soldiers and the fierce, gentle, mysterious, fugitive, ever present people of the Australian bush.

Recently I discovered in Professor WEH Stanner's papers a request to Manning Clark for an historian's take on the terra nullius argument in preparation for the 1971 Gove land rights case. Clark sent back a paper by the young Eddy who had recently arrived at the ANU. Arriving home, I showed my archival find to John. He was quite unsurprised, read it cursorily, and said there was no need to change a word of it in light of Mabo and Wik. He was right.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity
under the heavens:
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away.

In 1971, John looked back over the previous 50 years in Australian Catholicism noting that 'even in 1921 when John O'Brien praised the 'same dear happy circle' of the Irish Australian family around the 'Boree Log', he went on, with some wistfulness, to mourn the scattering which was already breaking up that warm group.'

John said, 'Fifty years later only a poet of abnormal insight would dare to sing so intimately of the complex community of (those) who go to make up the Australian Catholic Church.' He wrote:

Radical periodicals come and go. Practice remains high, but there appears to be in church life, as in other areas of Australian life, a potentially dangerous element of frustration. Unintelligent insistence on what is believed or imagined to be rigid orthodoxy and suspicion of 'intellectuals' can bruise the adventurous and stunt initiative. A greater danger is perhaps still apathy, cloaked by a gentle irony or a cynical cult of passionless mediocrity. Co-responsibility in the Church has yet to find its authentic Australian flowering.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity
under the heavens:
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh.

Being the academic historian he was careful not to prognosticate beyond the evidence; being a man of simple faith he was happy to surrender into the abyss of mystery. He wrote, 'Whether Australian Catholicism is rising or declining remains a subject for debate: or rather a mystery. To those who do not believe no assessment is necessary; to those who believe no earthly assessment is adequate.' In the words of the psalmist:

O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My Body pines for you
like a dry, weary land without water,

In his bicentenary essay, 'Recognition, Reconciliation and History' John wrote, 'The cynic might judge that most people find coping with present events and necessary practical decisions for the immediate future sufficient burden. It is hard enough to grasp essential daily details, and summon up enough courage to survive. An interest in the past may be a fine hobby, but contributes little that is useful or helpful. This is to ignore the role of memory and reflection in human life. Truth may be difficult to ascertain, and unpleasant to face once discovered, but without it there can be no firm foundation, and in St John's searing words, 'the truth will make you free'.'

Though spending most of his Jesuit life here in Canberra, John experienced his missionary call to the frontiers. His life of the mind, his infectious sociability, and his delight in all human achievement from a faultless tennis backhand to a spine-tingling opera aria by Joan Sutherland made him open to possibilities well beyond his own comfort zone and competencies. He embodied the 2008 declaration by the General Congregation of Jesuits:

'The complexity of the problems we face and the richness of the opportunities offered demand that we build bridges between rich and poor, establishing advocacy links of mutual support between those who hold political power and those who find it difficult to voice their interests. Our intellectual apostolate provides an inestimable help in constructing these bridges, offering us new ways of understanding in depth the mechanisms and links among our present problems.'

Concluding his historical overview of the Jesuits in Australia in James Jupp's Encyclopaedia of Religion in Australia, John wrote, 'The traditional works of the order are still maintained, and demands for new ventures vie with the requirements of existing institutions. If earlier Australian Jesuits were advised to attempt not everything but much, it is clear that there will not in the foreseeable future be any shortage of pastoral and intellectual challenges to the greater glory of God.'

We commend to the Lord a son of Ignatius who never attempted everything but who did achieve much, while encouraging thousands of others in their quest for 'a happier, more ethical and beautiful future', one who relished the pastoral and intellectual dimensions of life, one for whom memory, reflection and truth were so cultivated as to be commonplace, one whose private party included all of us as guests invited to the banquet of the Lord.

The JJ Eddy carriage has now reached Grand Central and each of us thanks God for the privilege of sharing something of the avuncular passenger's delight in the journey through coffee shops, bookshops, music stores, opera theatres, lecture halls and clubs culminating always at the table of the Lord, at the banquet where Jesus assures us Yes my yoke is easy and my burden light.

Twenty years ago in this Cathedral, John told the congregation 'that one day they would all be united with Manning in paradise'. While John converses again with Manning Clark in the quest for grace, we pray that he rest in peace, and on this Remembrance Day we remember all those who have gone before us knowing there is a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace so that we might enjoy life and freedom to the full.

Frank BrennanThis text is from Fr Frank Brennan's homily at the Funeral of Fr John Jude Eddy SJ at St Christopher's Cathedral, Canberra, 11 November 2011.

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, John Eddy, Manning Clark



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Existing comments

This homily was well balanced not only for JJ Eddy but also for all saints living here and those at the Grand Central.
Well done Fr Brennan.

Charles | 13 November 2011  

Splendid eulogy for john by Pierre Ryckmans (Simon Leys):

Normally, a eulogy should recall the main events and achievements of a person’s career. As you all know, Fr Eddy was a distinguished historian, as well as an eloquent communicator. To do justice to his manifold activities and writings would require much more time than can be allowed to me here, right now. But I trust that such a task will be better performed in coming days and weeks by Fr Eddy’s many colleagues, admirers, fellow scholars, disciples and students. At this precise moment, in this church, I wish to focus only on what seems to me, to have been the two most essential and dominant aspects of his personality – two aspects that must be equally dear and familiar to all of you: the friend and the priest.

First, the friend: in our age of “Facebook” and of electronic human relations, ‘friendship’ has become one of the most abused and misused words in the modern language – it has been emptied of all meaning (witness the memorable utterance of Paris Hilton: “I have so many friends, I do not even know their names.”)

Well – needless to say, Father Eddy had countless friends too (if it were not that many of them are scattered in remote corners of this vast country, or in distinct parts of the outside world, they could easily have filled three cathedrals as big as this one) – not only did he know their names, but he shared their joys and concerns; he cared for their problems, he guided them in times of anxiety, he comforted them in times of grief. Though he was a very busy man, he always welcomed each one of us as if he had unlimited leisure. He brought joy to any gathering of people, not as if performing some sort of social duty, but simply because he genuinely enjoyed their company. The range of his friendships was amazingly broad and diverse: it encompassed not only statesmen and politicians, eminent citizens from all walks of life, but also sick and destitute losers whom he would visit and comfort in hospitals, or convicted criminals whom he would visit and comfort in jail.

John Eddy, the Priest: each priest is a living paradox. A good priest such as Father Eddy has the generosity to make himself available to everyone at all times – and simultaneously he remains – how should I say? – separate. Having been ordained, a priest is vested with sacramental powers that set him apart from us all. By calling him by the beautiful name of “Father”, we acknowledge this mystery. Though we were old and close friends, I confess I never felt able to call him otherwise than “Father”. (And by the way, on this particular point, note also how he acted as a devoted and affectionate father to his six nieces and nephew, after his beloved sister Margot had prematurely and tragically become a widow.)

Andre Malraux recalled at the beginning of his autobiography an anecdote which I love: he once asked an old priest what he had learned about human nature after having spent a lifetime hearing people’s confessions. The priest replied: “Il n’y a pas de grandes personnes. Fundamentally there are no grown-ups.”

Now I regret I never asked Father Eddy’s own views on this subject – but I simply noted his general attitude: the sort of kind and amused indulgence with which he seemed to contemplate our usual follies. But after all, in the eyes of every father, is it not a fact that sons and daughters, however advanced in age, remain children forever?

I am no theologian. Catholic liturgy teaches us to pray for the dead. But there are instances (it seems to me) when we should feel rather inclined to address our prayers to the dead – asking them to intercede on our behalf.

Father Eddy will always remain in our prayers – which I understand in a very special sense: in times of anxiety or distress, we shall no more be able to knock at his door and ask for his guidance – but we can do better. Now he is in a good position to transmit our calls for help, directly to his closest friend – the Friend who has guided and inspired his entire life – our Lord Jesus Christ.

Frank Brennan SJ | 16 November 2011  

A joy to read, Frank.

Jo dallimore | 11 February 2012  

Midnight. John fast asleep. A knock on his door. "John, are you awake." "Uh, yes." A fellow scholastic, suffering from the stress of exams: "How about coming for a run!" "Gee, Pat", says John, "I never thought of that! Good idea! I'll be with you in a minute." And John went for a run with Pat. That was John.

Dan Farrelly | 12 January 2015  

This is wonderful, thank you.

Louise J | 05 November 2021  

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