Fr John Lawlor, O.Carm. (1930-2012)

Given at the Funeral Mass celebrated in White Abbey, Kildare, on December 3, 2012, by C. O’Donnell, O.Carm.

Kevin John Lawler hailed from Arklow, Co. Wicklow; he was educated at Terenure College, where he was outstanding academically and at sports. He held the athletic record for the 220 yards, which still stands, as this distance is no longer contested having been replaced by the metric 200m. In the days before Terenure began winning cups, he played Leinster Senior rugby for the College. After Terenure he joined the Carmelite Order in Kinsale, where he was given the name John. He studied science in UCD and then theology, firstly at the Milltown Institute in Dublin and later at the Gregorian University, Rome. Returning to Ireland he taught philosophy for students of the Irish Province at Gort Muire; he was Director of Studies; he taught theology at Gort Muire and at the Milltown Institute. He found such teaching enriching, but very demanding, as he could never be satisfied with anything but what was most authentic and his outstanding intellect always showed him still deeper issues to pursue.
People always remarked on his youthful appearance. He never looked his age; you could always add about ten to twelve years to his appearance to get his birth age; he died at eighty two, but he could pass for early seventies. This youthful appearance reflected also his inner being; he had a gospel simplicity, which in many ways mirrored the gospel teaching of Jesus about being like children.
In 1961 the Prior General, Fr. Kilian Healy, O.Carm., on visitation demanded that the Irish Province establish a theologate or school of theology for our students. John was its intellectual centre. He brought vision and direction to this new development in the province. It was indeed an exciting time in the area of theology. Vatican II was taking place and there were new approaches and direction in theology.
In addition a new star had appeared on the theological horizon: the French-Canadian Jesuit, Bernard Lonergan, whom John and many others would consider one of the greatest theological innovators since St. Thomas Aquinas, who died in 1274. John doggedly pursued Lonergan’s vision and method and it enriched him enormously. The Irish Carmelite province enabled him to attend courses and seminars given by Lonergan in Boston, San Francesco and Toronto.
He not only profoundly grasped the central insights of Lonergan about method in theology. Lonergan asked, “What are you doing when you are doing theology?” – a question of enormous consequences – for theology must never be just an academic pursuit, but a life mission to absorb, to live and to share divine truths. For Lonergan authentic theology demanded a new way of reflection and a corresponding legitimacy of lifestyle; tellingly, such theology can be a painful pursuit. John himself would never be content with anything shallow, incomplete or less than fully authentic. He wrestled with divine truth; his students and those who heard his homilies and sermons never offered less than an authentic and profound vision.
In the 1980s he transferred to chaplaincy ministry at St. James’ Hospital. There he embraced the new vision of hospital chaplaincy that was then emerging; this was more than administering sacraments to people in danger of death or at the end of life but a ministry centred on the whole person. He spent more than a decade in this caring and demanding ministry.
There was never a sense of “that will do” when he preached at St. James’ Hospital or local parishes. People were given his newest insights in an attractive and accessible form. His preaching and his theological teaching was never less than a profound and authentic presentation of divine truth. In his life, theology and spirituality were seamlessly woven in a Carmelite vision – he lived on theology to the end. The mysteries of God captured him, fed him and enthused him. He frequently shared his theological insights with others, often a new insight he obtained when preparing a homily. This was not so much to check its authenticity, but to allow others to enjoy with him the insights he had received. As a Carmelite he lived simply and authentically, but when it came to divine truth he was never content with anything but what was most authentic and profound.
He lived in simplicity treasuring his family relationships, his ministry, and his Carmelite community. He was deeply drawn by the Mother of God; he loved the places where she had appeared on earth: he was drawn by the mysteries of Mary’s life, which he found rooted in the gospel, but also on the rock at Lourdes, on the tree at Fatima and in the sanctuary of Medjugorje.
Many encouraged him to write. But that was not really his gift. Those who knew him would have seen him in the words of St. John of the Cross, as a Living Flame always animated with divine truth lived in a humble and simple Carmelite lifestyle. Our reading today outlines his vision. Like Jeremiah he learned that
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is his faithfulness…
The Lord is good to those who seek him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
For the salvation of the Lord.