Philip. A man who will be remembered for his kindness, his intellectual excellence and his true fraternal charity.
The last time I had a private conversation with Philip was at the end of last week. He was carrying bookshelves into the new Priory Institute Library and I asked him how he was doing. He told me that he was fine and that on Wednesday 18 October he had a meeting with his advisor and that he would tell me more.
On Wednesday 18, when I arrived at his bedside, he had just died. And as I sat there with the family and looked at Philip, I couldn’t help but think, What about the more he was going to tell me? And as I looked at him, in the silence of death, I knew he was inviting me to wonder about that “more”. The big question that death asks us all is: is there more or is this all? I sat there thinking: “Philip, now you know so much more, how I wish you would tell me”.
The “more”: Was it Aristotle who said that the mind is everything? This fascination with the “more” is at the root of all intellectual discovery and, indeed, lies at the very heart of the religious quest.
Recently I have been reading and listening to the meditations of Fr Timothy Radcliffe, OP, to the members of the Synod gathered in Rome during the retreat prior to the synodal assembly. As you might expect, Timothy has many wonderful things to say. In one of his meditations, he says: “Christian identity is both known and unknown, given and to be sought. St John says: ‘Beloved, we are now children of God; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3. 1 – 2). We know who we are, and yet we do not know who we shall be…” (Meditation n. 2).
This knowing and yet not knowing is the wonderful place of discovery, both intellectual and spiritual. It was a place that Philip joyfully inhabited and invited us, his friends and students, to join him. As we all know, he had an amazing capacity for wonder and interest. His openness to other people, theologies and philosophies, both Eastern and Western, to technology, even to new galaxies, all encountered with calm and kindness, speaks to the ease with which he lived, in the known and the unknown, the “more”. All this, of course, based on his faith in the mystery of the living God, in the unsearchable riches of Christ.
We can so easily celebrate Philip’s intellectual capacity and deep spirituality, but I believe that this capacity to be interested in that “more” allowed him to show a wonderful charity towards everyone he met. His true Christian charity enabled him to listen and talk to the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor with equal kindness and generosity. He knew that the greatest “plus” we can find in our daily lives is the “plus” of the other person in front of us. He always treated everyone he met with deep respect and genuine concern, for he knew that each person was “more” than was evident at first glance from the way they dressed or their position in society.
In many ways he was a model Dominican in his openness to the “more”, perhaps he was more of an Albert the Great than a Thomas Aquinas, Fribourg was more in his intellectual bones than Rome or Paris. His innocent fascination with new discoveries and new technologies was part of his openness to that “more”. His delight in telling you about the discovery of new galaxies or of having found the right mobile phone for his sister Kathleen, denoted a gleam of childlike delight in new discoveries.
Our dear brother, teacher, guide and priest today asks us to be aware of this “more” and to open ourselves to it. His last words to his prior on Wednesday morning were: “we will leave it in God’s hands”, a wonderful final testament to his faith in the “more”, which for him, as for us believers, is fundamentally God and the mystery of God revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The “more” for us is not a faceless energy of unknown proportions, but a God of love who can, in some unknown way, take us in his hands and hold us by his side. Into those unknown hands (St. Augustine would call it “learned ignorance”) we entrust our beloved brother, certain, like Philip, that there is no safer place to rest and be at peace.
In St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (13:12), he writes “Now we see as in a mirror, dimly; then face to face. Now I know everything imperfectly; then I shall know as God knows me”. Now the “more” has made itself known to Philip, now he knows how he is known, now he knows how he is loved, loved in a way that we here only believe in by faith. Philip’s faith in God enabled him to face death, confident in seeking “more” and to be at peace, where we believe that, as St John teaches us in scripture, “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is”.
Philip was well known throughout the Order because he attended several General Chapters of the Order, various meetings of the European Provincials and Vicars Provincial (IEOP) and other international meetings as a translator, especially from French to English.
Bro Philip McShane, OP, a son of the Irish Province, was born in Dublin on 9 July 1946. He entered the novitiate of the Irish Dominican Province in 1964, making his first profession the following year. He studied philosophy and theology at the Dominican studentate in Tallaght and was ordained priest on 4 July 1971. After ordination, he graduated in theology at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) while living in the Dominican convent of Saint-Hyacinth in that city, where he is remembered for his kindness and generosity. Returning to Ireland, he spent most of his life teaching theology and philosophy. He taught at several academic institutes in Ireland and also at Providence College in Rhode Island, USA. Between 2001 and 2012, he was master of novices in the Irish Province. He was also an accomplished musician and artist. He died in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin on Wednesday 18 October.
Philip was a man of deep charity, whose help to the poor and homeless will undoubtedly grant him a welcome in the heavenly kingdom. His kindness, his intellectual excellence and his true fraternal charity will be remembered by many friars throughout the Order.
John Martin Harris, OP
Prior Provincial of the Province of Ireland