The funeral of Fr. Kevin Alban, O.Carm, Prior Provincial, British Province of Carmelites was filmed and is available to view in full at the video above. Below, you can read the text of the funeral homily and appreciations.
Funeral Homily: Kevin Alban, O.Carm by Brendan Grady, O.Carm
17th May 2021 – The Friars, Aylesford
At this moment in the Christian calendar, we find ourselves in an in-between space. Last Thursday we celebrated the Ascension of the Risen Jesus, where he withdraws from the sight of his disciples. Through a process of gradual transformation, almost through a kind of spiritual osmosis, by accompanying Jesus and becoming his friends, his disciples had interiorised what he had taught them: what he had revealed to them about the tremendous love of a welcoming, inclusive and forgiving God; they lived with the awareness and the reality that somehow Jesus had shaped them in the ways of concrete, practical love. Now it is time for them to become messengers of his Way, his Truth and his Life. His disciples are to be communicators and missionaries of merciful love. Next Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrate the dynamic presence, the power, the passion, the Gift of the Holy Spirit, who is God’s very breathing; God’s breathing within God’s Self, breathing in creation, breathing in every human person. It is the Spirit who breathes in the hearts of missionary disciples, leading them from fear to courage, from ignorance of God to enlightenment, from prayer to action, and into an as yet unknown future and territory.
Today, perhaps we also find ourselves in an in-between space. Each of us in different ways are trying to come to terms with the death of a son, a brother, a friend, an inspiration. But we are also doing our best to renew our faith in the Risen Jesus who tells us that where he has gone, we will surely follow. This is our hope for Kevin, and our hope for ourselves when our time comes to be reunited with him in God. Kevin himself said that not everyone has received the grace of knowing that they will die soon. He was given time to prepare, to say as many of his farewells to as many as he possibly could and to open his heart as completely as he could to the growing impulse of God’s love that was beckoning to him. Kevin had sought to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and open himself to the transformation of the Spirit. Kevin hoped and believed in resurrection.
The readings we have heard are ones that were well-known to Kevin. They helped to shape and form his life as a friar, as a priest, as a human being. He pondered these texts often, slowly and deeply. He sought to make sense of God’s Word, unveiled over centuries – and still resonating today in open hearts - through study, meditation, prayer and openness. Much of his life might be characterised by a profound desire, like those early disciples, to communicate Good News to other and to be good news for others. He was positive, proactive and enabled others to believe in themselves and to be part of a bigger picture. Like the symbol of Mount Carmel itself, reaching high yet firmly embedded in the earthiness of human experience, Kevin sought to share what he had received, learned, pondered and interiorised to a vast and varied audience.
Kevin sought to be attentive to that divine revelation spoken by a messenger to Mary, that sinless woman of the pure heart, who with his Carmelite sisters and brothers – lay and religious - he would daringly call not only Mother but also Sister. His appreciation of Mary was rooted in the scriptures and formed by solid theological reflection. With her at the foot of the Cross we gaze and are stirred with empathy. In entering into the passion of Mary, whose passion is her own Son’s, we find ourselves drawn to be alongside so many others whose hearts, minds and bodies are aching, wounded and broken. As Christians today living with Resurrection faith, we cannot rest with passive pious sentiment. That’s not enough. But we find ourselves drawn and impelled to do what we can to alleviate suffering in our world. And it will present itself to us on a daily basis, right in front of our eyes. And Kevin always had his eyes opened and always was willing to help.
Kevin meditated on that transcendent communication that led the Prophet Elijah through the crisis of powerlessness, vulnerability, brokenness and darkness into stillness, silence, serenity and hope-filled acceptance before the very mystery of God. Strengthened by our search for the Face of the Living God, we are given the energy and the means to become protagonists with others of transformative social action. Our words, our prayer, our experiences, our openness, our longing for justice are translated by the Spirit of God working in, through, and sometimes despite us, into deeds that offer the promise of new life.
Kevin wanted to know that Word and fire of love that also reverberated in the hearts of saints like Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Thérèse of Lisieux and so many others in our Carmelite tradition. It was in this religious family in the Church where, despite all the challenges and messiness of community living and the imperfections of his religious brothers and in himself, Kevin found a spiritual home. Thérèse discovered that living in a religious community was challenging, but loving concretely and practically – putting herself to one side - brought about positive change in herself and affirmed the good in others. Kevin would sometimes say, “It’s not about me; it’s about WE”. The Church is never about me; it is about WE together. He knew that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. It was in Carmel that Kevin discovered God’s dream for him, where his vocation was given concrete shape and form. And in the vocation that he had discerned as God’s will for him, even to his final days, he applied himself with energy, enthusiasm, passion and zeal. What a man!
In different years, Kevin and I had the same novice director (Piet Wijngaard) who impressed upon us that friars needed to be able to relate to both Duchesses and Dustmen. Well, I am not sure if we have any duchesses here today, but we are delighted to have two bishops! Kevin certainly could communicate easily with academics and the very ordinary person in the pew or in the street or even in the pub. And, wherever we consider ourselves to be in the Church or in society, each of us in our relationship with Kevin has a valid and valuable story to tell. Today is about gathering to pray for Kevin. We pray that he might see God. It’s also about ourselves. It’s about telling the story and sharing the story.
As we remember Kevin’s life and influence, as we mourn his loss, and as we entrust him now in our praying to the tender embrace of our loving God, we recognise that he sought to do the best he could. He sought the best in his own unique way, and he sought to make God the centre of his life. We live now with the horizon of the Resurrection before us. We hope because we recognise that death does not have the final word. We live with longing for the ultimate revelation of the Love that is all-embracing, a love coming from God that is inclusive, without prejudice, regenerative, creative and boundless. This love that we pray that God is now revealing to Kevin, this love is staggering. What is heaven, after all, but the fulfilment of humanity’s most authentic and purified desire? We have been made for God, and our hearts are restless until we are in God. With Kevin, we live with the energy, enthusiasm of committed missionary disciples of the Risen Jesus. We carry in our very selves the life of Christ. As we prepare for Pentecost, we open ourselves to the surprising impulse of God’s love that is the Holy Spirit.
I want to read a few lines from our Prior General, Fr. Míceál O'Neill. He writes:
‘…Thinking about Kevin over these last few days, I have been struck by the extent and depth of his influence which we see in the life of our religious family, in the British province in particular, in the Church and wider Christian community in Great Britain, and in those whom he taught at the highest and simplest levels.
‘His life speaks to us very clearly about vocation. He made his first response, believed that he was not ready then made his second response and found his spiritual home in religious life and priesthood in the Carmelite Order. We could all see in Kevin a very lively spirit and a gifted mind. He believed in the idea of faith seeking understanding and devoted his life to building on the truth that is revealed through the pages of history.
‘He appreciated fully the gifts of creation, cherished the good things in life and kept very little of himself for himself. His nature was generous. I pray today for his mother, for his brother and sister Carmelites and for his many friends.
In very little time we passed from having Kevin among us full of life, to this moment of mourning and loss. We can be grateful for the manner of his life and also the manner of his death. He had time to prepare, to look around and be grateful and to accept God's mercy in whatever way it might be shown to him. May he rest in peace.’
In a while we will share in the Eucharist. The poet Kahlil Gibran described God’s kind of love this way in The Prophet:
‘When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep…
Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire
That you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.’
Brendan Grady, O.Carm
I first met Fr Kevin over a long lunch in Rome, which may come as no surprise to many of you here. At the time we were both working at the Beda College in the Eternal City, the validation for whose degrees had just recently been taken over by my university, St Mary’s, Twickenham. I was the moderator of the degree and Fr Kevin was one of the examiners. We spent most of the meal discussing the merits of various Roman cheeses and by the end had decided to organise an international conference to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of St Teresa of Avila - which eventually took place with great success in 2015.
I think this initial encounter set the tone for our collaboration and friendship: a wonderful combination of conviviality, practical projects and spiritual wisdom. One of my friends tells me that when she was discerning a religious vocation he advised her ‘God will never be outdone with generosity’. And that was really his watchword – ‘generosity’. Since his death I have had many conversations with students and colleagues alike, who have told me little stories about the extra generosity he showed as a teacher, mentor and friend. This was my own experience too. Whenever I asked him to do something - he did it and then added a little extra. It was that 'more' which students responded to and loved about him. He had a great mind, a great heart and a great capacity for life.
Last week we had a doctoral supervision with a student he had been advising and I asked the question whether we ought to replace Fr Kevin on the team. As we discussed it we realised - he was irreplaceable. His knowledge of late medieval religious culture and his Latin scholarship was unrivalled – even though he did usually conclude that the answer to most late medieval theological questions could be summed up in two words: ‘Thomas Netter’. I am sure he is enjoying catching up with the doctor autenticus, his fellow Provincial Prior, on some celestial cloud even as we speak.
This love and enthusiasm for medieval Carmelite spirituality made him a leading expert in the field and over the years he contributed much to the establishment of St Mary’s MA in Christian Spirituality. In the last conversation we had a few weeks ago we were discussing how he could contribute to our new doctoral programmes.
In fact, over the ten years in which we knew each other I can only remember one occasion when we had a cross word. That was the time when we co-led a pilgrimage to Spain, another of his great loves, and I gave a lecture on St John of the Cross, referring to John’s ‘imprisonment’ in Toledo by the Carmelites. ‘Imprisonment’, Fr Kevin chuckled, ‘a very harsh word Peter’ – ‘John had become radicalised – it was a de-radicalisation programme he was participating in...’
As we sit now in the Church’s calendar between Ascension and Pentecost, I think Fr Kevin would approve if I ended with the final lines of the medieval Latin hymn to the Holy Spirit, Veni Sancte Spiritus, as we commend his soul to the Lord’s mercy and thank God for the life of this wise, witty and wonderful man, the Very Rev’d Professor Kevin Alban O Carm:
Da virtutis meritum
Da salutis exitum
Da perenne gaudium
Grant, Lord, the reward of virtue
Grant, salvation at the end
Grant him everlasting joy
Peter Tyler, Aylesford, 17th May 2021
An Appreciation by Richard Copsey O.Carm.
Kevin and I shared a common starting point in our education as we both went to the same university. However, our paths did not cross at this time as I was finishing my degree in 1958, the year that Kevin was born. It was some years later, that he attended Balliol College, Oxford, from 1976-1979 and gained his degree in History. Soon after, Kevin joined the Carmelites and having completed his novitiate, he was sent to Rome where he demonstrated his academic ability and gained a degree in philosophy, magna cum laude. Whether it was the contrast between Rome and Oxford or simply the need to clarify his sense of priorities and sense of direction, but Kevin then asked for leave of absence and spent some years teaching English in Rome. Not only did he develop his fluency in Italian but, interestingly, one of his tasks was to teach English to Italian Policemen so that they could understand the chants of the English football fans attending the World Cup in 1990.
After a few years, Kevin returned to the Order and was sent to complete his studies for the priesthood at the Mill Hill Missionary Institute in London. Whilst there, Kevin was not only a keen and dedicated student but he revealed that he was a natural leader and organiser among the students and also much respected by the staff. It was during his time in London that our paths crossed again, and we worked together on a number of history projects. Kevin translated the surviving letters of the great English provincial Thomas Netter which was the beginning of his interest in Netter and in the Doctrinale, Netter's great theological work. Kevin's translation of the letters was published in the second volume of our series Carmel in Britain. Kevin continued with his research, writing articles on George Rayner, an English Carmelite who died in prison under Queen Elizabeth I and John Bird, the Carmelite provincial who wrote a treatise in favour of Henry VIII’s divorce. However, Thomas Netter remained the major focus for Kevin’s studies, culminating in his doctoral thesis which was published in 2010.
Meanwhile Kevin’s academic and linguistic abilities were being appreciated further afield and, after his ordination in 2001, his services were requested in Rome where he became the secretary to the prior general. In this role, Kevin’s administrative abilities, his easy way of relating to others and his hard work were put to good effect. Even in this demanding role, Kevin did not neglect his teaching skills and enjoyed giving regular talks to local communities of sisters and other groups. After six years, Kevin was elected as the Bursar General and he spent the next three years dedicating his energies to introducing some order and system in the Order’s finances. His efforts here were not universally appreciated because some of the Order’s provinces were somewhat dilatory in contributing to the Curia’s expenditure.
On his return to England, Kevin quickly established a reputation as an excellent lecturer, and he was soon in demand at a number of academic centres both in this country and abroad. At the same time, he was an industrious writer, publishing a series of scholarly articles.
Elected provincial, he began to serve the whole province and proved not only to be an excellent leader and administrator but also a kind and sympathetic listener to those who sought his advice.
I have to say that he was most encouraging of my own efforts in Carmelite history. It was his support which led to the publication of my Biographical Register of Medieval Carmelites and, when my later research ran into difficulties with the lack of access to libraries during the lockdown, he generously funded me so that I could buy the books that I needed. However, his own energy and wish to promote the study of Carmelite history led him to suggest other projects for my attention and a collection of pen-portraits of medieval English Carmelites has just gone to press – sadly without the foreword which he had intended to contribute.
Sadly, we shall miss Kevin’s kindness, his ability to listen sympathetically and his energy and drive. He served God and this Province well and has left us an example which we will struggle to emulate.
Richard Copsey O.Carm.