Sermon preached at Funeral Requiem of Dominic Whitnall CR 1 July 2013
Jesus in all his teaching centred all the time on what was going on in the heart of a person. What is going on at the heart of your being determines everything you do. We are told that he could see what was in the heart of a person. Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there will your heart to be also”. What we need to have, he said, is singleness of heart. Some people in life have this singleness of heart to an extraordinary degree. St Francis was only interested in God’s love in simplicity and nothing else. For David Beckham, everything is football. For our Brother Dominic, his heart was centred entirely on being a pastor and shepherd of people. Even in his last illness, when he was suffering in some pain and he started falling out of bed, when you came to rescue him his first words from somewhere under the bed would be: “and how are you?”
Dominic was born as Robert Whitnall just as the First World War was getting under way. He spent his childhood in Cornwall, with regular long visits to Montreal where his Father was a professor. He was the last living link with the beginnings of our Community, which goes back 121 years – he was confirmed by Walter Frere, a co-founder of the community when he was Bishop of Truro. Dominic was ordained just before the Second World War and he came to Mirfield as a postulant in 1944 - almost 70 years ago.
In 1947 he was sent to South Africa where he remained for a long time, working with Trevor Huddleston in Sophiatown and other places. These were years of parish work amongst the oppressed and persecuted black people. When Desmond Tutu was a boy in hospital with tuberculosis Dominic took him comics to read but Desmond said, “why do you bring comics Fr? I want books”. Archbishop Desmond has written to us this week reminiscing about those times. He said that the way Dominic got him involved in the church as a boy was to get him to stand outside selling rosaries and prayer books to people as they came in.
In 1966 Dominic was brought back to Mirfield and soon became honorary curate at our parish church and he remained that until his death. There are many stories of his years of service in the parish, his untiring visiting, his care for people and we have had many letters from folk who have been greatly helped by him. There was always an air of humour about it – one person recalled how, when he visited, they offered him a cup of tea and he asked for a bacon sandwich as well. His love of food and of art were reflected in the small gifts he was always distributing, of apples, chocolate or small pictures. It is providential that a group who recently came here ordered a large supply of sherry and then didn’t use it, so we have an abundant supply to share with you in the buffet afterwards in memory of Fr Dominic’s favourite drink, as he carefully followed to St Paul’s advice on that particular matter.
Dominic had a simple faith and a simple approach to life. When he died he said he was going to look forward to meeting St Paul. St Paul must have been a difficult person to live with and having Dominic in the community wasn’t straightforward either. He didn’t easily take no for an answer and there were ways in which we had to learn to fit around him. When the time came for him to cut down his parish work his energy had nowhere to go but then it lighted on the garden. Then he was out in all weathers looking after the border along the front of the house. Dominic knew down to a tee the art of enveigling someone to lend a hand. If he was working on the garden at the front, brethren began to advise visitors to go round the back, if they didn’t want to be charmed into lifting sods or carrying mountains of weeds to the compost heap.
It is difficult to believe that Dominic has gone to the Lord he loved - there are many people in many places who will miss him. His sister Mary, however, will probably be glad to have him back under her watchful eye.
We give thanks for his singleness of heart and his inimitable, ever cheerful character. It’s good to give thanks for a long life which showed such zest, right to the very end. The zest came from God and so we give thanks for a life well lived; we pray God will have mercy on this sinner of his redeeming and we pray for one another and for the world in which we live.
There is a hand that made us – the loving hand of God. In that amazing person Jesus of Nazareth God conquered death, which is why we can be joyful at a funeral. Even though we are conscious of our mistakes and failings we know that all will be well. Alleluia.
George Guiver CR