01 February 2013

'Is not this Joseph's son?' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Luke 4:21 30 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Jesus began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; and they said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" 

And he said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.'" And he said, "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.  And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." 

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them he went away. 

I left home for the first time when I was 11, though only for a month. It was during the summer of 1954 and I spent the four weeks in an Irish-speaking part of County Galway in the west of Ireland, just beyond An Spidéal (Spiddal) on the northern shore of Galway Bay.

I was one of around 100 children aged between 10 and 14, all sons and daughters of members of trade unions in Dublin which sponsored a summer-school / holiday each year so that the youngsters involved could become more fluent in the Irish language (Gaelic), which we all studied at school. We used to have outdoor classes in the mornings, unless it rained, and were free in the afternoon. We all stayed in groups of three or four boys or girls with local families. We were excused from class if we went to the bog with our hosts when they were cutting turf.

In the house where I stayed with two other boys a family from Dublin came down for their annual holiday. I had never met them before and they didn't know me. The husband/father, whom I later learned was named Paddy O'Neill, asked me the first time he met me if I was the son of John Coyle. At that time I knew nothing about where we come from, though I knew that children often looked like one or other of their parents but had no idea why. I felt a surge of pride as I said 'Yes' to Mr O'Neill. 

He had seen my father's face in mine. Then he told me that he had worked as a young carpenter with my father, who was older than he was, and that he had found my Dad very helpful to him. Over the years others were to tell me the same thing, how my father was such a great mentor to young men learning their trade. Dad was a carpenter too but became first a foreman of the carpenters and later a general foreman on the building/construction sites where he worked for 54 years.

My father in turn often spoke with great respect and affection of foremen he had worked under and who had helped him. I remember Ned Boyle, who lived near us. He had a big moustache, as I recall, and his wife had beautiful white hair and a lovely smile. The looked like every child's favourite grandparents. My mother often described them as a real 'Darby and Joan' couple. In the song The Folks Who Live on the Hill Oscar Hammerstein II's lyrics to Jerome Kern's music include these lines:

We'll sit and look at the same old view,
Just we two.
Darby and Joan who used to be Jack and Jill,
The folks who like to be called,
What they have always been called,
'The folks who live on the hill'.

I remember Dad talking about Mr Grace, another foreman under whom he worked. I never knew him, though I had some contact with some of his sons, all of whom were older than me. Two of them, Fr Ronald and Fr John, became Capuchin priests and were assigned to what is now Zambia. Another, Mick, died in an accident while building a church in Dublin. I got the impression from my father that Mr Grace was a man of great integrity and of nobility. I could see something of that in his sons.

I could see it in my father and how foremen such as Mr Boyle and Mr Grace had helped to form him as a person, without even being aware of it.

St Joseph the Carpenter, Georges de la Tour, 1640s.

As I grow older I see more clearly how my parents and others formed me. Very often when I'm writing I think of John Galligan, my teacher in Fourth Class (Grade Four) who gave us a great grounding in the grammar of both Irish and English, encouraged us to read the newspaper critically and gave us many opportunities to write. But above all, he shared his faith as he prepared us for confirmation and as he spoke so often about his wife Mary. I came to know them years later as a friend and saw in them a real 'Darby and Joan' couple.

Is not this Joseph's son? the people in the synagogue asked in wonder before they turned against Jesus and tried to kill him. There's a gap of 18 years between the time when Mary and Joseph, sick with worry, went back to Jerusalem to try to find the 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple, where in his humanity his sense of his vocation was beginning to awake. The First Reading, from Jeremiah, has the word of the Lord saying to the prophet, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations. Further on the Lord tells Jeremiah, They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the LORD, to deliver you (Jer 1:5, 19).

God the Father had the mission of his Son Jesus, God who became Man, in mind from from all eternity. He knew that many would fight against Jesus, but they shall not prevail against you . . . And the Father called two human beings to prepare Jesus for his mission, Mary to be his very mother and Joseph, her husband, to be like a father to him.

Jesus in his humanity learned from St Joseph how to be a responsible man. The years when Jesus went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them and increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:51, 52) were the years when Joseph and Mary were preparing Jesus for his mission, Mary keeping all these things in her heart but probably neither of them fully realising the importance of daily life in the house, in the carpenter's shop, in preparing Jesus for his mission.

Mr Boyle and Mr Grace were among those who formed my father as an upright man of deep faith. I doubt if any of them ever spoke to each other about their faith, just as my father rarely spoke about it to me. They simply lived it. I'm prouder now, more than 25 years after his death, to be known as 'John Coyle's son' because I can see how much he has influenced me as a priest.

Our influence on each other is for good and for bad. Those who hear it asked about them as a compliment Isn't this the son/daughter of . . .? are blessed. Those of whom it is said that they are saintly, not because they are 'pious' but because their is something Christ-like about their lives, are blessed and are a blessing to others.

When Jesus heard the people in the synagogue ask Is not this Joseph's son? I'm certain that in his humanity he felt deeply blessed because the love and care of Joseph had been central to the loving plan of God the Father for his Son, God who became Man.

Communion Antiphon Cf Psalm 30:17-18. [Latin]

Illúmina fáciem tuam super servum tuum, 
et salvum me fac in tua misericórdia. 
Dómine, non confúndar, quóniam invocávi te.

Let your face shine on your servant. 
Save me in your merciful love.
O Lord, let me never be put to shame, for I call on you.

In the video above the antiphon is sung in Latin in Gregorian chant. Below is a setting of the Latin text for five voices by Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (1566 - 1613) sung by a choir in Brno in the Czech Republic.


I mentioned above the song The Folks Who Live on the Hill. I came across this version by Liverpool-born singer Michael Holliday who took his own life at the age of 38 in 1963, a couple of years after he had a nervous breakdown. It seems he suffered badly from stage fright, as his hands during his introduction to the song seem to indicate. Remember him in your prayers.

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