16 October 2015

'Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.' Sunday Reflections, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B. First Columban Centenarian.

Call of the Sons of Zebedee, Marco Basaiti, 1510
Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Mark 10:35-45 (New Revised Standard Version, CatholicEdition, Canada) 

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”  And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Christ in the Carpenter's Shop, Georges de la Tour, 1645
Musée du Louvre, Paris [Web Gallery of Art] 

In May 2008 I unexpectedly received an email from Michael in Australia whom I hadn't met or heard from since the summer of 1967 when we were working together on a building (construction) site in Dublin. I had just been ordained subdeacon and was to be ordained priest in December of that year. The general foreman on the site was my father.
In a later email Michael said, Your father was a great role model for me to try and emulate. I remember the first job that I met your father on, as he was the general foreman. It was the first job for me as a journeyman carpenter and it was a pleasant experience coming to work with such a pleasant gentleman giving the instructions.

My father, a week before his sudden death in 1987
I wasn't at all surprised at Michael's words as I had heard others who had worked with my father, John, say similar things. And when I worked under him myself that summer I could see what I had known before: he led by example. He never swore, never shouted at anyone and was most helpful to young workers and to young architects. He sometimes would laugh at home at the lack of experience of the latter in practical matter. But he also knew that you can only learn through experience - and with the help of mentors. And he was a real mentor to the same young architects.
Many times before I took an important examination or was about to do something for the first time Dad would say, The experience will be good for you. There was never the hint of a demanding expectation. And I have found his words to have been true.
But I often heard him speak with gratitude, respect and affection of general foremen under whom he had worked as an apprentice and as a young carpenter. One was Mr Grace, whom I never met. Two of his sons became Capuchin priests and two of his daughters religious sisters. Another was Mr Boyle, whom I did know and who with his wife in their old age were a handsome couple.
Dad was the same at home as he was on the construction site. He never raised his voice to his two sons or to our mother. He was courteous with everyone he met and was just himself in every situation.

His authority came from within. He was responsible and loving in everything he did. Every morning, after returning from a very early Mass, he prepared my mother's breakfast before heading for work. He started work on time and ended on time. But he wasn't a slave to the clock.
L'Arche Daybreak Community, Toronto, 2008 [Wikipedia]
The men who have most influenced me and whom I have most admired are men who are gentle but strong, firm and responsible. One example is Jean Vanier, under whom I have twice made retreats here in the Philippines, in Cebu City in 1991 and in Quezon City in 1996. Now 87, he is the founder of L'Arche and, with Marie-Hélène Mathieu, co-founder of Faith and Light. Jean gave up a career as a university professor of philosophy to devote his life to persons with learning disabilities. He leads by example, showing the deepest respect to those considered unimportant, gentle but firm.

When I was 16 and still at school I spent nearly a year as a member of Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil (Local Defence Force), known as the FCA and now called the Irish Army Reserve. We used to train on Sundays. There was one particular corporal, just a few years older than us, who used to roar at us continually with a wide range of unoriginal swear words. Nobody respected him. We had a sergeant whose strongest expression was 'damn', which is considered a very mild expletive in English. He got both our respect and our cooperation. He had a sense of rightful pride in what he and we were doing.

Men like my father, Jean Vanier and my sergeant in the FCA are men in whose lives I have seen the words of Jesus in today's gospel lived out: You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them . . . but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant. . .

First Columban Centenarian
Fr Bernard Toal, born 17 October 1915

Fr Bernard Toal, the first Columban to reach the age of 100, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, on 17 October 1915 but grew up in nearby Gloucester, New Jersey. He was ordained in Buffalo, New York, on 18 December 1943. Because of World War II he spent the early years of his priesthood in the USA.
From 1947 to 1951 he was based in Ozamiz City, Misamis Occidental, Philippines where he taught in Immaculate Conception College, now La Salle University Ozamiz. From 1951 until 1969 he was in St Columban's, Bristol, Rhode Island, USA, most of that time as Director of Probationers, Columban seminarians on a year of intense spiritual formation.
Fr Toal worked in Peru from 1968 till 1979 when he was reassigned to the USA where he worked in parishes in New Mexico, Texas and California, the last being St Mary's, Fontana, California, where he worked from 2001 until he retired to St Columban's,Bristol, RI, in 2011.
We thank God for Father Bernard's long life and for his faithful service as a Columban missionary priest. Ad multos annos!
Fr Toal, right, on 26 September 2015

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