27 January 2016

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

Elisha Refusing Gifts from Naaman, Pieter de Grebber, c.1630
Private collection [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)

Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 

He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Prophet Elijah and the Widow of Zarepta, Bernardo Strozzi, 1630s
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna [Web Gallery of Art]

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.

The Pier, An Spidéal [Wikipedia]

I was one of around 100 children aged between 10 and 14, all sons and daughters of members of trade / labour 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 (peat).

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. They 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. Both have gone to their reward. Another, Mick, died in an accident while building a church in Dublin. He, a married man, was very active in the Legion of Mary. Two sisters of theirs became nuns in the USA. I got the impression from my father that Mr Grace was a man of great integrity, of nobility of character. 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, 1842
Louvre, Paris [Wikipedia]

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 years, and in divine and human favor (Luke 2:51, 52) were the years when Joseph and Mary were preparing Jesus for his mission, Mary treasured 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 28 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 someone ask as a compliment about them,  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 there 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 seem to indicate during his introduction to the song. Remember him in your prayers. Remember too all who have taken their own lives.


Crux Fidelis said...

Nice version of "The Folks Who Live on the Hill", Fr Seán but, for me, Peggy Lee's will always be the tops.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Good to hear from you again, Crux! Peggy Lee's version is superb except for the gratuitous change from 'Darby and Joan', a well established expression in the English language, which Oscar Hammerstein II used in the lyrics, to 'Baby and Joe'. A bit like putting a moustache on the Mona Lisa, though not quite as bad. But it really spoils Peggy Lee's recording for me.

Crux Fidelis said...

Yes, that change to the lyric does grate with me too. However, what I particularly like about PL's version is the orchestral intro which I find very poignant. I remember my late father, who was a big fan of Michael Holliday, telling us of his untimely passing. Do you remember a Shell TV commercial sung by MH? Everyone assumed it was Bing Crosby.

Brian said...

And here it is courtesy of YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-bksmzIzWc

You may recognise some of the places in it.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Thanks, Brian, for the link. Some, if not all, if the scenes were shot in Ireland. At 0:48 you'll find Killiney Bay, just south of Dublin. The caption about Bing is wrong, of course. I don't think that Michael Holliday was a Bing imitator. It just happened that they sounded very like each other, and both whistled in some of their recordings.

Crux, according to Wikipedia, the arrangement in Peggy Lee's recording was by Nelson Riddle but the conductor was Frank Sinatra. I, like your late Dad, was a great fan of Michael Holliday. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa recorded it with Nelson Riddle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AkT-R04p6M . But I prefer Peggy Lee's version. Neither version includes the verse. Oscar Hammerstein II was a master at lyric writing.

Here's an orchestral version with the incomparable Stephane Grappelli: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnYiqVTcueA . I was blessed to have attended a concert he gave in Toronto in the autumn of 1981 when I was studying there. I knew I was in the presence of someone doing exactly what God had made him to do.

Crux Fidelis said...

Fr Seán, Brian and I are one and the same person. When I am Crux I'm logging on from my work computer and as Brian from my home address.

As well as the Sugar Loaf and Killiney Bay (which some have compared to Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples) did I also see Croagh Patrick in that Shell ad? The picture quality is not so good.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Brian, can you contact me at scoylumban@gmail.com? Yes, I think that that's Croagh Patrick just before Killiney Bay. God bless.