27 January 2018

'He taught them as one having authority.' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

4th-century synagogue, Capernaum [Wikipedia]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

O'Connell School's crest and motto
('Ciall agus Neart' is Irish for 'Sense and Strength')

For the last two years of my secondary education in O'Connell School, Dublin, the A and B sections had the same set of teachers. Heading that group was a member of the Irish Christian Brothers, now often known as Edmund Rice Brothers after their founder, Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice, Brother Mícheál S. Ó Flaitile whom we called 'Pancho' after a character in a cartoon strip, The Cisco Kid, in the now defunct Irish Press.

'Pancho' used to take the A and B sections together for Religions, the last class in the morning. He was in his late 50s at the time while we were progressing from 16 to 18 over the course of those two years.

One day I learned a lesson for life from 'Pancho'. He apologised for having accused a student in the B section the previous day of having done something or other wrong. I don't recall the particular 'misdemeanour'. Whatever it was, it was trivial. But Brother Ó Flaitile had discovered that the student had not done what he had accused him of. Next day at the beginning of class he told us he was sorry and that the student whom he had accused had not done anything wrong. The apology was a genuine one, not of the 'If I have hurt anyone . . .' variety. He acknowledged that he had misjudged a student and that he had been wrong to do so.

Years later I mentioned this incident to Brother Ó Flaitile while on  a home visit from the Philippines. He said he didn't remember it - but he smiled.

I've always been struck in today's gospel by what St Mark highlights twice: They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes and ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority!' 

All of us had the deepest respect for 'Pancho', though we sometimes played tricks on him. And I think that we recognised his sanctity, though I don't recall any of us using that word at the time. My own respect for him went even deeper that day when he apologised to us - more than 60 teenagers who were 40 years or so younger than he was.

For me Brother Ó Flaitile taught us as one having authority, the authority of his integrity, the authority of his faith in Jesus Christ, with the authority of Jesus himself who is the way, and the truth, and the life.

Christ with a Staff, Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

A Christian's inner authority does not come from being 'faultless'. It comes from being rooted in Christ. The saintly Fr Willie Doyle SJ, killed in the Great War in 1917 while trying to rescue a wounded soldier, wrote to someone who had sought his advice: I am convinced from a pretty big experience that perfection, that is sanctity, is only to be won by repeated failures. If you rise again after a fall, sorry for the pain given to our Lord, humbled by it since you see better your real weakness, and determined to make another start, far more is gained than if you had gone on without a stumble.

I have no doubt that Brother Ó Flaitile grew in sanctity when he acknowledged his mistake and when he apologised to us. His words that day were for me those of one having authority and they still speak to me with the authority of Jesus himself nearly 60 years later.

Responsorial Psalm (New American Bible Lectionary)

1 comment:

Liam Hayden said...

Yeh, Sean. Pancho was one of nature's gentlemen. I wasn't taught by him but goodness just poured out of him. I don't recall ever speaking to him in anything other than his beloved Gaeilge.
Truly, I don't think well look on his like again.