Daily Lenten Thought March 7th

Jack Roddy was buried today.

He was a quiet and inoffensive man who lived a quiet life.  He’ll be missed.  I’d like to share a few thoughts around the words I spoke at his Funeral Mass.  Chances are you didn’t know him but chances are too, he’s like someone you do know.

Took the gospel of The Beatitudes.  In fairness, he ticked many of the boxes; merciful, pure in heart, poor in spirit, peacemaker …. going on that list, it seems more than likely that he’s numbered among the “blessed” or the “happy”.

He appreciated what was done for him and those who did it.  The kindness of neighbour and the support of family was never taken for granted.  My own visits too, on the monthly First Friday Calls, were welcomed and acknowledged.

Jack seemed to be happy in his own skin.  He didn’t feel the need to try to be anybody else and seemed content with his surrounds.  In the past few years his small house was renovated and he was very proud of that and happy to show me around.  I’d describe him as a man who lived simply and loved silently.  By that I mean, I don’t think he’d have been the type to buy cards or flowers for people but he had a deep love for his family, not least nephews and nieces and appreciated all they did for him.  His sisters, too, were important and though he might not have used the word very often, I feel certain his love for them was solid.

He used to have horses and donkeys at his house from time to time.  They were not his own, in latter years, but owned by people who had the bit of land rented.  He was in his element when these were there and I used to enjoy pulling in beside the house and seeing a donkey stick its head out over the gate to see who had arrived.  Horses too! They were lovely and he enjoyed them.  One man told me that they’d leave the wildest of horses with Jack and within a few days it would be quiet as a lamb. People recognised this “gift” in him – perhaps more than he recognised it himself.  I was reminded of the phrase “Horse Whisperer” and am not fully sure what that is.  So when you’re not sure of anything now you go to Google!!  I Googled:) and found this definition of a Horse Whisperer:

Horse whisperers spend years studying the horse and its behaviour in natural surroundings. They learn to read the silent but incredibly powerful communication we call body language. From the most subtle changes in facial expressions, drooping lower lips, ear movements, the flick of a tail, stamp of a foot, to rolling eyes and rearing, the horse’s entire language of communication is expressed in clear terms, for those who learn to interpret it.

 

Jack may not have formally studied this art but he had what it took to live the life and I think much of that was rooted in patience.  St Francis loved animals and they seemed to call him to a lasting desire for peace.  I think the same is true of Jack.  He had a great fondness for the donkey I think and we can’t help but recall Jesus’ connection with this sometimes stubborn but always helpful animal.  We have visions of Joesph and Mary making their way to Bethlehem on the donkey and again of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the donkey’s back.  Some say the donkey has the track of the cross on its back.  Be this true or not, there’s a connection there that calls us to respect and Jack had that respect in plenty.

He was a man of Faith.  I know that we can say that easily and throw the phrase around a little but I believe it to be very accurately used today.  Jack believed in God.  He believed in the parish, our local church and welcomed me as the local priest.  He was very supportive and encouraging at all times.  Come time for the Priests’ Collection, he’d point me to the kitchen window and say “there’s something there for you”.  I appreciated that and even more-so, the truth that lay behind it.  He believed in my ministry and wanted to support Fr John and myself in our work here in this parish.  I hope I never took his kindness for granted.

We’d talk for a while when I visited.  He was hard of hearing and the voice would have to be raised more than a little.  We’d talk about town, about his having a pint in Creatons’ Bar, about bits and pieces but as soon as the talk turned to prayer, he’d reach up and take off his cap.  Off it stayed until the final Amen.  That’s the Faith I’m talking about. It is the belief that God deserves our attention and respect.  The bare head, cap in hand, faith in the heart and the strong “AMEN” spoke this faith in volumes.

There’s a story I like to tell.  I’ve told it for years and think it will stay with me.  I’ve had the privilege in recent years of being involved in some diocesan priests’ retreats in Ireland and I’ve told the groups I met about Jack.  I didn’t tell the story and I don’t tell it to make fun of him but rather to make the point that we priests are blessed to be welcomed into people’s homes, to be trusted there and important there.  It’s something we should never and must never take for granted.

When I came to the parish, I began to visit the sick and housebound as we do.  The priest before me spread his visits over two days – Thursday and Friday.  I found I could visit the houses on Friday and started to do that.  After a few months of visitation on the First Friday of each month, I talked with Jack one day.  I asked if he went anywhere and he said “NO”.  I asked if he visited his neighbours much or them him and he said “NO”. I said to him; “You must enjoy your own company?” and he said “I do, thank God.”  “You’re a lucky man”, I told him.  He agreed.  Then I said; “Is there anything you’d like to ask me Jack?”  He looked at me and said “Could you call on a Thursday?”  The man who was going nowhere found that Friday didn’t suit!!  I loved that moment.  I continued to call on Fridays and it was never mentioned again.

Last week I decided in the morning that I’d go to visit Jack.  It was late enough in the evening when I got to it.  They told me in the hospital that he’d been moved into a room on his own.  I knew this wasn’t a good sign but thought I’d have the chance to speak with him.  Sadly that wasn’t the case.  When I walked into the room, I could see immediately that the end was near.  He was a big man but sickness had worn him down.  I said a few prayers with him, spoke the Act of Sorrow into his ear, said an Our Father and Hail Mary, blessed him and left.  In the car, I had second thoughts so I went back in and anointed him.  As I placed the Oil of The Sick on his forehead and hands, he reached up and took hold of the tie string on my hoodie.  He just held it for a while.  I said the Our Father again and, as I blessed myself, he moved his hand in an attempt to make the Sign of The Cross with me.  I left, knowing that his time was very short.

The next morning his nephew phoned to tell me Jack had just died.  It was Friday morning.  The penny didn’t drop then but later in the day, I thought again of our conversation in his kitchen and thought to myself – “It may have taken me nearly seven years Jack, but I did call on a Thursday”!!

May he rest in peace.  Amen.