Sunday, February 13, 2011

Patron Saint of the Loyal Opposition

While stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, at the Retraining Command, every fourth Sunday I headed home to Philadelphia and returned Monday night. I shudder to think of so much driving for a short visit, but I was young then. I celebrated a 7 a.m. Mass at the Retraining Command (a radio host called it the Restraining Command, a function it did fulfill). Then I had a Mass at the Benmorell Naval housing area at 9 a.m. In those days we could not have food or liquids before Mass, so I had breakfast on the ferry that crossed Chesapeake Bay in an hour and a half. There is a wonder of the world bridge and tunnel structure there now. From the ferry it was about a five-hour drive to Philadelphia. After dinner at home and visiting siblings and their families, I drove back to Norfolk Monday evening. As I said, I was young.

My brother Danny was studying for the priesthood in Rome then. In the summer of 1955 my parents took a trip to Ireland and met Danny in County Donegal. I hitchhiked over on Navy planes to join them. Danny was scheduled to be ordained in December of 1956.

On one of my visits home, early in 1956, I asked my Mother if they were going to Rome for Danny's ordination.

"Oh no. Where would we get the money?"

I answered with a chuckle, "You didn't have money before and you went to Ireland."

In a quick switch my Mother rejoined in Irish construction, "Talk to dad, you."

We hadn't noticed that Dad was within earshot. Over my head, as if I were not present, he stated firmly to Mam, "You had your trip. What do you want me to do? Sell the house? Then where would we be?"

Do you remember how, in a major war, communiques were phrased by losing armies? "Our troops fought bravely and inflicted tremendous casualties on the enemy." And then adding that this took place at a town miles and miles back from where they were the day before. This has a bearing on our story.

Just one month after Dad's undeniably sensible outburst, I visited home again. The trip to Rome was so definite now that one would find it hard to believe it had ever been debatable. One thing was not definite. It would be nice to stop in Ireland on the way back and have the Irisih relatives see the newly ordained priest. Dad announced firmly, "There will be no stopping in Ireland on th3e way back." Shades of an army in retreat.

But yes. There was stopping in Ireland on the way back. Not only that, but Dad enjoyed the trip to Rome and the stopping in Ireland wholeheartedly. He was the picture of peace and happiness.

Now isn't that a model of how the loyal opposition, the party out of power, should behave? Go all out for your point of view but revel in the reverse when it comes to pass.

(This story is excerpted from "Foibles of Father Joe" (c) 2008 by Connell J. Maguire)