Bishop Denis celebrated Mass in Leighlinbridge on Friday 13th July to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Fr Tom Lalor.
Matthews’s gospel presents the call of Matthew, a young man, a tax collector, we understand, to follow Jesus. He was “sitting by the custom’s house”. Fr. Tom heard that call also in his youth as he grew up in Clontyglass, Portlaoise. Educated in Barnashrone NS, later Knockbeg, then Maynooth with a time studying catechetics at Mount Oliver, near Dundalk. With diocesan appointments spanning for the most part Counties Carlow and Laois, with one exception, Newbridge in the mid 1990’s, I know that here amongst you, in Leighlin Parish, Fr. Tom was most at home. Here along the River Barrow; in a place which traces its Christian roots back to St. Laserian, Tom immersed himself completely into this historic parish.
We are pilgrims on a journey.
We are trav’lers on the road.
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.
Fr. Tom has had many interests which he persued in life. The early morning faithful walk, a brisk pace not a quiet dander. In recent evenings I had the opportunity of walking with Tom near Clashganny Lock, his enthusiasm for a lone heron perched on a rock or watching the kayakers tumble was palpable. We all know his love and appreciation of Patrick Kavanagh, the poet from Iniskeen. His deep appreciation for art and beauty. He has the ability to read a much deeper significance into a scene or a picture that the rest of us might only offer a passing glance.
I myself love Caravaggio. It seems as if every church in Rome possesses one of his masterpieces. I love a quiet visit to the Church of St. Louis – the French Church – near the Piazza Navona in Rome. On the left corner near the sanctuary hangs the Caravaggio masterpieces including ‘the Call of Matthew’. Caravaggio who lived from 1571-1610, a very short life – 39 years of age – and such a gifted life. His use of light and darkness, shades and shadows sets him out amongst many of his contemporaries. I always interpreted ‘the Call of Matthew’ as the older one at the table in the customs house, looking much more closely I see Jesus pointing to the young boy cowering over the money, a boy perhaps in tears, a boy who knew he was being called from this life into something much greater.
I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the night time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you;
Speak the peace you long to hear.
Tom Lalor, like all our priests, is a most modest man, who tonights ceremony and celebration is the very last thing he would want in life. And yet, like that young man in Caravaggio’s painting, I believe he could have turned his hand to anything in life, gifted in many ways, he could have been anyone in life, but he became a priest after God chose him from the earliest days in Clontyglass. In these summer celebrations of Ordination Jubilees, I always ponder where are we going to find the young people to follow in Tom Lalor’s footsteps? How are we going to challenge the young people to hear God’s call in a much more secularised society? The call to become a priest is still being made today. I am confident, these leaner days too will pass.
I will weep when you are weeping.
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow
‘Til we’ve seen this journey through.
Here in Leighlin, after twenty years of Fr. Tom at the helm there is ample example of lay involvement and active participation in every aspect of parish life. Parish Council, Parish Centre, Inter-church dialogue, Historical events. At the centre of this parish is a hidden mission statement that probably reads an interpretation of the words of Pope Francis, ‘our parish is a field hospital, here to serve one another’.
Will you let me be your servant?
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant, too.
The greatest gift and I’ve said this many times in my own life as a priest and in these past five years as Bishop is to be present. Is the priest present in his parish, does he know his people, do they know him? I chose the scripture readings purposefully tonight. The one from the justice prophet Amos is the one I had at my own First Mass, thirty years ago. Amos reminding Amaziah that it was the Lord who ultimately called him from looking after sycamores: “it was the Lord who took me from herding the flock, and the Lord who said, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel’”. St. Paul writing to the Corinthians puts mercy into the central core of our work as preachers and teachers. And then Matthew offers a small autobiographical account of his own call and that of all sinners to follow Christ. Tonight’s celebration is about all of us, not just Fr. Tom, but all of us who seek a place around His table, unworthy as we are, but full of mercy as He is.
As Tom’s Jubilee celebrations concluded with his class at Maynooth, Tom made his way to Glendalough. From companionship with Laserian along the River Barrow, Tom often enjoys the hermetical life of Kevin at Glendalough. But all the time appreciating God’s gift of creation. In the words of the poet Patrick Kavanagh who died the year before Tom was ordained a priest: “I saw Christ today at a street corner stand, in the rags of a beggar he stood he held ballads in his hand. He was crying out: “two for a penny will anyone buy the finest ballads ever made from the stuff of joy?” But the blind and deaf went past knowing only there an uncouth ballad seller with tail-matted hair. And I whom men call fool His ballads bought, Found Him whom the pieties have vainly sought”. “The stuff of joy” epitomises Fr. Tom’s priesthood in which all of rejoice in and celebrate this jubilee evening. We gather around the altar in Leighlinbridge to celebrate not a person, because he would be too modest for that but a priestly presence, spanning 50 years in our Diocese. We wish Tom well as he retires to Tinryland to continue to minister and to be a supportive presence to parishes in the wider deanery. We also wish Fr. Pat well and welcome him in time amongst us, because here, like on every altar in those immortal words from Kavanagh’s ‘Great Hunger’: “in a crumb of bread the whole mystery is”. Let us continue to celebrate those mysteries that bring us back to Laserian and Willibrord and too many others whose names are long forgotten in eternity, but remembered in the communion of the living and dead around the altar.
This year also sees the retirement of Fr Lalor from Parish duties. Having been Parish Priest in Leighlin Parish since 1998 he is now retiring to Tinryland and will assist in parishes across the South Deanery area.
After the celebration of Mass the parish community were invited to The Arboretum, Leighlinbridge where a light meal and refreshments were served.
Presentations were made to Fr Lalor on behalf of the Parish Centre Management Committee and the Parish Council.
Several Church of Ireland clergy were also present and Dean Tom Gordon of Old Leighlin Cathedral made a presentation also.
We wish Fr Lalor the very best in his retirement.
Ad Multos Annos