“You are those who have stood by me in my trials.” (Luke 22:28)
These words were spoken to Fr Carthage by Dom Camillus Claffey, the abbot of our Mother House in Roscrea at the time of our foundation. In a note from Dom Laurence Walsh of Roscrea, on the occasion of Fr Carthage’s passing, he told of Dom Kevin Daly’s recollection of Camillus’ trip to Australia to set up our foundation, which sheds some light on what these ‘trials’ were and how Carthage was able to support him in them. “It was the early days of long overseas flights, and apparently somewhere over the Pacific, the plane ran into heavy turbulence.” Camillus thought they were going down, as he hurriedly asked Carthage if he knew a quick form of absolution. “The abbot risked his life for the community!” Camillus told the assembled brethren on his return to Roscrea, without any mention of Carthage.
Fr Carthage was born in Dublin to Denis and Susan O’Dea in 1927. He was baptised ‘Patrick Brendan’ shortly thereafter. His siblings were Denis, Maire, George and Kevin. Carthage, Denis (who went on to become Fr Joseph of Nunraw Abbey, Scotland) and Dom Laurence Walsh were in the same class at Cistercian College, Roscrea. On completion of his Matriculation examination, Carthage entered Roscrea with (later Dom) Colmcille O’Toole in August 1945. Denis/Joseph and Laurence entered the following year, with Denis for Nunraw which had no novitiate of its own at that time. Carthage made Solemn Profession in 1950, and was ordained priest in 1952. In 1954, as secretary to the abbot, he accompanied Dom Camillus to Australia to set up the foundation here at Tarrawarra. I recall Carthage saying to me that he didn’t know he was to stay on, when Camillus returned home. In 1958, together with the other founders, Carthage made his stability here. In 1962 Carthage went to Rome to study Canon Law at the Gregorian University and Moral Theology at the Alphonsianum. In 1987 he went up to Sydney to participate in a renewal programme. In his time with us, Carthage served as Bursar and Sub-prior. He also taught Canon Law and Moral Theology to those in formation, including myself.
In the last part of today’s Gospel, Jesus addresses the Twelve directly using the words Camillus quoted to Carthage: “You have stood by me in my trials.” (Luke 22:28) “Have stood” is really a description of the apostles’ discipleship, containing as it does a sense of endurance and solidarity with him: they stood with him, in all his trials, since the time he called them.
True discipleship, then, is not so much participation in Christ’s glory in his kingdom, the fighting over which prompted this teaching of Jesus in today’s Gospel (Luke 22:24. cf.: Mark 10: 35-45), as a commitment to endure with him in his trials come what may, to ‘deny oneself, take up the cross daily and follow him,’ so to speak. (Luke 9:23; John 12:26) Such commitment requires a strong and robust faith. For, as the parable of The Sower points out, weak, shallow faith, like seed sown on rock, receives the Gospel message gladly but forsakes it in times of trial. (Luke 8:13) It is this strong sense of loyalty that Camillus acknowledged in Carthage, a value which he himself treasured and was delighted to have recognised. Carthage was not only loyal to his abbot, the one whom we monks believe ‘holds the place of Christ’ in our midst (RB 2:2), but he was faithful to his call from Jesus these many long years (RB Prologue 14-16); he was a loyal follower of Christ. Jesus goes on to say to these stalwart disciples of his that he will ‘confer a kingdom on them.’ (Luke 22:29)
The word, ‘confer’ here, is really the word for ‘covenant:’ “I covenant a kingdom on you, as my Father covenanted a kingdom on me, and you will sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel,” says Jesus. (Luke 22:29) ‘To judge’ in those times meant not so much the dispensing of justice, as ‘to rule.’ What Jesus is promising by way of covenant, by way of agreement, is a share in his mission, to do what he is doing in and for the kingdom — it is not so much about sharing the glory with him, as actually working with him, doing what needs to be done, to shepherd his people towards their heavenly homeland, and in this sense, to actively ‘rule’ with him.
Being a covenant, discipleship, that standing with him and working with him in all the trials of his mission, then, is the way to enter this agreement with Christ. We are all called to do this; we are all called to enter this covenant — the ultimate goal of which, is, then, not so much the saving of sinners, as the transformation of them into fellow servants of the kingdom, so as to be Christ’s peers in his mission and reign, with none greater, none lesser. (Romans 8:29; Luke 22:26) For doing this, for encouraging others to also become followers of and fellow workers with Jesus, the disciple will come to share with Christ in his eternal reward.
As St Benedict would put it: “Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also a share in his kingdom.” (RB Prologue 50) This is monasticism’s aim: to form workmen in the school of the Lord’s service,
so as to be workers with him in his mission. (RB Prologue 14; 4:78; 7:70) Carthage did this: he answered the call and entered the school, learned how to be a workman, and then went on to form others in the Lord’s service, enduring all the trials that this involved. Because the Lord is faithful to his covenant, we can be sure that Carthage is now there celebrating with the Lord in his new recliner chair (C.f., e.g.: Matthew 9:10; Mark 2:15; 14;3, 18; 16:14), eating and drinking with him in the eschatological Winners’ Circle, so to speak, just as he has promised. (Revelation 3:20-21)
May he Rest In Peace.
By Dom Steele Hartmann OCSO