“No One Is Perfect”, how often have we heard that? A truism that can apply to each of us, probably, and yet we are called to “be perfect like
your heavenly Father is perfect”. Now how on earth can we achieve this goal, especially in this day and age? These are difficult questions,
but there is an answer that in a sense was shown me by the example of my own father.
When we were young he often took us for walks ‘over the tops’ as he put it, meaning the Pennines that were near enough in our back yard.
This weekly excursion usually took place after Mass on Sundays so that my brothers and I would be out of the way while our mother
prepared Sunday lunch – or dinner as we called it. On those walks we would go through some of the nearby picturesque villages which at
that time were part of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Sometimes we would do the circuit around Heartshead Pike, a monument at the top of
one of the hills overlooking Holts Village on the outskirts of Oldham in Lancashire (now Greater Manchester).
As I and my two brothers grew, my father worked hard trying to raise enough to pay the rent and other bills while clothing and feeding us.
He kept little for himself, even wearing out his shoes until my mother insisted he get a new pair. Sometimes he walked home from work
because he didn’t have enough fare for the bus. Of course there were often arguments over money and where it was going and the raised
voices yielded little results. Both my mother and my father had a struggle to cover the cost of living.
Born into a Church of England family, my father had decided to convert to the Roman Catholic Church. It was my mother’s devotion that
had over time convinced him that this was the right thing to do. When he asked my mother to accompany him to the classes, her response
was, “Not on your life! You’re on your own mate! It’s easy to say that you are a Catholic, it isn’t easy to be one.” Her words were to
With the changes introduced by the Second Vatican Council both my mother and father had difficulty – especially with the new form of the
Mass. Eventually they came round to accepting the changes, but not without some difficulty and perhaps a little assistance from me as well
as others. My father had seen the changes as going back to what he had left, but eventually he understood that this was not the case.
After I tried my vocation in the priesthood for three years in Ireland, I felt it necessary to return home to Oldham. My father had been made
redundant from Ferranti’s and had started working for the British Rail Parcel Depot in Oldham, where I found work for a time. It was while
I was working with my father that he began to become ill, often suffering pain and trapped wind in his chest. Following a visit to the doctor
he was sent to hospital in Manchester for tests. Lung cancer was diagnosed and the tests revealed that the tumor was too close to his heart
and major blood vessels to be operable. He was given six months to live.
During those six months he deteriorated quickly – the man who use to go for long walks ‘over the tops’ and walk home from work was
suddenly unable to walk to the end of the street without needing to take a rest. He needed to take stronger and stronger pain killers as time
passed, spending most of his day in bed. On Sunday Father Dolan from St. Edwards in Lees stopped by to give him Holy Communion, but
my father didn’t like the priest having to go out of his way just for him. On Sunday 4th June I rose to find my father already dressed. When
I asked him what he was up to he said that he wanted to go to church. I decided to accompany him because I knew that he was determined
to make the effort.
Slowly and painfully he made his way to the chapel of ease (now gone) on Holts. He often had to stop to catch his breath, leaning heavily on
his cane. When at last we arrived in time for Mass, a neighbour Mr. Duffy, crossed from one end of the church to the other just to greet
him. Others turned in their seat and as we made our way into the church to find somewhere to sit, I could feel the eyes following us. It’s
not every day that a man dying of cancer makes the effort to attend Mass. When Father Dolan came out to start the Mass, he noticed my
father and for a moment paused. He continued to the altar and began Mass and as it progressed often stopped to look to see if my father was
still there. When my father went to receive Holy Communion from him, with a note of compassion in his voice Father Dolan said, “Len, the
body of Christ.”
These were the last words the priest spoke to my father. Two days later on 6th June, the day following my brother’s birthday, my father
Although his death hit all of us hard, the example of his life is a memory we share. This is an example of selflessness, of love and of courage
in a world filled with distractions. No, my father wasn’t perfect but he taught me something about the Mass and the value it has to my
spiritual life. I am confident that God will not judge him harshly nor condemn him because God’s mercy is beyond our understanding – and
very real. It is what I value that really matters and my father taught me about values and about love through the way he faced the difficulties
in his own life. This is not merely food for thought, rather it is a banquet.
|Of Saints and Sinners
By Mick Cook
Me, my brothers Austin and Kevin
(standing) and our father Leonard
Cook, on the top of the Laxey Wheel
on the Isle of Man (Mom had to
overcome her fear of heights to take
Click on Photo for larger image.