Today’s gospel is very appropriate for the occasion of celebrating the funeral mass for Fr Jack Gallacher. The first reason is very obvious. It has to do about fishing and this is something which Fr Jack was passionate about and I am sure that very often he went through feeling the frustration and the elation which Peter experienced as a fisherman and which are so very well described in the gospel which we have just listened to.
However, this gospel also expresses a deeper reality which describes the inner character and conviction of the priestly life of Fr Jack. We have Peter who was designated to be the leader of the twelve by Jesus feeling very despondent and dejected after witnessing the death of Jesus on the cross. All the enthusiasm and the passion of the mission had gone out of him and all he could say to the other was, “I am going fishing”. Peter forgot about the great teachings of Jesus. He forgot that he witnessed so many miracles over the three years that he was with Jesus. He forgot all the promises which Jesus made. All he could remember was Jesus dying like a criminal on the cross. No wonder that he lost all zest and purpose for his ministry. No wonder that the only thing that he could say to the others was let us go back to our old job. Let us go fishing. It is true all our dreams are gone, all our hopes have vanished in thin air. Let us go back to that type of life which we knew before we met Jesus.
The others were influenced by him. After all he was the recognised leader and they agreed with him. “We will come with you. It is time true there is no more excitement and so we had better revert to the kind of life that we were familiar with”. They nurtured a defeatist attitude. They were full of negativity and despondency and the result was predictable. They caught nothing. How could you achieve anything with a mentality devoid of all hope and enthusiasm?
Yet Jesus was there, not far away. He noticed their attitude. He noticed their self made predicament and shouted to them. “Throw your nets on the starboard”. They obeyed with unbelievable results. Then John remembered. “The same thing happened to us when we just met Jesus. This is how we got so hooked by the personality of Jesus. It must be Jesus then who is standing on the shore and asking us to throw the net on starboard with such an amazing result”. At this word, Peter got excited again. He jumped in the water and swam breathlessly towards Jesus. The excitement was back, the mission could go on. Peter became focused again and at the end died for Jesus.
But Fr Jack never forgot. He never forgot who he was as a person created by God and as an ordained priest. He was parish priest of two parishes Cobram and Tallangatta. Here he was a parish priest from 1976 to 1992. He was able to let his deep faith influence how to live his life with a great love for his people for his priesthood and for his brother priests. He had a great rapport with young people and he provided sound, practical and humane guidance to many of the young people in this parish. He is well remembered at the school. He tried whatever was possible to instill hope and a healthy view of life and relationships among the students at the school and beyond. He did this not only through his spiritual guidance and preaching but also by organising innumerable fishing trips and by coaching young people in tennis.
Fr Jack nurtured and was nourished by a deep faith. He was faithful as a priest, a man of prayer and very loyal. He worked hard at his sermons. He seldom spoke off the cuff and he was accustomed to write down whatever he wanted to say.
He was a man of prayer. Whenever I visited him he always had close to him his well worn breviary. This made him look at life from a practical point of view. I last saw him about three weeks ago when he was already in hospital. He was in his chair well propped up and looking alert. When I asked him how did he feel now that he had to leave his house and live in a hospital? He just looked at me and in his nasal voice said to me “What is there to complain about. I am well looked after. Just one day at a time”. Special thanks goes to all the people who cared for him during this time in hospital.
Yet he was very independent. He had to be. The nature of his ministry taught him how to keep thinking about new ways and means so that his people will remain connected with God and with the values that are so important to all of us as believers in Jesus Christ and as part of the Catholic faith community. On the other hand because of his independent nature he found suffering hard. Yet he knew that he was not alone. He persevered and he died as he lived in total trust in God. It was so touching to hear Fr Brian Carey speak about how Fr Jack died. Fr Brian prayed the evening prayer with him and after praying the Salve Regina he just went to the Father’s house at the end of a long life.
We thank God for the life of Fr Jack, a man of faith, a faithful priest, a man who loved his people, a man who loved life, a man who enjoyed the company of other priests, a very decent human being. May he now rest in peace with our God. The diocese is far richer because of the life and the priesthood of Fr Jack Gallacher.