2013 08 May
How can one start a tribute to Monsignor James Cooney without a bad joke? Jimmy was famous for his little quips. At Father Cooney’s fund-raising casino night you could always play games of Georgian chance. (attempt at a joke)
But why, oh why, start a sermon, an opportunity to teach, with such lame jokes? Jimmy made us feel comfortable with his corniness, or should I say, with his simplicity, with his humility. He knew many of the lines would fall flat, and that ability to poke fun at himself opened the door for others to reveal themselves, in the distressing disguise of the poor, the sad, the incarcerated, the downtrodden.
He taught us to see Christ in that distressing disguise of the poor. To not just walk y the homeless, but to look the homeless person in the eye, take a moment and convey love, caring and respect. He found the time, he found a way, or he created a way to be present with the person, with the soul he was with. He live Ignatius of Loyola’s concept of Curia Personas. He taught us courage to speak up when an injustice needed to be corrected or we needed a reminder that we are all broken and need forgiveness. That forgiveness is a powerful gift to others and to ourselves. A reminder of how God loves us. Jim’s life was a reminder of all these virtues. Giving himself over completely to God, to be God’s servant while ministering in parishes wracked with poverty, crime and hopelessness. He believed in people. That belief could be infectious and provide a hope and vision for many whose lives were out of tune, who had lost or could not find their way. One of his former altar boys from Presentation Parish, while visiting Jim in his last few peaceful days here at the seminary, surrounded by the loving embrace of his brother priests, care givers and family, told the story of Monsignor Cooney packing himself and at least a dozen other students into a late 60’s VW Beetle and taking them swimming to escape the heat of summer in the city. Many of those young people whose lives he touch, be it in Jimmy’s parish ministry, through the Christian Awakening at St. Paul, or at Saint Francis Cathedral Prep will continue to be a beacon of the love Jim Cooney radiated throughout his ministry, which was his life.
When he was hurt, rejected, disappointed or demeaned, he used those times to share in the suffering of others and to not let the hurt stop him but to push himself on, to try just a little more to be what he felt the Christ would want him to be – that simple, humble, loving servant. It was never about him, it was about following his internal principles which were based on the teachings of the church – to love and to follow his conscience. Also, he took very seriously his vow of obedience which provided a discipline and a structure to his life. Jim did not take the easy path he volunteered for the difficult assignments. He would risk harm encouraging young men to be better men in the small ways and in the big ways. He inspired us to be better with his stories, like when he stopped his car in the dark of night encouraging a gang of boys to silence their boom boxes that were waking up families in the poverty stricken areas of the dioceses that had been deemed too dangerous. By not worrying about himself, by surrendering himself to a life truly dedicated to Jesus, he became and incredible force for good, an incredible force for change.
He loved those he served, he loved his family. He lives on in those he touched and particularly in those who strive to emulate his life of service. He is a priest among priests.
In closing I would like to share a poem Jim loved and lived by, “The Auctioneer”,
Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer thought it scarcely worth his while to wast much time on the old violin, but held it up with a smile
“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried, “Who’ll start the bidding for me? A dollar, a dollar; then two! Only two? Two dollars, and who’l make it three? Three dollars, once; three dollars twice; going for three…”
But no, from the room, far back, a gray-haired man came forward and picked up the bow; Then, wiping the dust from the old violin, and tightening the loose strings, he played a melody pure and sweet as caroling angel sings.
The music ceased, and the auctioneer, with a voice that was quiet and low, sad, “What am I bid for the old violin?” And he held it up with the bow. “A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two? Two thousand dollars, and who’ll make it three? Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice, and going and gone,” said he. The people cheered, but some of them cried, “We do not quite understand what changed it’s worth.” Swift came the reply: “The touch of the master’s hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune, and battered and scarred with sin, Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd, much like the old violin, A”mess of pottage,” a glass of wine, a game – and he travels on. “He is going once, and going twice, He’s going and almost gone.” But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd never can quite understand the worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought by the touch of the Master’s hand.