RJ Adams 70th Birthday celebration 1945, Jim Woodruff front row, third from right. - Photo: Fr Peter Woodruff
My dad was one of seven siblings, born and raised in Port Melbourne. Thanks to the Brigidine Sisters, he got a good start in school and, with the help of scholarships, went on to complete secondary school with the Christian Brothers, followed by a science degree and diploma of education at Melbourne University, all of which stood him in good stead for a career in education.
However, he never enjoyed robust health and died aged 55, by which time I was 25 and had recently begun to work as a curate in a populous, working-class parish across the Rimac River to the north of the city centre of Lima, Peru.
Dad spent most of his married life working in state secondary schools in Tasmania. He was a disciplinarian, especially with boys. I’m sure his early years in Port Melbourne helped him as a teacher and a mentor. As strict as he was, he was not a bully but rather reached out to boys who were having a tough time at school or home.
I don’t recall him giving me much advice about anything unless, of course, he caught me misbehaving. Otherwise, the most stand-out constant that I heard him repeat more often than anything else is in the title of this article. I don’t know where he learned the phrase or term, ‘stick-at-ability’, but I don’t recall hearing anyone else use it. Maybe he picked it up from his own father or someone who taught him during his school years.
I did not find the phrase in any English dictionary, but I did find ‘stickability’ in the Collins online dictionary, and maybe that is what my dad was saying. This is the first time I’ve ever looked it up. I did not need to as I have always known what he meant by it.
I have been wondering who I know whose life illustrates what ‘stick-at-ability’ means. The truth is that I’ve had the privilege to share periods of my life with many courageous men and women. I could not do them justice without speaking with them and listening to their own description of moments of persevering courage, of ‘stick-at-ability’, in their lives.
Coincidentally, I was reading a very short book about the Gospel according to Mark by Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury (2002–2012). It is titled ‘Meeting God in Mark’, and I was finding it quite fascinating as the author pointed to so much that had never occurred to me before. I was stopped in my tracks by a couple of pages that delved into what Jesus was going through as he faced up to the horror of his own death. Having read or heard the Gospel text many times, I thought I knew what it said. I was so wrong. I knew what it was about but not what it said.
Archbishop Rowan William says, as Jesus “is progressively set apart from group after group, authority after authority, friend after friend, it becomes clearer and clearer that he alone has to carry the whole meaning … of what is going on. He is alone; when he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, there is no reply from heaven … God is no longer separate from him. He must, through what he does and suffers, establish what the voice of God and the presence of God might mean in this world. We spoke of God who works outward from the heart of reality. God is now in this part of Mark’s story working outwards from the heart of the human Jesus. There is no intervention from a distant heaven.”
Jesus sets before us the example and so the challenge to face up to difficult and complex challenges; to be truthful, compassionate and just. He also assures us that we are not alone even though we may feel that way. The truth of our lives is that we live in him; we have been baptised in Christ. We may come and go for periods of our lives, but we never wipe out our baptismal joy of knowing that we have been called to live in Christ, the risen Lord.
It seems to me that ‘stick-at-ability’ is very much part of living in Christ, as lonely as it may seem at times. Over the course of history so many women and men have shown that it is possible to endure terrible suffering and hardship - stick-at-ability - and so remain true to themselves and to God.
Columban Fr Peter Woodruff lives and works in Australia.
Listen to "Stick-at-ability"
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