James Lambe – 7th July 1998 – 17th May 2021
It should come as no surprise to anyone if I say that the past month has been a very special God-given time during which we were blessed to see Him putting the finishing touches to one of His rare masterpieces – as we gathered to bid Good-bye to a young and dearly-loved companion, James Lambe, OC ‘17, aged just 22 – after a life lived to the full – and such a God-given gift to us all.
In the first reading of one of the weekday Masses recently, I came across an interesting comment – almost as an aside – from St Paul, writing to the Christians in Corinth about his change of plan for a visit to them. At the time divisions had arisen in the Church there in regard to teaching about morality, matters of conscience, good order, gifts of the Holy Spirit – and the resurrection.
Paul had planned to come to visit them in person – that was Plan A. Here he is apologising for going for Plan B. Paul’s disciples were disappointed that he had said yes and then said no – and he suddenly breaks off to refer to Christ who is not one who is “Yes” and “No” – On the contrary, he continues, Jesus is God’s “Yes” – for it is He who is the “Yes” to all God’s promises. [2 Cor.1:18-20]
It got me thinking again of one of my favourite quotes of Dag Hammarskjold. About a year before he died in a plane crash in Africa when on a peace mission as Sec. Gen. of the UN in the early 60s – he had written in his diary this extraordinary line: For all that has been – Thanks! To all that shall be – Yes!
I put it on my Ordination card and I use very frequently myself and offer it to others.
It was at once a prayer of thanksgiving for the past and of confidence in God’s Plan A for his future – and a Faith-filled accepting of that in his life. I had occasion to use it at the conclusion of my homily at the recent Rhetoric ‘21 Graduation Mass as I invited the Students to make that prayer their own as they looked back in thanks for their time in Clongowes and looking forward in hope – confident in Our Father’s Plan A for each one.
As UN Sec. Gen. Hammarskjold raised that world body to a status it had never before possessed – for he carried out his mission there with a strong belief in God’s plan for him personally – even if, as he had earlier written in his diary: I do not see how I shall ever be able to believe that I am not alone.
For the past, thanks – for the future, Yes! – such is my resumé of Dag Hammarskjold’s prayer.
As I was saying those words to Rhetoric ‘21 – I wondered were they, like me, thinking of Lambo [as he was known to his friends] who had sat in those same seats at his Graduation Mass only four short years previously – listening to a former Rector and Headmaster quote the words of St Catherine of Siena:
Be who God meant you to be – and you will set the world on fire! I wondered what thoughts were in James’ mind, as he listened to those challenging words quoted by Fr Bradley.
The first reading at his Farewell Mass in Clongowes was a lovely passage from the Book of Wisdom which put it so very well: Coming to perfection in so short a while – he achieved long life – for his soul was pleasing to the Lord. [Wis.4:13]
The same was said of St Aloysius Gonzaga – Patron of CWC. I think that, without exaggeration – we could say the same of James. Through his illness could be seen the truth of that lovely Portuguese proverb which tells us that God can write straight with crooked lines. In that gem of wisdom we can see how God manages to channel our various human-reasoning plans A, B or C into His Providential, one-and-only caring Plan A for each one of us.
Be who God meant you to be is possible only if I say Yes to God’s Plan. God was writing very straight when, Lambo’s short time with us – and in his own inimitable way, he set our world on fire with love!
What a difference he made to the lives of those to whom God sent him – beginning with his Parents and Siblings – his Pals at home and in Clongowes – Members of Staff – and the Medical Teams who cared for him with such expertise and compassion. There is no one who could not have felt touched by this very special person.
It is not for us to judge how God works in the life of another – but we can surely appreciate His gift of good health to each of us – even as we ask what exactly was the secret of Lambo’s extraordinary life?
Be who God meant you to be. In his all too short life in his frail and suffering body – he did exactly that – thanks to his towering strength of character in accepting the reality of his health. God was at work putting the finishing touches to His masterpiece – as James expressed his thanks by the way he lived his daily Yes. In his own unique way, he brought joy and fun, the craic, banter and laughter into other people’s lives – even as he lived all too frequent battles with illness – a shining light in the world – a witness to be as God meant him to be.
He did not allow the weight of illness to crush his zest for life – starring as the original practical joker! I can vouch for that as a regular victim of his teabag attacks! I might be working away quietly at my desk, when a teabag [stolen from the refectory!] would suddenly come parachuting down in front of me. When I protested that the fright might kill me some day – the only sympathy (?!) I received was a “Tick-tock” tapped on his watch – as he laughed that crazy laugh of his – and muttered grim warnings of my impending demise. The only way I felt I could get even was to call him Teabag Alo! Such was the mark of his character that I have often wondered did he think it was only a 50-50 bet!
He was a true martyr [a witness – μάρτυρας was the original meaning of the Greek word] living his life to the full – stubbornly determined not to let ill-health hold him back but making sure that he made the most of the opportunities which came his way or which he made for himself. A good example of that came during his time in Clongowes – when, unable to take part in contact sport, he offered his services as video-man for his Companions’ Cup Squads. One of the Coaches wrote this about him: I first came across James when he asked if he could be involved in the Senior Rugby team. Despite his illness, he really wanted to give something back to the school and play his part. While he would never pull on a Cup jersey, his involvement was just as important. He became our video analyst with dedication and pride. It didn’t matter that he might have been feeling unwell or if the rain was pouring down – he NEVER let the team down. We loved having him around – with his constant, wonderful smile and sense of humour – and we all treasured him for it. Of all the young men I had the pleasure to coach – it was amazing that the one I never coached – but was lucky to have known – was the one who left a lasting impression.
When he applied to become a Minister of the Eucharist – I told him that he was already a Christopher [Christ-bearer] to so many – and so he continued to be just that right to the end – a true man-for-others.
Be who God meant you to be – and you will set the world on fire! James so surely did that for us!
When he received the news that we were all dreading would [for us] come too soon – he showed the courage and determination of the citation for the Aloysius Award he received at the 2017 Graduation. I was “summoned” to his bedside in Hospital – privileged as a Priest and his old Pal to give him the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Sick – and he asked me to celebrate his Farewell Mass in Clongowes. I told him that he should thank God (i) for the gift of others’ love [especially his Mum & Dad, Caitrona and Aidan – his siblings, Fiachra, Niamh and Oisín – his Grandparents, Noeleen and Michael – and his extended Family] and (ii) for the gift he was to us as, together, we prayed Dag Hammarskjold’s prayer: For the past, thanks – for the future, Yes!
Six days later in his home, Br Cha [who knew him well in Clongowes] and I were privileged to be with his Family – as, taking leave of those whom he loved so much and who loved him dearly in return – he went home to God. A few days later, after his Farewell Mass – the present generation of Clongowes gave him a send-off fit for a king – and the crowds along the roads in his native Drogheda bore witness to the impact he had made on the lives of so many. A final moving tribute came from his classmates of ‘17 who, standing around his grave, in pouring rain, sang [not very tunefully – but with so much affection and gratitude] a hymn so often sung in Clongowes: Only in God is my soul at rest – from Him comes my salvation!
My old Pal was living proof of that statement of his belief. Let us all give thanks to God for the gift he was to all of us in so many different ways as a true man-for-others! May his
Coming to perfection so young – he achieved long life – for his soul was pleasing to God – for he did indeed set our world on fire by being the special person God wanted him to be.
May his soul – loving and gentle, cheerful and caring, fun-filled and courageous – rest in God’s Kingdom of Love – and may he continue to touch our lives until we meet again!
Ni bheidh a leithéid ann arís!
Fr Michael Sheil SJ