“Come to Me, and I Will Give You Rest”
At that time Jesus declared, “ . . . Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I have a memory of a moment just outside this place – Manresa – several summers ago. The young Jesuits in formation had just listened to an older Jesuit speaking of the Jesuit commitment to availability – not to be grounded in any one place.
It was rooted in the famous quote from Jerome Nadal, one of the earliest Jesuits who worked quite closely with St. Ignatius. He said that the world is our home. What he meant is that Jesuits have a vocation of pilgrimage. Our desire is for availability, to be able to leave at a moment’s notice for an assignment to a place where the need is greatest, what Jesuits refer to as the magis, the greater good.
Gathered outside, on the pathway, the Provincial spoke to a few Jesuits and jokingly said that he probably wouldn’t use the example of Fr. Power when he himself addressed the men in formation later that day.
Fr. Power had just stepped down from many years of involvement with devotion to the Sacred Heart, primarily as Editor of the Sacred Heart Messenger. It was his life work – 56 years. In other words, the Provincial knew that there was no way that he could refer to Fr Power as a model of the flexibility and mobility that Fr. Nadal referred to.
However, there is something to be said – a great deal to be said – about the longevity of Fr. Power’s dedication to his life work and the stability that he represented in a world and Church marked by constant change. We see this quality in others, who commit their lives to the theological and scientific endeavour. It’s not as exciting as being constantly in motion, traveling to the apostolic hot spots in the margins of our globe.
Fr Power headed to his office to work on the Sacred Heart Messenger, morning after morning … in a drab and dusty building on Danforth Avenue. Most days were not radically different from the previous day.
Yet, I doubt that he felt that he was doing the same thing each day. There were always new people, new ideas, new possibilities. It’s quite possible to be “available” to the flexibility and changing nature of our daily rhythms.
Let me read from the Jesuit obituary: “Fred began his life-long apostolate right after tertianship when he was appointed to the office of the Eucharistic Crusade which was a branch of the Apostleship of Prayer. For the next 56 years, he was totally involved in promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
He was National Director, Editor and Promoter of the Apostleship of Prayer, The Messenger of the Sacred Heart, and the Sacred Heart Program. He wrote and edited extensively. Fred managed all this on a shoestring budget by putting in long hours of steady work. He went out to his office on Danforth Ave, in East Toronto, faithfully for decades and worked there with his small but dedicated staff.”
Fr. Power spread devotion to the Sacred Heart in good seasons and bad seasons. It was a widely popular devotion for many of our parents and grandparents. In many a Catholic home, there was at least one image of the Sacred Heart.
However, Fr. Power often carried out his ministry with the knowledge that his work was not popular with some other Jesuits, men who saw devotion to the Sacred Heart as passé; (the irony is that it has become popular among the young once again, but they follow Facebook rather than a printed magazine.)
He had the freedom and independence to not worry even though his ideas and practices were not always popular. Not always popular with Jesuits and sophisticated people. [.”… hidden from the wise …”] However, his publications reached a lot of people who possessed a strong faith. Faith in God, family, commitment and a firm desire for God’s assistance. People wrote asking for prayer, even after he retired from the work.
Many of us have probably read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. The first letter is basically about the inner drive to write. Rilke asks the young, budding poet, “Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write?” The young poet eventually realizes that, “I must do this”.
Fr. Power gave encouragement and support to generations of writers, people who knew that desire. I worked with him on a few letters. His letters rejecting a piece always included encouragement to keep writing.
If we use the language of Rilke, Fr Power had an inner drive, a must. Or, to use the language of the Gospel, it was something in imitation of Christ, in the hope of bringing others to a knowledge and love of the Lord.
The life of the Messenger is able to be documented – history, locations, etc. What is less able to be enumerated is the vast amount of communication with people who read the Messenger and were profoundly affected, probably reading the same article several times.
It was not always easy to read the letters after we announced that the magazine was ending. It was a lifeline for many people, for whom even the thought of a digital magazine was difficult, because of having no computer.
I’m sure that it was true of Fr. Power in his final years, here at Rene Goupil, hearing of people who wrote simple notes, asking for prayer for various intentions, especially within their families. I inherited part of that ministry when I replaced him. People who write for prayer. It was not a financial thing. People might enclose a few dollars. I still get occasional notes from people. I’ve never met them, but Fred taught me to treat them with all seriousness and care.
Fr. Power was tenacious and dogged. When I used those words to one Jesuit, he said, “Do you mean that he was stubborn?” It’s much more than stubbornness.
Fr Power really, REALLY believed in what he wrote about. He was passionately committed to what he wrote about. Basically the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you want to use the word “stubborn” to describe Jesus, I’m sure that Fred Power would accept it.
There are Provincials and superiors who were on the receiving end of his tenacity and deep commitment. I didn’t work alongside Fr Power for long, but that drive was the quality that struck me. It’s what caused him to be so committed to getting to the office and working on the Sacred Heart Messenger. He was passionate about his project.
He was able to convince Provincials to give him more funds and to keep assigning him to the work. [Recent Provincials always promised to get Fred to be more modern, but they always backed down.] He really and truly believed in the Messenger as a vehicle for the promotion of devotion to the Sacred Heart.
Is he really that very different from so many others who hold on to a relentless and passionate dream about keeping a newspaper or periodical afloat. We’ve seen so many illustrations in recent years. Not easy to be in publishing, especially in the Catholic world.
In the final years of the life of the Messenger, Fr Power learned all there was to learn about the conversion from paper to a digital presence on the internet. PayPal for example: I’m still getting notices from PayPal.
He was on the right path, a path that is still being traveled by dogged publishers and editors. It doesn’t really work, unless you have deep pockets. We can all cite examples of those publishers.
I was privileged to work with him for more than a year. I knew that he feared that his favourite project was hanging by a thread. So, I was not with him in the best of circumstances. Of course, the magazine had been in trouble before.
An image from my first day in the office, a holdover from 1950s magazine production office: manual typewriters, a lay out table, old files, and so on. The library he showed me. I took out my smartphone to show that it could hold much more info.
Once he retired from his life work, he threw his weight behind the Jesuit Province blog: igNation. He was a regular writer (e.g., a series on reading the books of the Old and New Testaments; and a series on prayer). He even wrote a series of blog posts, using a pen name – Fr. Benign. This morning’s post is Fr. Power’s final one for the blog.
Regarding the secret of the Messenger’s success (and Fred’s commitment), Bishop Thomas Fulton writes: “The secret of its longevity is found in a tried and true formula. The Messenger speaks to people in a language they can understand about matters which are relevant to their lives against a background of faith and devotion. In today’s terms, it is a remarkable instrument of evangelization and social communication.”
Fr. Power was loyal: loyal to his God, loyal to prayer, loyal to the Mass, loyal to his Jesuit Community (in tasks great and small), loyal to his family (spoke to Bernard most Mondays and once told me that it took a long time for him to get over his brother John’s death), loyal to his staff (I never knew Alfred DiManche, but came along in the days of Joan Levy Earle and Maureen Kinlan), loyal to his readers and correspondents, loyal to his remembrance of people in his novena and First Friday devotion.
What was Fr. Power committed to? Some might focus on the magazine. But the truth of his commitment is found in the Gospel. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is ultimately about love.
Fr. Fred Power – gentleman, priest, brother, uncle, friend, editor, careful and deliberate writer, washer of pots and pans, pray-er, constant hoper.
Well done, good and faithful servant!