Joseph K. Grieboski - The Cutting Edge
The term "saint" is used quite often these days, referring to a good person or a kind person or someone who pulled us out of a jam.
We think that saints are very rare and especially hard to find, especially in this day and age. In fact, there are many unrecognized men and women of holiness around us each day.
In his book, Saint of the Day, Father Leonard Foley, OFM, defines saints as those who “surrender to God's love was so generous an approach to the total surrender of Jesus that the Church recognizes them as heroes and heroines worthy to be held up for our inspiration. They remind us that the Church is holy, can never stop being holy and is called to show the holiness of God by living the life of Christ.”
In recent days, we laid one such man to rest. A man who exemplified holiness, demonstrated an intimate love of God, and was a model for each of us to follow to salvation.
Born May 9, 1929 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Father Thomas Mulvihill King, SJ, returned home after a sudden heart attack in his campus residence at Georgetown University on June 23. He was 80.
King entered the Society of Jesus in 1951 after completing undergraduate studies in English at the University of Pittsburgh. As a Jesuit, he undertook further studies at Fordham University and Woodstock College and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1964.
After completing a doctorate in theology at the University of Strasbourg in 1968, King began teaching at Georgetown. A member of the American Teilhard Association, he has written or edited several books on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a controversial French philosopher and Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist and took part in the discovery of Peking Man. King cofounded an annual gathering of scientists interested in religion known as "Cosmos and Creation."
King was more than just a theologian and scholar. King understood that to be a true Christian, he could not just live the life of Christ, but he must bring others to Christ as well. For 40 years, Father King offered Mass in Dahlgren Chapel at 11:15 pm six nights a week for Georgetown’s students, faculty and staff.
King once said that said the 11:15 p.m. Mass was a good match for his night owl tendencies: “I’ve always been a late-night person, so I just decided I’d say Mass then because it fit into my day, and it also turned out to be a good student hour as well.” A comment rife with humility, as was Tom.
For 21 years he lived among the students in the dorms, continually serving as a mentor, a friend, and a confessor. Father King’s life was a guide for so many of us. His laughter, his brilliant and witty sense of humor, his ability to make both scholarship and Divinity accessible to anyone and everyone, Tom was quiet and unassuming, friendly and disarming. All of which added to his ability to fulfill his mission of bringing Christ to every student, faculty, staff and person he met. Remaining faithful to that mission, for the past several years Father King would cross the Potomac on Monday evenings to offer Mass for inmates at the Arlington County jail.
In 1999, The Hoya, Georgetown's student newspaper, declared Father King "Georgetown's Man of the Century", noting that "no one has had a more significant presence on campus and effect on students than Father King."
Ten years later, that remains fundamentally true. Tom King’s impact was not just on Georgetown. The thousands of students whose lives he touched over the years are better men and women as a result. His inspiration and model led countless men to enter the priesthood and women to enter the convent; his love of scholarship and his approach to Truth provided a guide for countless students to become professors; his love for life and all God’s creations molded the worldviews of so many who became physicians; and his undaunted courage and strength for all that is just and right guided so many – me included – who fight for justice thanks to Tom.
For those of us born and reared after the Second Vatican Council, Tom’s 11:15 pm Mass introduced us to a beauty and majesty of the liturgy with which we were not previously familiar. Dahlgren Chapel shrouded in darkness, the multitude of candles around and on the chapel provided the only light for the Mass. Reminiscent of the Breaking of the Bread in the catacombs of the early Church, the darkness provided a sanctuary of hope centered on the Sacrifice of the Mass. His sanctified fingers barely touching the holy altar and only handling the Body of Christ when required, Father King’s gentle and respectful treatment of the Eucharist taught us all how to respect the True Presence of Christ. We were taught to be mindful that in our presence was The Presence, the King of Kings, and we should act appropriately and with the respect He deserves and requires.
While never breaching from the Magisterium on the celebration of the Mass, Father King incorporated elements of the Tridentine Mass (the one performed for over a millennium before the “reforms” of the Second Vatican Council) into his service. Most importantly, Father King included the Last Gospel, so named because it is part of the concluding rite of the Tridentine mass.
The Last Gospel is the passage from the Gospel according to St. John in chapter i, verses 1 to 14 inclusive, where Jesus is described as The Logos, The Word.
In the Tridentine Mass – and the 11:15 pm in Dahlgren – immediately, after the blessing, the priest goes to the Gospel side of the altar. He begins with the Dominus vobiscum (“The Lord be with you”) as at the proclamation of the Gospel of the Mass.
At the words Et Verbum caro factum est (And the Word became flesh), Father King, like the priests of history, genuflects.
The text of the Gospel is perhaps best known for its opening lines: “In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum...” (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...”)
Thanks to Father Thomas M. King, SJ, we not only learned the history of the Mass, the meaning of the Scriptures and the strength required to be of God, but we also learned that sacrifice is not sacrificial, that there is courage in quiet, and that a smile and a gentle word could be the Word.
Et fidélium ánimæ per misericórdiam Dei requiéscant in pace.
Cutting Edge Foreign writer Joseph Grieboski is President of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy and Secretary General, Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom.
For personal reflectoion on Fr. King... In Memoriam: Parallels in the Life and Death of Thomas M. King SJ and The City and the World: Adieux.