'At once they left their nets and followed him', Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Calling of Peter and Andrew, Duccio di Buoninsegna, painted 1308-11
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Gospel Mark 1:14-20 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)


After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’ he said ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’
As he was walking along by the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net in the lake – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.’ And at once they left their nets and followed him.


Going on a little further, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they too were in their boat, mending their nets. He called them at once and, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the men he employed, they went after him.


An Soiscéal Marcas 1:14-20 (Gaeilge, Irish)


Tar éis Eoin a bheith tugtha ar láimh, tháinig Íosa go dtí an Ghailíl ag fógairt soiscéal Dé agus ag rá: “Tá an tréimhse caite agus tá ríocht Dé in achmaireacht. Déanaigí aithrí agus creidigí sa soiscéal.”


Bhí sé ag imeacht leis cois farraige na Gailíle nuair a chonaic sé Síomón agus Aindrias deartháir Shíomóin agus iad ag caitheamh eangaí san fharraige, mar iascairí a bhí iontu. Dúirt Íosa leo: “Tagaigí i mo dhiaidh, agus déanfaidh mé díbh iascairí ar dhaoine.” D’fhág aid na líonta láithreach agus lean aid é. Bhuail sé ar aghaidh beagán eile agus chonaic sé Séamas mac Zeibidé agus Eoin a dheartháir, iad ina mbád féin ag ceartú na líonta, agus ghlaoigh sé iad láithreach. D’fhág aid a n-athair Zeibidé sa bhád, é féin agus an lucht pá, agus ghabh aid leis.


The young Fr Edward Galvin in China

One hundred years ago a 29-year-old Irishman who had been working in Brooklyn, New York City, wrote a letter to his mother in his native County Cork. Nothing unusual in that. There were countless young Irishmen and women in the USA who had gone there because there was no work for them at home. That was the case with this young man. He had been ordained in 1909 for his own Diocese of Cork but his bishop had so many priests that he loaned the young man, Fr Edward Galvin, to the Diocese of Brooklyn.

While there he felt a desire to be a missionary. This led him to head off to China in February 1912 from Toronto, Canada, with a Canadian priest, Fr John Fraser, instead of going home to Ireland.

Here is his letter, written in Toronto:

Photocopy of letter (thanks, Father Rex)

Dear Mother, 

I am sorry, dear Mother, to have to write this letter, but God’s will be done. Everything is in His hands. Mother, don’t grieve, don’t cry. It is God’s will. God has called and I had to obey. 

I am not going back to Ireland. I am going as a missionary to China. May God’s will be done. God knows my heart is broken, not for myself but for you whom I love above all the world. 

Mother, you know how this has always been on my mind. But I thought it was a foolish thought – a boyish thought; that it would pass away as I grew older. But it never passed, never, never, never. 

Why should God ask me to do this thing that is breaking my heart to do? I don’t know. God knows best. May His will be done. “If any man will come after me let him take up his cross and follow me.” Oh yes, but oh my God I never thought that it was so hard to follow. I have tried to follow when you called. I ask you in return to console my poor mother, to comfort her, to help her to make the Sacrifice I am making and spare her until we meet again.’

Frs Edward Galvin, John Blowick (seated) and Owen McPolin shortly after the arrival of the first group of Columbans in China. They left Ireland in 1920. Fr Blowick, the first Superior General, returned to Ireland to direct the Society and to teach in the Columban seminary.

Fr Fraser was to found the Scarboro Foreign Mission Society, with its headquarters in Scarborough, Ontario, now part of Metro Toronto, and the young Fr Galvin was to co-found with Fr John Blowick, another Irish diocesan priest and more than five years younger, what was first known as the Maynooth Mission to China in 1916 and formally became the Society of St Columban in 1918. Both societies had China as their original mission and both are societies of secular priests, not religious.

Father Galvin thought his idea of becoming a missionary was ‘a foolish thought – a boyish thought’. The actual moment when God called him as starkly as Jesus called Peter and Andrew, James and John, in today’s gospel happened on his weekly day off when he had planned to go to the office of the Propagation of the Faith in New York City to explore the idea of becoming a missionary. Two unexpected sick calls came that morning, which he responded to, leaving it too late for him to do what he had planned. Then Fr John Fraser arrived unannounced at the rectory and it was this meeting the led Edward Galvin to China shortly afterwards.

The cover of The Far East, the Columban magazine in Ireland, was the same for many years and the Chinese junk symbolised the Columbans for the Irish people and touched the imagination of many a future Columban missionary, including my own while I was still in kindergarten.

I don’t know what went on in the hearts of Peter and Andrew when, as St Mark tells us, ‘at once they left their nets and followed’ Jesus, or in the hearts of James and John who 'leaving their father Zebedee . . . went after him’. That decision was to lead ultimately to the martyrdom of three of them and to John standing at the Cross of Jesus and taking on the care of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

Father Galvin recalled years later what it had cost him to set off for China, starting from New York City: I still remember the pain of parting on that grey, dreary morning. When the train got underway for Toronto, I crumpled up in the coach and cried as if my heart would break.’

He was to become Bishop of Hanyang in China where he was to experience natural calamiteis such as great floods, the Sino-Japanese War, World War II and the Communist takeover, leading his expulsion in 1952. Born on the feast of St Columban, 23 November 1882, he died on 23 February 1956, the feast of the great martyr-bishop St Polycarp of Smyrna who knew St John the Evangelist who, with his brother James, had left his father to follow Jesus.

The cover on The Far East after the death of Bishop Galvin.

You can read more in an article by English Columban Fr Pat Sayles, Edward J. Galvin: a Trailblazer for God. 

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