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Fr Joe's Story

By Joseph Falkiner O.P

joeGod calls each person uniquely. This is the way he called me initially, over a period of three years beginning in 1960. I was then a young professional geologist, working for a big corporation, sent from South Africa to prospect in the Tanzanian bush. This meant being on foot-safari most of the time, sleeping in a small tent. Communication with headquarters was by radio transmission. Attending Mass was difficult, unless there was a Mission station anywhere in the vicinity of where I was.

God’s call to me began that year a few days before Good Friday. I had about 30 casual labourers working under me in the bush, earning a very low salary. They only got paid for each day’s work. I was already disturbed that I, an unmarried young man, was earning several hundred times the wages of men, mostly married, that I had hired on behalf of the company. If I did not pay them for Good Friday their wages would be even less that month. So I thought I had better find out whether Good Friday was to be a paid holiday or an unpaid holiday for them. I radioed into headquarters for the answer. It came immediately: “If any one refuses to work on Good Friday, DISMISS HIM !.”

That night I prayed. I did not want to work myself on Good Friday, the day Our Lord died, but to keep a day of recollection. And I certainly didn’t want to dismiss anyone on religious grounds. What was I to do? God solved the immediate problem for me, because it rained all that Good Friday, so technically we were working but sheltering from the rain. However the rain didn’t solve the bigger problem. Did I really want to work for a company that expected me and other people to ignore one of the holiest days of the year? This problem remained at the back of my mind for the next year. I realised later that this was God’s way of calling me. Nevertheless I went on working for the corporation.

The next stage of God’s call came two years later. I had by now been transferred to Namaqualand, to be part of a team prospecting in the desert for diamonds. I was proud to be the supervisor of the team, which included about 200 migrant labourers, and we were based at a fixed campsite. Supplies were brought in to us by aeroplane. One day one of migrant labourers fell down one of the small shafts we had dug. He fell about 20 metres, and broke his back. I immediately radioed to headquarters and asked for the company aeroplane to come and lift him to hospital. This was refused, and we were told to get the man out of the camp by truck. This lack of care for a badly injured human being brought back memories of what had happened in Tanzania, and disturbed me greatly. It all became worse after the truck had departed, when suddenly the company aeroplane landed at the camp, carrying my boss. He had flown out especially to rebuke me for expecting the plane to be used to carry the injured man. That, I was told, was not company policy.

I felt this was totally contrary to all I had learned as a child about care for one’s neighbour, and I became more unhappy with my career. I couldn’t understand how it was that the plane could be used to carry the boss, but not the injured man. Did I want to be part of this company any longer? I began to pray about it

The climax of God’s call came a few months later. The whole crowd of migrant labourers marched up to my office in the camp, and demanded to know what had happened to that injured man, and where was he? His wife in the Transkei had written to one of the men to find out why she no longer heard from her husband, and why no money was being sent to her. I was shocked to discover that the company had neglected to send any message to his wife. I could not work for this company any longer. But what was I to do?

The upshot of all this was that I felt that working for any company would probably be just as unsatisfactory for me. The only solution would be not to work for any similar company, but to work directly for God. It still left me with a problem. How did one work for God? I acquired a few books and read up about Religious Orders. It seemed that they knew more about working for God than I did, so all I had to do was to put myself in the hands of one of the Orders, and they would show me the way. I did this. In 1963 I was accepted as a novice in the Dominican Order, in the following year I made my profession as a committed Religious, and 1969 was ordained as a priest. That was 40 years ago. God continued to call me even after that, and he has shaped my life in such a way that now at the age of 75 I feel only gratitude to Him for having called me and continued directing my life. It is a unique story, but so is every other vocation unique. All one has to do is to hear God’s call, in whatever situation one finds oneself.

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