Today I attended mass at St. Malachi, the parish of my business mentor, Bernie Knill. He’s the man to whom I owe my writing career. He passed away two years ago, but his family has been nice enough to invite me to attend these anniversary masses, knowing what he meant to me. Today’s readings brought back memories of why what Bernie did 32 years ago for a green kid fresh out of college was more than just give him a job.
An English major with no professional writing experience is virtually unemployable these days. In those days, while low-level editorial jobs were available, they were pretty menial. All the seasoned editors in the business press tended to torture newbies like me by offloading to us their most tedious assignments. So today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom seemed written for such victims of office politics:
“Let us test him with cruelty and with torture, and thus explore this gentleness of his and put his patience to the test.”
At that point in his career, Bernie had already won several major journalism awards and didn’t need to jeopardize the magazine he built up by hiring an unknown quantity like me, let alone take such a person under his wing to mentor him. Someone like him, who was a major figure in the industry his magazine served, would have been better off hiring someone a bit more seasoned. In fact many in his position guarded their status and reputation jealously. Instead, Bernie lived his Catholic faith, bringing it with him to the business world too.
Bernie and I attended several Holy-Day masses together during the 30 years we knew each other. The very first mass was not long after he hired me. It was the mass at which Maryann and I were married. So there was something of Bernie’s spirit that attended today’s Mass through the second reading from James:
“The wisdom that comes down from above is essentially something pure; it is also peaceable, kindly and considerate; it is full of mercy and shows itself by doing good; nor is there any trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it.”
A good business person is a good person. Not only does such a person avoid jockeying for position to advance at someone else’s expense, but they use their talents to help others succeed. Today’s gospel reading from Mark, in which Jesus chastises his disciples for their selfish ambitions, summarizes the example Bernie left as his legacy to me and others whose lives he touched:
“If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all,” Jesus said. He then took a little child whom he set among them and embraced, and he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child such as this in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me, welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Bernie took a chance on this little child and taught him how to be a better writer the same way he taught him how to be a better Christian: by example.