November is almost done. During the month we remembered in many ways and on many days, those gone before us. There is something very healing about that – remembering, naming, holding on to what remains of those we knew and loved.
The old song talked about year after year, the numbers getting fewer, but it is the opposite story here – year after year, the numbers increase as we recall family and friends who have died. I remember an old man saying once that the hardest thing about growing to be very old, was seeing all his friends die. I had never thought of it like that before.
During the month even, countless more names were added to our list of people to be remembered and, for me among them, a friend who worked for me well over 20 years ago when I was based in her parish.
She came to work in my home as ‘housekeeper’ but she was, in no way, a “go on, go on, go on, go on…’ Mrs Doyle type! She was young, full of fun and became to me and an elderly priest who shared the house with me, a great friend with a heart of gold.
Though I had moved on from the parish, we kept in contact and I was happy to number her among my friends. I celebrated her Funeral Mass in mid-November. May she rest in peace.
At the Mass I spoke of her to a congregation that knew her as well and better than I. The church was packed, and I was happy to see that. It brought home the reality of the many people her life had touched and was, as at all funerals, a comfort to her family.
We are good around times like these and I always hope that whatever we lose of our identity or Faith, we will never lose that ability to be with people when they are grieving a loved one. It is among our finer characteristics and one we should cling to with both hands, lest we’d ever let go. To let go, would be a loss that I firmly believe we would never regain.
The following day, I had the chance to speak with some priests from a diocese who were away for a few days to reflect on their own ministry and the journey their diocese is discerning. It was lovely to be asked to share a little with them and to be a small part of that gathering. I was asked to speak a little about the identity of the priest in our present culture.
I told them about the funeral the day before and of my last meeting with my friend. She was in the hospice and when I went to her room, her husband and some of her family were there. Without anything being said, they all left the room and left the two of us alone.
We chatted for a while and then I said I’d like to celebrate the Sacrament of The Sick with her. She said “Yes”. When I finished with a blessing, she said “Amen” and then added words I’d never heard her use to me before: “Thanks Father.” I never expected her to call me that but, at that moment, she saw me for what I was, a priest ministering to her and, I believe, a friend. I said that is our identity – to be priest when needed and to be friends too. I am convinced that is what people expect and deserve. I am convinced it is to that reality we are called.
Another hospital moment came to mind and I shared that with the priests as well. Again, I was visiting a parishioner who was dying and, as I walked towards her bed, I noticed a woman with her. I did not know the woman, nor she me. I discovered it was her sister and my parishioner introduced me to her with these words: “This is the man who looks after us.”
Again, the words surprised me but, on my way home in the car, I was comforted by them. Surely that is part of the priest’s identity too – one who looks after his people. It’s an honour that maybe sometimes we could easily overlook.
Some of you reading these lines might, like me, be priests and most of you reading are not. Either way, for as long as we live, and until such time we depend on others to remember us, maybe we do well to look after one another.
November is about saying thanks to those gone before. Maybe December and the other months are about saying thanks to those still here.
Christ The King
It’s the end of the Church year and we go out on a high. Remembering Christ as King, we remember too, the boy who was lost at 12, the miracle worker at Cana, the one who called others to help, the man who sat beside a well and asked for a cup of water, the one who fed and healed, the one who walked among us and the one who suffered, died and rose again.
He may be King but earthly life saw him far removed from palaces and power. A King nonetheless. “Come, let us worship.”
Don’t say “I can’t”. Say “I will try” and some day you will say “I did”.