There is no greater sorrow, no hurt so brutal, no wound so deep as that of a Mother and Father at the funeral of their child. It has drawn from them an intensity of love that they had not previously known, that they did not need to know, a love that is bereft of life, the particular life of their child. It both cries aloud and remains silent behind the mask of this coronavirus time. Only the eyes are left to tell, eyes red and wet with pain. The body trembles, feels it will fall to pieces. It doesn’t! Because this is the love that keeps on going when it cannot. It must.
She was seventeen and she died in a purple season, the season of Advent. Purple, her favourite colour. A deep, quiet and kind girl. She cut her beautiful long hair and gave it for one who had none. Thoughtful of the other.
Into this and into all our sorrows enters the Messenger! The prophecy of Isaiah that refers to John the Baptist in today’s Gospel.
God says, “Look, I am going to send my Messenger before you!”
We reply, “Let us listen for the voice of the Lord and enter into His Peace”
“Console my people, console them. Speak to the heart…” says God
The prophecy belongs to history and it belongs to now, for in this day the Lord sends the Messenger to prepare in our hearts a way by which Jesus may enter, a place in which he can stay. It is for us to recognize who or what the Messenger is. It may be an event, an experience of life or it may be a person whom the Lord uses to speak His Word to us in our time. Let us listen to the voice of the Lord and enter into His Peace. When we listen and hear what the Messenger is saying, the result is Peace and Consolation in the Lord. I pray this for the couple who have lost their child, the girl who has lost her sister.
So, let God through the Messenger speak to your heart, to that part of your life that is in need of consolation. It is easy for us to be worn down by the experience of this year, to be pessimistic or sad about the kind of Christmas that lies ahead of us and perhaps the repentance to which we are called is that we should listen to and receive God’s consolation rather than being consumed by the distress that is all around us. Repentance was part of the message of the original Messenger, John the Baptist. Repentance, a change of heart, a turning to God.
Samuel is clearly the Messenger in my life right now. When he arrived, I had presumed that he was in need of help – money, food – and that I would be the one to help him, thereby being in a position of power. But something from memory told me that I should let him take the lead, dictate the pace, be the one to say what was needed. I can do that most of the time but a couple of times I couldn’t stay out of the way, mainly because of the weather. Wednesday was a rough day of wind and rain so he spent most of the day in his tent. I went with the intention of inviting him inside but he poked his head out of the tent, smiled up at me and said, “I’m fine, I’m used to this!” “You don’t complain” I said. “I don’t” he said. I said, “you’re an inspiration!” “That’s very kind of you!” he replied. I meant it.
I know that he usually bunks down for the night around 7pm but still I went to him at 8pm when the night was rough again. “Samuel” I called “are you alright?” He simply said, with a slight note of exasperation, “I’m trying to sleep!”
He was at Mass this morning and loves coming into the church. It’s beautiful to see the positive impact that being in the church has on him. He says it keeps him free from negativity for the day. On this frosty night he is sitting contentedly on the church steps drinking a jar of soup given him by one of the parishioners and when I hand him the £10 that another parishioner gave for him, he doesn’t want to take it, saying that he really doesn’t need it. I insist, because it’s not my money and he decides he will save it up and maybe he’ll eventually have enough to rent a room. And still I check that he will be alright sleeping out in this cold night and he assures me he will.
We have a lovely conversation out there in the night. His companionship is so kind, the tone of his voice so tender, the light in his eyes so bright. How good it is for me to have one like him to whom I can say “good night and God bless”, to have the same said to me in return. We end our chat by him handing me his Book of Common prayer, asking me to read the part that is open which I do by the light of the door. A very striking piece from 2 Timothy chapter 4:
“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Handing him back his book I asked, “could that be me?” “It could” he replied “or it could be me!”
The last word was, “God turns all things to good with those who love Him!”
A last, last word! Before going out to Samuel a memory from my first year as a student in Thurles came back. It’s of a song that I haven’t thought of in years. One that I loved, one that maybe I will learn again and sing one day when recording Mass – the only time that singing is allowed, since it’s done alone in an empty church. Have a listen. It’s rather appropriate in the present context:
"The poor of the world are my body," he said,"to the end of the world they shall be.The bread and the blanket you give to the pooryou'll know you have given to me.he said," You'll know you have given to me."(Sydney Carter)