Just over a year ago, my brother, Bernard, was diagnosed as having cancer and I and many others began praying that the Lord would grant him life. At first, it seemed as if the Lord would grant our prayers, for the Consultant told my brother and sister-in-law, Mary, that although he could not kill the cancer, he was confident he could contain it. So, my brother began chemotherapy and the doctor spoke with more confidence about the future and this renewed us in our prayers, but then about Christmas, my brother collapsed and was taken to hospital and just over a month later the doctor sadly told my sister-in- law that the treatment had failed and that my brother had only a few more weeks to live. My prayers for him intensified and to them were added prayers that I would be able to get home to see him before he died, because there was trouble with my passport. I managed and I am most grateful that I was able to be with him for the last five or six days of his life.
When my brother was laid out in his coffin, I went to spend some time with him and I noticed that next to his clasped hands was a little glass angel. I knew what it was and why it was there, for my brother had told me about it. When he first began chemotherapy, he met a woman, who was also having chemotherapy and she gave him that little glass angel, telling him that an angel was watching over him and would always journey with him. He phoned me up to tell me about her and to ask me to pray for her, because, he said, “She has had a far worse time than I have had”. As I stood by his coffin, looking at that little glass angel I remembered what he had said, and I remembered also that he had not asked me to pray for him – but only for her. Later, as I met people, who came to pay their last respects to my brother, I heard many other stories about my brother all pointing to his concern for others. There was one young woman, for instance, who came to the house almost every day I was there, bringing a variety of foodstuffs, so that “Mary would not have to bother herself with shopping for food at this time” and I also discovered that she was paying for them herself. I was told later that some years before, when she was young, her mother had been seriously ill in hospital and her father was trying to divide his time between her and the children; Bernard and Mary used to come to their house bringing food for the children and seeing that they were alright – and this was obviously her way of saying thank you. All these stories were new to me, my brother and I had lived apart for many years and when we did meet he rarely spoke about himself and what he had done.
A few days ago, I sat pondering the Gospel story of Jairus’ daughter and how her father had begged the Lord for the gift of life for his daughter and the Lord had granted it. My thoughts then turned to my prayers for my brother and how I also had asked the Lord to give life to my brother life, but my prayers had not been granted – he had died. However, as I sat there, the picture of that little glass angel came into my mind and some of the many stories that I had been told of my brother’s kindness to people and I realised with surprise that the Lord had answered my prayers, and even granted them before I had asked – for although he may not have granted length of days, he had granted my brother a great richness of days. Others may have lived a longer life than him, but my brother had lived a life worth living – and which of these two is the greater gift?
So, I am going to try to buy a little glass angel for myself and I am going to put it on the wall of my bedroom, where I will see it when I wake in the morning. It will remind me of my brother and also remind me that the day before me is a gift from God – not merely a day to be got through, but a day to be lived and lived richly. The little angel will remind me that it is not length of days which is the blessing from God, but how we live those days.
On Monday, we begin our priests’ retreat here at the College and we 64 priests will attend, coming from various parts of Sarawak and Brunei. I am hoping to make a good retreat, but I will be staying in my own room with all its temptations to do other things instead of prayer and meditation. I always find it hard to settle down to a retreat, even when I go away to a retreat centre, so I imagine that this coming week will be harder still. However, I have told myself that I will not switch on my computer, until it is all over, which will be half the battle. Please pray for us.
Last week, I went to Sabah for the silver jubilee of the Archbishop of Kota Kinabalu. A young man had asked to see me, while I was there, about a missionary vocation, so I booked a late flight back so that I would be able to see him – only to have him cancel on me because he did not have the money for the fare. So, I started twiddling my thumbs as I waited for the time to go to the airport, but then I had an idea and asked a friend to have lunch with me – and that was a great treat.
Last week I told you about a young man, in Dia, named David, who is very ill with TB and he is also HIV+. I also told you how a young married couple, Anji and Chaitu, have pawned their wedding jewellery to pay his expenses, which includes paying for a room for him and providing him with food and medicine for the next ten months. The total amount needed comes to about 18,000 Malaysian ringgit or 3,600 British pounds. I have sent them half that amount and I would like to thank those of you who are helping me find the rest, so that we can get back Chaitu’s wedding jewellery for her.