My Aunt Mary was my Dad’s youngest sister. She and her husband, my Uncle Pat, really wanted children, but they never had any, so Aunt Mary decided that she would embrace all the children in the world – both young and old – and she very nearly did! No one ever went away from her house without a little gift of some sort – even if it were only a packet of biscuits – and none of her many nieces and nephews ever celebrated a birthday without receiving a card and/or a little present from Aunt Mary, and as these married and had children of their own, so Aunt Mary’s birthday list got longer and longer. Even when one of her nephews found his way to far distant Borneo, Aunt Mary’s love even reached out there with Christmas and birthday cards, even if they might be a little late in arriving. But, as good as Aunt Mary was at giving gifts, she was not so good at receiving them. She would always say, “Thank you!” nicely, for whatever gift you gave her, but you knew that nearly always that gift would find its way to someone else. When she died and, as her executor, I had to deal with her things, I found her wardrobe filled with many Christmas and birthday gifts received over the years, which had never even been opened!
Only once, was I really able to show her my love and that was towards the end of her life when she got cancer. Her husband, Uncle Pay, died shortly after she was diagnosed – it seemed as if he did want to live without Aunt Mary around – and so as she neared the end of her life she was alone, apart from the many friends who rallied round. About a month or so before she died, she went away to a hospice for respite care – supposedly for ten days – but six days later, I received a phone call from the hospice saying that she was on her way home, so I had to jump in my car and race the thirty miles to her house – because no one knew she was coming – and I arrived just at the same time as the hospice ambulance. As I helped Aunt Mary into the house, she said she felt very tired would go up to bed and I said I would make her a cup of tea, but when she tried to mount the stairs she could not do so, so I picked her up in my arms – despite her protestations – and carried her up to bed. That remains with me as one of my most precious memories of Aunt Mary, for it was the one time that I was really able to show her my love for her – and I could do so because she needed me.
I was reminded of that recently, when I read the Gospel story of Mary anointing the Lord’s feet with precious ointment, Jn 12: 1-11. Judas complained that it was a waste of money, but Jesus rebuked him, because he knew that Mary needed to show her love for him, even if the ointment was expensive. For if two people love each other, they have a need to show their love for each other – for true love longs to fill up what is lacking in the beloved – and the same is true between us and God.
I have a small stained glass panel on the window of my office of Our Lady bending over and smiling at the baby Jesus, whom she is holding on her lap and when I look at it I am reminded of something I heard years ago: that God came to us as a baby, because a baby is helpless and needs demands love and care – and so by coming to us as a baby, God gave us the opportunity to love him. I see the same dynamic at work in the “Stations of the Cross”, when Simon of Cyrene and then Veronica reach out to help to comfort and help the Lord – one to help him carry the cross and the other to wipe his face – they were able to love him in this way because he “needed” their help. I see it also in our Triduum ceremonies of “Watching” on Holy Thursday night and the kissing of the cross on Good Friday. As Phil 2:7 says “He emptied himself” – and I think he did so, so that we could truly love him, for love needs to fill up that which is lacking in the beloved – and at these ceremonies help us to show our love for the loveless one!
A thought follow on from this. This time before Easter is the time we have traditionally gone to confession. It is a time when we become very much aware of our sins and failings – those things, which seem to separate us from God. How many times have I wholeheartedly wished I were different and did not have such a burden. However, the above thoughts show those sins and failings in a different light, for it is precisely there that we have the opportunity to let the Lord love is as we are. They are that which is lacking in us, a lack which only love can fill; they are the wounds, which only he can heal. The above thoughts show us that our sins and failings are not a barrier to God, but are, in fact the doorway, by which he can enter and if we let him love us as we are, we find not only healing, but also the love and companionship for which we were made.
I enjoyed my visit to Singapore. I visited Universal Studios and went on some of the rides – just to show there is life in the old dog yet!! I also ordered from the Sisters there a new cassock – that is the long white robe priests wear. And I relaxed. It was very pleasant. However, when I got back, I discovered that the details of my bank card had been used by someone, but how they got them I do not know, because I only used it in an ATM machine. So, when I discovered the loss, I cancelled the card and Standard Chartered are investigating. There are four items amounting to about 3,500 ringgit or 650 pounds. I am hoping that the bank will take responsibility for those purchases, but at the moment they are still in my debit column!
We are fast approaching the end of term. We have a week of revision and then a week of exams, after which I go to Penang to visit our Mill Hill students there. Then I fly on to Chiang Mai, Thailand, to give a retreat, then I fly down to Bali to give another retreat, and then I come back to Sarawak for a Mill Hill meeting in Sibu. After all that I return to Kuching and we begin the next term. You are all supposed to say, “Aaah! Poor Lad!” But then, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it, would I?
One of our older Mill Hill men here, Fr James Meehan, had a slight stroke at the beginning of last week. Physically he seems to be ok, but it has affected his power of speech – he seems to know what he wants to say but often cannot find the words. It has also slightly affected his memory and one of our younger local fathers was a little upset when yesterday he went to visit him and James did not recognise him. I told him, not to be worried, for when I had visited him earlier he had said, “Oh, are you here again!” Jokes aside, please pray for him, He is, or was, a garrulous Scot, who loved to tell stories, so he is finding his affliction very trying.