From the Director - When the unexpected breaks through our defences

Columban Fr Gary WalkerRecently I attended two funerals: one of a young man killed in a road accident, the brother of one of our Columban Missionaries in Japan and the other of a Columban priest who died in his 96th year.

The funerals were at the opposite end of the scales in terms of grief and happiness.

At the young man’s funeral I found it incredibly painful to witness the grief of the widow who sat silent with her heart breaking, and to listen to the young children who prayed for their father. I think that many people shared the same feeling. It was of some comfort to sit quietly and listen to the excellent choir putting into song what the congregation felt.

The congregation which was predominantly Vietnamese knew a lot about pain, suffering and loss including this young man who left Vietnam on a boat with his brothers. Their stories are horrific and we ask ourselves how do they survive them? But they do.

The other funeral was straight forward. The elderly Columban Priest died in his hospital bed aged 95 years. The funeral was a happy and orderly event celebrating the full life of a missionary priest who had spent over 40 years in Fiji and included many other roles in formation, lecturing and chaplaincy.

How do we regain our defences in the face of tragedy or deep sadness?

The late Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest, professor, author and theologian had the ability to describe complex or difficult issues like the pain of losing a son, husband, father and brother.

In one of his books Nouwen describes how a monk invited him to pray in a certain way. He told Henri to lay aside one hour in the morning and a half hour at night before going to bed to pray, but to pray in a particular way.

The monk told Henri that it was 'useless' time in which Henri was to do nothing but come to terms with his basic powerlessness in the presence of God. He was to come to terms with his inability to solve his own problems or to change the world. Henri Nouwen observed that praying in this manner became as important as eating and sleeping.

In the face of tragedy or deep sadness, when the unexpected can strip us of our powers, it is difficult to hold oneself together. It is often even more difficult to let go and find that God will hold us together.

I pray that the grieving family of the young man will continue to be held together through the power of God’s love.


God bless you.

Fr Gary Walker SSC
director@columban.org.au

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