Wednesday, 18 April 2012 14:13
The view from the rectory window
By Fr. Ken Van Haverbeke
Since beginning these articles titled, “The View from the Rectory Window,” I’ve noticed fewer and fewer people driving by my rectory window. Probably because they don’t want to end up in one of my articles! Even some of my priest friends have threatened me if I include them in an article. I live on the edge! But the view I have from the rectory window is different now.
Being the director for the diocesan retreat house, the Spiritual Life Center (www.slcwichita.org), my view from my rectory window is of my future. From my window facing north, I look to the west and see my immediate future: the priest retirement apartments. To the east, I see my eventual future, Ascension Cemetery. Not everyone has a glimpse of their future out the window. I live between my two futures.
These two views have afforded me to see a number of happenings. To the east, Ascension Cemetery, I’ve been intrigued by the different scenes of the seemingly same drama, grief. In the privacy of a cemetery, one finds peace and anger, solace and exasperation, but most of all, questions whose intellectual answers must be felt, in order to be realized.
On my walk through the cemetery in the evening, I noticed a woman about my age. She nods as she drives by, and I with rosary in hand, lift a hand in greeting. I don’t know if she realizes I am a priest. I am not really certain she even really sees me. Rarely does a day go by when I either see her on my walk or out my window.
Parking her car, she briskly walks to a grave midway up the slight sloping hill. Standing as a sentinel, silhouetted against the early evening sky, she stops at a grave for only a moment or two. Adjusting the flowers or picking a bit of grass around the headstone, she turns and heads for her car and exits the cemetery.
As I continue my rosary exercise walk, trying to merge raising my heart rate for bodily benefit, and raising my heart to the Lord for spiritual benefit, I become curious and cannot shake wondering whose grave the woman is visiting. Is it her mother, a child, or spouse? Perhaps it’s a grandparent. No, a daily trip, it must be someone very close to her.
It’s really none of my business. A cemetery is a private place, where one can grieve alone in its stillness. Being with one through the process of death, then participating in the rosary vigil, the funeral, the internment, the funeral dinner, all of these are filled with people and voices. It is a blur, creating a surreal experience, leaving us afterwards wondering who was there and what was said.
It is only after we have placed our loved one in their resting place to wait for the Lord to raise them from the dead and we begin healing. It is in these holy places the human voices cease and the voice of God can finally be heard.
After the woman leaves, curiosity gets the best of me, and I walk to the grave she visits. It is that of a younger man who passed away three years ago. He was in his early 50s. My mind wraps around this information and my imagination is liberated in wonder. He must be her husband. I wonder if they have children. I wonder how he was taken so young. I wonder how his family is doing. I wonder…
Walking again, now with a new purpose of reciting the rosary, I begin to pray for the woman, the man, and any family. Feeling at first guilty for having allowed my curiosity to lead me to the grave and intrude on the woman’s grief, I now feel reassured having an understanding and new purpose of my prayer walks through the cemetery. Now as I look at other grave markers, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide me, I pray for these different peoples, families, and situations.
This is what being a priest is about – observing, being present, participating, even at a distance, and praying. The woman is obviously grieving the absence of her husband. She also is a woman of faith to keep returning to tend a grave with such love and affection. I would imagine her faith is being tested by her grief, but it is in grief we are found by God. It is in grief we seek out places, such as cemeteries, to find His quiet, and to experience what we know to be true, but to be able to ask anyway.
“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”
Then Jesus said to her, “Mary!”