Wednesday, 05 September 2012 13:46
The view from the rectory window
By Fr. Ken Van Haverbeke
Ministering in the final hour.
The gathering of people spilled out into the hallway. Sadness and concern etched on their faces, but also a sense of gratitude. Gratitude the pain would soon be over. Gratitude of a life given. Gratitude of our Catholic faith.
The small sea of family, friends, and parishioners parted as I walked into the small room. Although many did not know me, did not recognize my name, or have any connection to me, they parted giving me room to kneel down in prayer. They recognized I was a brother to the one I sought, and therefore a relative to them.
The one I sought and knelt before was lying on a bed. A bed not of his own until two months ago. A bed in which a month ago he sat and spoke with me with enthusiasm about a sports game on the television and the approaching of his final hour. A bed in which he asked for my blessing, and I his. A bed upon which he would soon no longer need for he was making a transition from this life to another.
He, that lay upon the bed, was my brother. Although 37 years my senior, nearly the age of what my father would have been, he and I still were brothers. We are both priests.
Walking into the room, filled with so many people, so many emotions, so many ages, my thoughts were scattered, vacillating between concern for the people and concern for the brother priest; between the wonderment of so many people whom he touched in his life gathered around him and wondering who would be gathered around me at my hour; vacillating between sorrow and joy.
Not remaining in such vacillation, I knelt before his willowy body and pressing my hand into his. Carefully placing the relic and cross of Saint Peregrine, the patron saint of cancer, I reminded him and those present who Peregrine was and how his intercession along with the Blessed Virgin Mother’s would pierce the heavenly clouds.
Unable to speak, my brother’s voice from the past was resonated within my mind: “Hello Father!” “You’re doing a great job, Father!” “Love those articles, Father!”
Always he called me “Father.” Even 37 years my senior and unnecessary among priests to be so formal, so official, and so proper. But his salutation was not of formality or etiquette, it was out of respect. He was reminding me of my identity and constantly encouraging my mission of proclaiming the Gospel, which came forth only because of my identity of being a “Father,” a priest.
Praying from my heart, I spoke of how my brother priest lived his entire life to reach this moment, this hour. So many Hail Marys he prayed which he petitioned Mary to pray for us, “now and at the hour of our death.” It’s interesting how many of us forget the purpose of our lives here on earth is to reach our hour, the hour of our death. We live as if we don’t want to reach this hour, or won’t.
I also thanked God for my brother’s priesthood, and how his example of persona Christi modeled the priesthood for many of us. His attentiveness to the people, his unwavering voice proclaiming Gospel values and morals in a constantly changing culture, and his availability to hear confessions, especially of brother priests were all a pattern for us to live our priesthood.
Finishing praying, I heard a faint, but still resilient whisper, “Amen.” He had heard me of which I was thankful. Slowly getting up, knowing I would not see him until the light of a new day in eternity, the family and friends parted once more. Allowing me room to leave, and allowing them the space to both grieve and give thanks.
The priesthood. What a wonderful gift. A gift a man receives, and continues to give whether in the pulpit, altar, or deathbed. What a gift ministering to a brother priest in his final hour, and to be ministered to, in his final hour.
Fr. Van Haverbeke is director of the Spiritual Life Center in Wichita. For more information go to slcwihita.org.