Monday, 18 March 2014
As I was leaving the Basilica of St John of God in Granada I received a phone call from my sister-in-law informing me that my brother John had died peacefully a short while previously. May he rest in peace. He had been diagnosed with a brain tumour a year ago. He had surgery and treatment which gave some respite for much of last year, but in the latter part of the year the cancer returned causing ever-increasing debility. Eventually he was no longer able to be cared for at home and a couple of weeks ago was admitted to palliative care in the local hospital, where his earthly pilgrimage ended.
The family reassured me that they are really glad for his sake that his time of tribulation is over and that he is now with God. He died on Feast of St Joseph, traditionally the patron of a happy death. I was assured that this was indeed so for John.
The news was not unexpected. In fact, I had been anticipating it for a long time, but it was still a shock when it came. I had felt that my goodbyes to John when I had visited at Christmas were not au revoir (“till we meet again”), but adieu (literally “to God” i.e. as Thomas Moore said to his daughter, “May we merrily meet in heaven”). While family had been caring for him at home, I had been in caring for him from afar, praying for him in churches across Bucharest, Braslov, Rome, Assisi, Bobbi, Milan, Barcelona and finally Granada, and in regular communication by e-mail.
Having received the news, I immediately arranged to travel home to be with the family for the funeral. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology that make immediate and direct communication possible in such circumstances, and to the wonders of modern travel that make it possible for me to travel across the world in a day so as to be able to lead the funeral.
I returned to Barcelona the next morning, left my pilgrim luggage behind for now—I will return in a couple of weeks to begin the Camino relieved of the anxiety about my brother, and learning how to walk with him in new ways—and readied myself for the long haul journey to Australia. With my friend’s assistance in translating my request, I was able to con-celebrate the evening Mass for the Feast of St Joseph in the Cathedral in Barcelona. The priest and congregation prayed in Catalan and I prayed silently in English. I was particularly moved to hear the priest praying for John by name in the Eucharistic Prayer in the place where we remember the dead. I thought the Communion Antiphon was particularly appropriate, the words of Matthew 25:21 which I am sure God addressed to John early that morning: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come, share your master’s joy.”
Please pray for John and his family as we prepare for the funeral, to give thanks for his life and to commend him to God whom he served so faithfully.