Today a friend and colleague of mine shared this incredibly moving video in which a priest who has received a terminal diagnosis bids farewell to the priests, seminarians, and women religious surrounding him with prayer and affection.
With birds chirping, the sunlight shimmering, and a gentle breeze blowing, it seems like Heaven was smiling upon this tender and profound occasion.
Father Michael Kottar speaks briefly saying, “In case I die…” What he chooses to say next reveals the clarity of a person of faith approaching death with a sense of what matters ultimately.
Watching the eyes of Fr. Kottar’s young listeners receiving his words with such ardour and brightness makes an impression. We have the sense that the future of which he speaks is being entrusted into good hands.
Not too long ago a thirty-two-year-old, good-looking, intelligent man, full of desire to live a creative life, was asked: “Jim, what are your plans for the future?” And when he answered: I want to work with the elderly and I am reading and studying to make myself ready for that task,” they looked at him with amazement and puzzlement. Someone said, “But Jim, don’t you have anything else to do?” Another suggested, “Why don’t you work with the young? You’ll really be great with them.” Another excused him more or less, saying: “Well, I guess you have a problem which prevents you from pursuing your own career.” Reflecting on these responses, Jim said: “Some people make me feel as if I have become interested in a lost cause, but I wonder if my interest and concern do not touch off in others a fear they are not ready to confront, the fear of becoming an old stranger themselves.”
Commenting on this, Nouwen expounds, “Thus care for the elderly means, first of all, to make ourselves available to the experience of becoming old.” And, in another place he asks, “How can we be fully present to the elderly when we are hiding from our own aging? How can we listen to their pains when their stories open wounds in us that we are trying to cover up?”