The shift from doing to being
All Souls' Day, 2 November, 2006
Fr Tat Hean Lie, St Peter's, Eastern Hill
In celebrating All Souls we are reminded once again that in the midst of life we face death. Earlier today while I was at the Freemason Hospital, Fr John had to attend the death of a gentleman who used to be quite regular here at St Peter's until his physical condition would no longer permit him to come.
This reminded me of an encounter I once had with a member of the nursing staff after attending the bedside of a dying person. The young nurse said: "I have seen a few deaths, probably not as many as you, but I can't imagine how I would face my own. How do you think you would face your own death?" Since she was a young girl and I am a 63-year-old man, I didn't think that her question was impertinent.
I said that I am not sure, but that my faith journey started well over 50 years ago when, after my eldest brother died at a very young age, a bunch of people from the church came to care and grieve with my mother and my father. It was through their pastoral ministry that we came to faith. And that was the beginning of the journey that has taken me where I am today, a hospital chaplain. Before my mother died, I asked her what was it that those people did or said that brought her to faith. My mother said, she was not sure, she couldn't remember what they did or even what they said, but she could still remember who they were. They were kindly, loving, Godly people. My mother instinctively felt that the Spirit of God lives in them the Spirit of love, joy, peace, gentleness, forgiveness, courage, perseverance, hope and faith.
All this, is to show that the real question before our own death is not: "How much can we still accomplish, or how much influence can we still exert?" but "How can we so live that we can continue to be fruitful when we are no longer here among our family and friends?" That question shifts our attention from doing to being. Our doing may bring success, or at least some result, but our being bears fruit. The great paradox of our lives is that while we are often very concerned about what we do, or still can do, we are most likely to be remembered for who we were.
If it was the Spirit that guided our lives the Spirit of love, joy, peace, gentleness, forgiveness, courage, perseverance, hope and faith that Spirit will not die but will continue to grow from generation to generation.
The great challenge for us is that while the society in which we live, keeps asking for the tangible results of our lives, we must gradually learn to trust that the results of our lives may or may not prove to be significant, but that what really counts are the fruits that they bears.
As I grow older and weaker, I will be able to do less and less. Both my body and my mind will become weaker. My eyes will move closer to the book I want to read and my ears closer to the neighbour I am trying to understand. My failing memory will lead me to repeat my jokes more often, and my decreasing ability to reflect critically will turn me into a less interesting conversation partner. Nonetheless, I trust that in my weakness God's Spirit will manifest itself and that from my deteriorating body and mind, God's Spirit will move where it wants and bear fruit.
And so my death will indeed be a rebirth. Something new will come to be, something about which I cannot say or think much. It lies beyond my own chronology. It is something that will last and carry on from generation to generation. In this way, I will become a father, I will become new parent, a parent of the future.
"This is an odd thing for an old bachelor like me to be telling a young girl like you, don't you think, nurse?" I said. She smiled and replied, "But there is a lot of truth in it, isn't there?"
The Lord be with you.
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.