Last Monday, All Saints Day, I had a disconcerting experience. I had started writing out my November List of loved ones who had died. One of the first names I always insert is the brother of my granny, on my mother’s side. He had a huge influence on my childhood and early life, and was probably the most influential person in my life, in terms of passing on the faith to me. However, when it came to putting him on the list, my mind went blank. I could remember his surname, but I couldn’t remember his Christian name. I knew it, of course, but I just couldn’t bring it to mind. I went through the alphabet in my head, but still nothing came. I was bordering on panic – how could this possibly happen? In that moment, I had to let it go, and my list went into the box with only his surname inserted. Afterwards, of course, when I wasn’t thinking about it, his name popped into my head. It was Tony. My grand-uncle Tony Farrell – always shortened to Uncle Tony. He was a great man, stern in many ways, and serious, but he was a solid rock of wisdom and generosity in the family, to whom everyone turned in time of trouble, and he was a legend in our parish of St. Simon’s in Partick. I have sometimes heard people say how afraid they were when, sometime after a loved one’s death, they were struggling to remember their face, or to remember the sound of their voice, and yet I know how easily it can happen. But this was the nearest I had come to it myself. It brought home to me the importance of taking all the opportunities we have to remember, and also the wisdom behind the church’s setting aside of a whole month, November, to remember.
At 7 o’clock this morning (Thursday 4th November), Father Gareth set off for Cairnryan to catch the 11.30am ferry to Belfast, and then on to Holy Cross, Ardoyne, to take up his new position as assistant priest in Holy Cross Parish, as well as being the Vocations Director for Ireland. On Tuesday night, after the community had enjoyed some pizza, we all went to our rooms. I was sitting, reading, when suddenly I hear a loud bang, followed by loud shouts of exclamation. I thought something untoward had happened, but it turned out that Father Gareth had taken the notion to open a bottle of prosecco. The cork had exploded out of the bottle and, of course, expanded in the process. Realising that there was no way he could get the cork back into the bottle, he knocked on our doors to ask if we would join him in a glass and help to finish the bottle. Father Gareth is a very, very occasional drinker, so I took this as a desire to sit and have a chat, as his time in the community was rapidly winding down. I don’t like bubbly drinks, so I said I would come down and have a small single malt with him.
Father Justinian, also a very occasional drinker, agreed to a small glass of bubbly. Father Antony, unfortunately, was unable to join us.
Hardly had we begun to chat when I noticed a car outside, whose occupants seemed to be a bit lost, as if searching for some particular house. Our estate is not the easiest to navigate, as pizza delivery people, and others, will testify to. By the time we got to the door, the car had moved on. We settled down again, but then the phone rang. I answered, and it was the people in the car, still lost, but wanting to call on Father Gareth to say their last goodbyes. We directed them to the house and Father Gareth met them at the door and brought them in. Father Justinian and I left them to it and, when I came down the next morning, the bubbly was finished. Father Gareth spent his last day cleaning his room, so as to leave it clear for Father John Varghese to move in, once he is able to come. Such is the life we live. There is not a trace of Father Gareth left in what has been his own personal space for the past five years, but of course, in another sense, his presence will linger with us always. So, for the moment, we are a community of three, facing up to the reality of a quieter house, which won’t be so easy. We will miss him a lot and, today, I am feeling a bit empty and sad.
As ever, protect yourself, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.