A book I often have quoted from is ‘Tuesday’s with Morrie’ which relates the story of how an American sports journalist renews his relationship with his former College professor.
His old teacher is terminally ill and every Tuesday the two friends meet as Morrie passes on the lessons and wisdom he has leant from his journey through life.
These life lessons are at the heart of the book and I’ve quoted them for both weddings and funerals. Morrie, ever the mentor, wishes to equip his friend with the valuable knowledge he has gained through the many experiences and events which have shaped his life.
As an older man he desires to pass on some of his own thoughts and feelings in an attempt to help the younger man to deal with the joys, struggles, celebrations and tragedies we encounter through our lifetimes. Even though Morrie is dying he wishes to reach out to help and guide others.
At an early stage in my ten years of priesthood I must have mentioned ‘Tuesday’s with Morrie’ more times than Ron Rolheiser because on one occasion the father of a family with whom I would be friends lent me the film.
It stars Jack Lemon, that’s all I can tell you even though I have the DVD about six years. The reason I mention the film is simple, I was in with the family recently on the occasion of the death of one of their sons.
As is the norm at wakes in Derry the banter and the stories ensured a life was celebrated and not just mourned. His mother was recounting her last experience with death when her mother died slightly over a year ago.
Her own mother was terminally ill and having a large family, each of the children as best they could took in turns to stay with their mother. This nightly vigil continued over many months as they cared for their mother and made her last months as comfortable as possible, surrounded by those who loved her.
On one occasion as the woman was staying with her mother they decided to watch a film, at this point I was reminded that the film she was going to watch with her mother was ‘Tuesday with Morrie’ but she lent it out to someone six years ago and haven’t seen it yet. To my shame they had given up hope of its return and one of her children bought a new copy of the film.
In my defence I did suggest I had done her a favour because the film in question which focused on a dying man coming to terms with his death might not be the best of movies to watch with her terminally ill mother.
At this point she confessed: ‘Well, wait to hear what I did’. Instead I decided we would watch the film called the ‘Bucket List’. In case you don’t know this movie concerns two dying men who comprise a list of things to do before they die.
As the film develops and the men are diagnosed and told they only have months to live, the mother looks at her daughter and says: “Are you taking the hand, is this your idea of a laugh?”
On a weekend when we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday or Vocations Sunday we acknowledge all those people, parents, grandparents, friends and neighbours with whom we have shared this journey through life and who have given of their very selves so we could have a better life.
The sacrifices they have made and their generosity, openness, compassion and their willingness to reach out and help are the great examples of what a true shepherd is.
These are the people we celebrate who through their care and devotion, through their honesty, humility and example have manifested and made real the presence of God. During the most difficult and trying of times we appreciate all the more those people who have helped us to carry our burdens of sorrow and grief.
We give thanks to the men and women who reached out to help and support us, when due to our mistakes and failures we were left alone and afraid. We remember those people who welcomed us when every other door was shut and slapped in our face.
I’m conscious that as a priest I need to learn from all those people who refused to abandon others to their plight. Instead they had the courage and the generosity to reach out and search for the lost. The women and men who refused to give up on others and who on many occasions carried those who had strayed on the back of their shoulders.
These simple and profound actions have the power to change people’s lives because they reveal God’s love; they make real God’s healing and forgiveness. Each of us in our own way has been called to be shepherds, to offer our lives in the service of others.
Allowing others to learn from our experiences and the lessons we have gained, helping all of us to see and understand the hand of God at work in our lives. We need to recognise the voice of the Good Shepherd in our lives and have the courage to respond to his call and to follow where he leads.
What does God ask of us today, what vocation has he asked us to embrace and how will we respond to his love?