"It is a January morning in County Kerry. The Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of the craggy islands below me, is roiled with whitecaps and angry palisades of water crashing against the tiny islets in their rocky midst. The windstorms of the last two nights have drenched the hills… It is an average Kerry winter day.
But not average for some. In the last two days of rocking, howling wind, five Irish fishermen and their trawler have been reported missing at sea. This morning, they were pronounced dead, the sea too wild yet to even attempt to recover their bodies.
Who they were, how old they were, I do not know. But one thing I do know: life and time are ghosted creatures for all of us. Some of us, like the fishermen caught in a season’s windstorm, leave it by surprise. Most of us, like you and me, inch our way though life, sure… that it will never end, (yet) certain that it will."
(The Gift of Years, Joan Chittister, DLT, London, 2009 – page vii)
In a supposedly un-shockable era, we still manage to be completely bowled over, stunned by the untimely death of celebrity figures whether iconic musicians like Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse or Michael Jackson; actors like Heath Ledger; sports champions like Dan Wheldon, or news-stopping tragedies like the death of Princess Diana. Even the most hard-hearted or unthinking of people could scarcely fail to be forced by death into thinking about life. A consumer-society, a secularist culture might prefer us not to think too much, certainly not to think of life-and-death issues and absolutely not in terms of God, faith or Christian community. However, maybe our natural instincts take over, because so often when we emerge from the shock of death, we re-evaluate life and we even reconsider the values of God’s gift of life to us in Christ. A Christian life, a journey spent in the company of Christ, a life-time given to seeking Christ in others and sharing Christ with others – that might just give a dimension to living that starts to make sense; the sense of grace and blessing. No life is too long for all the graces God has to shower upon us; no life so short that it fails to bring the miracle of God’s blessing to us.
Shock and horror at unexpected departures from life can simply leave us numb and perplexed. A life spent expecting to meet Christ and share Christ with others might shock also – it might just shock others into really living life, rather than being constantly overawed by death.
Fr. John Hughes