I once received a card with the words “You may not always end up where you thought you were going but you will always end up where you are meant to be.” Over the past two months they have had a special relevance for me. I had been expecting to move into a new home since August last year. Delays on the part of the builders meant that it was less than two weeks before Christmas when it finally happened! It should have been a relatively simple exercise because my former home is not that far from my new one. It wasn’t simple at all! The removal men turned up five hours late and when my furniture eventually arrived the bigger items would not fit into the lift! A lot of anger and frustration was vented followed by the kind of bargaining that you would normally only experience in an Arab souk! Finally the furniture was brought up five flights of stairs after which it had to be unpacked and assembled. I am eternally indebted to our Operations Officer, Chris McGowan, and the Society’s Vice-Chairman, Ian Hambleton, for the patience, cheerfulness and practical skills they demonstrated that night which combined to ensure that we could retire to our beds before sunrise. I shall refrain from exposing the individual who felt moved to say at a particularly fraught moment: “I’m convinced that the first thing the Church teaches a new priest is how to look helpless so that someone else will jump in and do the job for him!” I will only say that during the twenty years of my priestly ministry it has always worked! It must be one of the graces of Holy Orders!
Christmas happened in a rather predictable and uneventful way and I had begun preparing myself mentally for what the New Year would bring when my mother fell at home and fractured her pelvis. She was taken in great pain to the John Radcliffe Hospital and transferred just a few days later to a beautiful nursing home on the outskirts of Watlington where she is still convalescing and being wonderfully cared for. The responsibility of looking after my father fell largely to me because my sister lives in York and my brother in Canada. So I found myself driving almost daily between Oxford, Watlington and Bicester (where my parents live) to make sure that they were both okay. Then my father fell and was also taken to hospital although mercifully he was not seriously injured. And finally last week, as my mother was preparing to return home, she suddenly developed a nasty infection which means it will be delayed. She is not in any danger but it will be impossible for her to leave the nursing home until she has fully recovered.
I have recounted all of this not to win public sympathy (although it will be very welcome if it is forthcoming!) but simply to show how sometimes our best laid plans in life can go astray. I remember driving in my car the day after Boxing Day and planning in my mind some of the things that I had to do in the early part of 2019 only to find my life thrown into disarray just an hour or so later. Yet challenging experiences of this kind teach us a lot about ourselves and about the providence of almighty God. A situation which is initially challenging and something of an inconvenience suddenly becomes the one thing that matters above everything else. My brother and sister would join with me in saying how very fortunate we are that both our parents have lived into their late eighties will very few serious health scares. But now we recognise that the time has arrived when they will need much more care and attention than has been the case in the past. Just as when we were young they selflessly cared for us so now they are old the duty of care falls to us.
The readings for the Feast of the Holy Family just a few weeks ago spoke more directly to me this year than they have ever done before.
“Whoever respects his father is atoning for his sins, he who honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune.
Long life comes to him who honours his father,
He who sets his mother at ease is showing obedience to the Lord.”
Parents are a gift from God and we have a duty to cherish them. May the Lord bless them and keep them in this world and the next.