Every evening at supper the names of our brethren who had died the previous day were read and a summary given of their lives. They were fascinating. Some of the men had lived quiet lives in parishes or schools, some had had adventurous lives in the African and South American Missions, others had been in the same place all their lives.
It was good to be reminded of these good men who had offered themselves to God in the religious life. Their faith, their readiness to go wherever they were sent, to do whatever they were asked, were examples that we knew as students we were expected to follow. Obedience means we go where and when asked. It can be hard. The first week of January had a huge number of deaths of our brethren. Extraordinary. The days after Christmas. Why?
The question arises for us in today’s Britain. We are told that the day in the year for largest number of deaths is 6th January. It stands out. Sixth of January. Why?
Some reason that people want to celebrate a last Christmas and see in the New Year with their loved ones, but then there is nothing in particular to look forward to except cold dark days and long nights.
We all know we need to want to be alive to keep on living. Our loved ones, our good work for others, motivate us. Pain, loneliness, meaninglessness, rob life of its joy. We need others, to love and be loved; we need interests to keep mind and heart alive; we need to be needed, we need to know others want us to be here.
We also need to look forward, to hope, to anticipate, to look forward to tomorrow. The Night Prayer of the Church looks forward to the next day as an image of Jesus’ resurrection after the peace of sleep that closed yesterday, and asks God’s blessing on what the following day may bring to us and our loved ones.
The life and joy and strains and tensions of Christmas and the New Year tire us – and we need new life, new motivation. For the elderly and ill, for the homeless and lonely and sad there is little. What can we do? Good people in our society sense the longings and show us example in helping others, inviting us to join them.
Two early January days stand out in the British calendar: 3rd is the day each year which has the highest number of divorce petitions lodged: 6th is the day of the largest number of deaths. Christmas and New Year is sad for a number of families. We pray for them and for ourselves.
God bless us all,
(6th January 2019)