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Thought for the week - 7 July 2024

Today, my friends, I want to begin this letter by paying tribute to my friend, colleague and assistant priest Father Paul Smith.

Fr Paul joined our community a few years ago, after his retirement form full time parish ministry and he and Ruth lived right by our church – indeed, I suspect their house is closer to the church than the Vicarage is!

Fr Paul was a loyal colleague and friend, always interested in talking through ideas and offering his thoughts on them (which were generally along the lines of ‘well you’re obviously going to do it anyway, just let me know how I can help’) and impishly working out in his mind whether innovation would annoy anyone he wasn’t terribly keen on or not, particularly in regards to the wider Diocese and Church. Reserved in his opinions about the parish, he was a constant source of information and amusement regarding others, and had a long and detailed memory of people and places, which clearly endeared him to many people in the parishes and areas he served.

Paul emailed me before I came here and said ‘I probably won’t be much use, as I’m going for a major operation and I don’t know how it will go, but I will support you in any way that I can’ – and he did, without fail. It is poignant that he recovered from that operation and had ups and downs with pain and mobility but pulled through time and time again, and then pulled through his most recent operations after his fall only to be defeated by another infection.

We will all miss him, may he Rest in Peace.

The life of the Church is just that – a life. We mourn the loss of Fr Paul, yet we look to the coming Baptisms with joy, as well as Bastille Night, Fr Josh’s ‘First Mass’ and all our other events. Towards he end of Act IV of Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’, Lear looks upon the face of his sole loyal daughter, Cordelia, who he had feared dead, and says to her;

‘You do me wrong to take me out o' th' grave. Thou art a soul in bliss; but I am bound Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears Do scald like molten lead.’

And we may sometimes feel that life is a continual repetition of tragic events, a wheel of fire, which we cannot escape from. At the end of the play, Lear, in his dying moments exclaims;

‘Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, And thou no breath at all? Thou'lt come no more, Never, never, never, never, never! Pray you undo this button. Thank you, sir. Do you see this? Look on her! look! her lips! Look there, look there! He dies.’

In the agonies of his death, Lear beholds his daughter Cordelia, now dead, beckoning him to the life yet to come, and in response to courtiers trying to rouse his now dead body, the Earl of Kent says;

‘Vex not his ghost. O, let him pass! He hates him That would upon the rack of this tough world Stretch him out longer.’

And I remember Fr Paul facing his final two trials and passing through them, responding to the administration of the Last Rites with complete faith in the world yet to come, and much as I wish he was still here, the words of the Earl of Kent may yet have rung true had he faced a partial recovery which would have taken more strength than he had. Sometimes, the vision of heaven is stronger than the will to live, and it maybe takes a priest of Fr Paul’s experience and deep faith to teach us that – to show us the way to the Father.

This final exchange from the end of Lear is a poignant one, the Earl of Kent says;

‘I have a journey, sir, shortly to go. My master calls me; I must not say no.’

To which, ending the play, the Duke of Albany replies;

‘The weight of this sad time we must obey, Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. The oldest have borne most; we that are young Shall never see so much, nor live so long.’

May Fr Paul and all the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.


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