Every now and again things happen that make me think “Yes, I am a real priest now… Yippee!” …But the things that trigger such thoughts can be slightly nonsensical. Once I was asked to represent all the Interfaith Ministers of Sussex, by doing a reading at a large public service. In that moment I felt that I was a real minister, and had finally arrived, even though it just involved saying a few words into a microphone and then standing beside the local archbishop, who behaved as if I was invisible, while the expression on his face looked as if I had let off a bad smell. The trouble is, it’s ego stuff that trip those moments of super-self-belief. Let’s face it, ego stuff is proof of nothing other than the need to be patted on the head, to be told that one’s “a good little girl”… because I haven’t progressed greatly (in some departments) much beyond the age of five.
I won’t deny the pleasure that such ego trips can provide, particularly if I know that what I did gave pleasure or inspired others. The other day I received a phone call from a young woman who was the Human Anatomy Technical Coordinator of Cambridge University. She asked if she could use my reading – And Rest – for their forthcoming service at Great St Mary’s for the friends and families of donors to the University. This really moved me, because it’s a short, good reading that says a lot about the nature of death, and how it affects us. If I was ever brave enough to take some of the readings from Funerals Today to a publisher, this might be a favourite.
Recently something quite different happened that reminded me of my role as a priest. A funeral director asked me to do a funeral for a lovely woman who had died in her 50s. Her daughter and mother were grief stricken – it was very sad. She had been a nurse, and was clearly a very lovely woman. He elderly mother was a devout Catholic but she and her daughter were not religious in the traditional sense – but believed in life after death. The daughter and I spent a long time finding the right readings, and two of the readings from The Bible were agreed— but then to her surprise her grandmother showed no interest in The Bible readings, so she wanted them removed from the service. I really didn’t want to take out Corinthians 13, 1-3, because the deceased clearly understood what love was about. Then the daughter’s best friend, who happened to be there, supported me saying “that was the reading I had at my wedding, it is so beautiful, you must have it,” so we left it in. A day or two ago I got a text from the daughter. Going through her mother’s things she had found a beautiful copy of the Corinthians reading, in colour, beautifully presented; she wrote back to me with gracious thanks… “it was so right.”
Corinthians 13, Verses 1 to 3.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but haven’t love… then I have become just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal… an annoying distraction. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all the mysteries, and have all knowledge; and if I have all the faith needed to move mountains, but don’t have love, I’m nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but don’t have love, it does me no good at all. Love endures with patience and serenity, love is kind and thoughtful, and it’s not jealous or envious; love doesn’t brag and is not proud or arrogant. Love isn’t rude; it’s not self-seeking, it’s not provoked, nor is it over sensitive and easily angered; it doesn’t take into account a wrong endured. It doesn’t rejoice at injustice, but it does rejoice with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.
Love never fails.. it never fades nor ends. But as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for the gift of special knowledge, it will pass away; for we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is complete and perfect arrives, that which is incomplete and partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I did away with childish things. For now we see life like a blurred reflection in a mirror, as if everything is a riddle, or a mystery, but then when the time of perfection comes – we will see reality face to face.
What I know now is in fragments, but what I will come to know will be complete, just as I have been fully known all my life, by God. And now there remains: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of all of these is love.