Will There Not Be a Trace Left Behind

‘Are you going away with no word of farewell
‘Will there not be a trace left behind?
Well I could have loved you better, didn’t mean to be unkind,
You know it was the last thing on my mind’

In any experience of closure, of goodbye, of an ending, we are left with the inevitable question, is that it? What remains? Is there anything left, and if so what? When this applied to a person we may speak of legacy, of last will and testimony. How will we be remembered? Or, indeed, will we be remembered.

For many of course their memory will be carried by their children, indeed some go as far as to say they will live on through their children. A few years ago I read somewhere of the psychological benefits of fathering a child, writing a book and planting a tree. It seems that there is a deep need in us to leave something behind. To be remembered. Is it the idea that we cannot bear the thought of being forgotten? Is it the notion of all trace of us being obliterated is too awful? The opening lines here in the rumblings come from a popular, if rather sad, love song,

Last Thing on My Mind

which was covered by a few artists, and arises out of the context of love lost, or at least the impending tragedy of love lost.

I think it’s interesting to explore this in the context of life as a religious or perhaps more more pertinently here, at the moment, in the context of priesthood. Sometimes in the past Sr. Elizabeth was remembered for the trojan work she did in the hospital. Bro. Gillespie will never be forgotten. This type of talk can at times be applied to the life of a priest. However, this is less so today. It is less so today for a couple of reasons. First of all there are fewer priests. As well as this, the days of a priest being in a parish for twenty plus years is more or less a thing of the past. On top of this is the sad but sobering thought that there is quite a change in the way priests are viewed. Of course this is a generalisation but there is a broad truth that in many quarters priesthood is not held in the high regard that it once was. Admittedly some of this is of our own making: whilst some of it is beyond our control. Regardless of how we argue it whilst I acknowledge the terrible stuff we are familiar with I still argue the beauty of priesthood and stand in its defense.

I think in these rumblings, of which there are only two left, as I reflect on my time here in St. Matthew’s, I ask myself what of the relationship between priest and people. I think there may be something unique between pastor and people. I think this uniqueness is made up of the moments when we met in the sacred spaces. Some of these sacred spaces are obvious. The space in the preaching of the Word and the breaking of the Bread. Or the times we met in heartbreak at your beloved’s funeral. Or the fun and the joy of the family wedding. A lot of us met at Baptisms celebrating the great gift of life. Sometimes we met in a short quiet exchange around something that mattered. Of all this what will remain?

Well let’s try and nail it! If its all about me then I have truly failed. If it’s all about me it’s borderline cult. If I believe ‘there’s no show like a Joe show’ then I am in trouble. I need extra prayer. There are people in the cemetery who thought they were indispensable. Not long from now people will say ‘Joe who?’ and so what. That’s not a big deal. What I do hope is that there will be a trace left behind. A whiff, a whisper, a rumble and that, somewhere in that, there will be a little hint of Jesus. If that happens, it will have been all worthwhile.

3 Comments

  1. Rosemary Sinclair Coelho

    Dear Fr Joe,
    I am sorry to hear that you are leaving St Matthew’s Church. A great loss to the parish. I relate totally to your rumblings this week and our need to be remembered but sadly in the world we live in today people move up and on in such a manner that no matter how good you have been, how hard you have worked, how many battles you have fought and won on behalf of people, in the end you are only as good as you were 5 minutes ago. A sad reality. However for my part I can never thank you enough for the care, thought, time and preparation you took to prepare Mam’s funeral Mass back in April 2018. It was a beautiful ceremony and thanks to you a very moving and memorable tribute to a very wonderful and special person. For this I will be forever thankful to you. I wish you every success in your new challenge and I pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide you, to protect you and fill your heart with love for God and know that each time I return to St Matthew’s it will be with memories of some of your enlightening sermons and a beautiful celebration of the life of Mam. Thank you and may God go with you all the days of your life.
    Rose Sinclair

  2. I’ve always imagined that the life of a priest must be more lonely than most . Up at the crack of dawn to say mass and always at everyone’s beck and call during special occasions . Expected to be cheerful but also have the right words to console at sad times . Just remember people may not recall the words you said , but they will always remember how you made them feel . I have some very beautiful memories of good people who have crossed my path in life’s journey and I’m glad to say you are one of them . Father Joe , just know you are loved and will not be forgotten by those that matter. You say you feel that folks have changed their way of thinking about the church and priests . I absolutely agree with you but this is not a bad thing . People who still go to church have a chance to learn about a God of Love and not the God of Fear from years past . This will help us all grow into better Catholics who know how to be of service and spread the word . Godbless you always .

  3. The Talmud, the Jewish Book of Contemplation, says that a life if complete if you plant a tree, write a book, have a child. You, Father Joe, are the tree that offered us shelter and a place to relax, each chapter of your life is an example to all, and you have fathered us with care and compassion. I hope you still have plans to come to St. Christopher’s in Hobe Sound because we miss you too.

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