The death of a brother priest

The sudden death of Fr Warren Fowler last Monday sent shock waves, not unlike the earthquakes weve had this week, through the priests of the archdiocese and among the people Fr Warren served.

The sudden death of Fr Warren Fowler last Monday sent shock waves, not unlike the earthquakes weve had this week, through the priests of the archdiocese and among the people Fr Warren served.

Many of you will be among those saddened by his death. He was here at Ss Peter & Paul parish for six years from 1982 to 1988 and over recent years was assisting the hospital chaplain at Avalon parish.

The death of a priest, for other priests, is the death of a brother someone you have come to know over many years of working and meeting with him, listening to him, learning from him, arguing and laughing with him, and, above all, sharing a ministry that is unique and sacred, and for life.

The death of a priest is cause for other priests to pause on their journey, and to reflect on the value, purpose and direction of their own priesthood.

A priest spends much of his time with people who are upset, afraid, worried about things in their life; many of them are facing crises like a broken relationship, or unemployment, or terminal illness.

A priest meets dying and death in many forms and tries to be there for his people in whatever theyre going through.

Often hes able to relate his own situation to the joy or hope or disaster hes dealing with; but I think it takes the death of a brother priest to remind him specifically of his own mortality.

Parishioners know their priest is human; but they dont want him to be or at least they dont allow him to be. They want the priest to be their anchor, their rock, their all-weather guide; to be a calming influence, a rallying point.

But, when a priest dies, his brother priest is given a clear signal that his humanity is no greater than the humanity of those he serves.

Todays gospel (Mt 4:16-23) presents us with a Jesus on the move. He leaves his home in Nazareth and begins ministry.

The gospel writer sees him as fulfilling the prophecy we met in the first reading: the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light (Is 9:1).

In his life of self-giving Jesus would remove the veil that blocked peoples view of one another preventing them from seeing both the goodness in themselves and just how close they were to each other.

Jesus knew that the ignorance of not appreciating our need of one another, is like living in the shadow of death (Mt 4:16).

It turns us inward to selfishness, and closes us off from others in fear.

In my priesthood, journeying with people, I have learned that it is impossible to live without love.

I try to help people make this discovery for themselves. Every priest does this, each in his own way, and Warren Fowler was no exception.

Pope John Paul reinforced this some years ago when he wrote that life is senseless if love is not revealed to us, (Redemptor Hominis 1979) and urged priests to make this their goal.

In our ministry we are to help people encounter love, experience it and to make it their own. This is to bring light into darkness. The light might be hope, or forgiveness or a kind and sympathetic presence. It might be a listening ear, or a bedside prayer, or a gentle caution.

We can reveal love to others even with our own unrest, uncertainty or weakness or sinfulness, because these are part of who we are. Dont let the rubbish and upsets in your life become obstacles on your way to Jesus.

Bring the whole of yourself to him and, in the words of Pope John Paul, you will bear fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deep wonder at yourself.

Phyllis Whiteman told me a lovely story about Warren Fowler. While he was here he recounted a meeting with an elderly Irish lady in hospital. She was dying and Warren asked her if she was worried about anything.

She assured him she wasn’t. Not even about dying, or about meeting God? Oh not about dying, Father, and not about meeting God. Sure I know Hell be glad to see me!

Phyllis hoped Warren remembered that story as he walked into heaven. Its a story for all of us priest and people to know that God cares deeply for us in spite of our unworthiness. That’s the light that will scatter every darkness. And that’s the story every priest lives to tell.

by Fr James Lyons

Sts Peter and Paul parish, Lower Hutt