They will condemn him to death Matthew 20.18
My father died at the age of 71, the very age that I have arrived at now. Like every other life on this earth my father’s life was a journey through good times and bad. At the end of his days he would sit in his chair at his fireside at peace with himself and happy to be where he was, retired and looked after by mammy and with his four children up in the world and all doing well. He loved being alive every day. He enjoyed studying his horses and seeing how they ran for him. He kept an eye on the world and if asked would give you a quiet and considered opinion on the events taking place in the world. He knew the difference between right and wrong and he knew how deceitful the ways of the world could be. He understood human weakness and was able to marry justice and mercy very well. He has left me an example to think about today, an example to follow.
My father’s life involved the evils of poverty, unemployment, low wages, world war and ill health. There is a lot of injustice in those realities and my father knew them all. But his life also involved the joy of a good family, the guidance of faith in God, the blessing of a good marriage and the happiness of children. He enjoyed the simple fresh air, especially when breathing it in the holiday times he spent in County Mayo. He died in March 1988, thirty years ago this year, and I have thought about him every day since then. I often feel his spirit close to me and hear his voice as he encourages me in my own life now.
The encouragement for life calls me to persevere in the goodness of life right to the end. That is the issue. We are told today that Jesus knew what his end would be – a cruel death on a cross – and yet he carried on living the life he was set on. He did not want to die or to meet such a cruel fate, but neither could he hide from who he was. To hide would be to stop living your own life. When we do that we stop living.
Our own life is something that we grow into as the days and years go by. That life is shaped, through the good things and the bad things, that happen to us, as well as by the choices we try to make for ourselves according to our lights. For many people life is also badly damaged by the harm done to them by people who seek to exploit them. But through it all the human spirit seeks the light and the fresh air of freedom.
The success of our life cannot be measured by the amount of happiness that we achieved, as though happiness was some sort of commodity for us to get. So much of life is not in our control. The great danger for any of us is to lose hope for our own life and to fall into despair. That can happen to any of us.
In a Thought for Today, on BBC Radio 4, Angela Tilby spoke of a doctor working in Syria who won’t leave that place despite the bombing, because it is his home and his world and his people and his streets. I do not know if he is still alive, Angela said, but he witnesses to us the importance of living our lives where we are. We cannot hide and we should not run a way from our lives. We must face into the day every day. The evil that can cause us to despair can be met with something greater in the quiet of every human heart, and that is our willingness to be faithful to goodness in our lives even until death.
My father teaches me this lesson every day when I think of him. At his graveside this year, which I will visit soon, I will thank him again for the brilliant example he has given me about how to live life. I can sum it all up in the name of two horses that he backed in the course of his life. One was Never Say Die and the other, the last horse he ever marked, was Fervent Hope.
28 February 2018