I learned today of the sudden death of an elderly gentleman in my parish. I knew him only by his first name, Dennis, and by the air of prayerfulness which emanated from him. These two told me all I needed to know. We only ever met in our parish Church, and usually we were the only two people there; we are blessed to have a Church whose doors remain unlocked during the day, and I visit the Church whenever I have a spare moment, usually to pray my Rosary before the Tabernacle.
Often, on these occasions, I would see Dennis; he would be sitting at the front of the Church, near the altar of the Blessed Virgin, reading his Bible or some other spiritual reading. If he was there before me, I had to be careful approaching him as I didn’t want to startle him. We would say hello, exchange pleasantries at the Church door but otherwise each remain silent before the Lord. Several times we met in the street outside and here I learned a little about his life. Over the last couple of years, our paths have crossed many times in this way and in that same place each time, to the point where as I entered the Church I would wonder if he was already there or if he would arrive a little later. If I hadn’t seen him for a while, I would be concerned to know if he was well, and relieved when next we met.
Dennis was a quietly holy man; deeply spiritual in the proper sense of that word, his spirituality focussed on the Lord in the Tabernacle and on His Word. He had an air of quiet and humble holiness and I could feel this emanating from him as clearly as I can feel the sunshine streaming in through a window. In the silence of that Church, this gentle, courteous, elderly man spent his hours praying before the Lord. Sometimes he would tell me as we were leaving that he was going into the city for the evening Mass in another Church he was fond of – in fact, the one where his funeral will take place in a few days’ time. I occasionally wondered about the full story of Dennis’ life, how he came to be who he became. I looked up to him, and I learned something wonderful from him.
Reading all this, it may perhaps seem that Dennis was a singular type of man, an uncommon man, perhaps even an unusual man. I think that is partly true, but only partly so. Dennis was unusual in the sense that this is not what is expected of a man in the 21st century, when the pull of the earthly world is strong and the current of the times moves in a particular direction. Dennis was a sign of contradiction. I suspect that although he was living in the world, he was not really ‘of’ the world. His eyes were fixed elsewhere, as was his heart. His heart belonged to Another.
Singular, uncommon, unusual though this may sound, I don’t think Dennis was really that unusual or that uncommon at all. On the contrary, I think there are a great many similar people – people who are not really ‘of’ the world – and I think they are all around us. If I have known one, then so have you. Reading my words may even remind you of such a person in your own life, either now or in times past.
Such people are, I think, the unknown and unsung heroes of our day, perhaps even the great saints of our times. They hold and support all of us in their prayers, even though we do not know it. St Louis de Montfort, writing three hundred years ago, foretold that one day people such as these would be raised up; he, too, said there would be many such people. I think he was right.
Tonight, I light a candle for Dennis. My heart is filled with sadness at his death, but also with joy that he has gone now to the place where I believe his heart has been for a long time. He has been in my thoughts and in my prayers all day long and he will remain there for a long time to come. I give thanks to the Merciful Lord that I was allowed to know a little about this man. And I ask his prayers.
And if you have read this far, I would be so bold as to ask your prayers, too, for the repose of the soul of Dennis.
Our Lady, Star of the Sea, pray for him.
Saint Joseph, pray for him.