Whether it was instinct, insight or intuition I do not know. But I do know that I felt deep within me the urge to call Mumbai. The local time there was well past nine at night and that is not the time usually, I personally like to receive telephone calls myself. Family and friends know my life pattern and should they call me after nine they would find me talking to them in my sleep! My priest friends back home wrote me off as an invitee to late evening clerical get-togethers and teasingly called me a monk who retired and rose early. And at the Vatican where I worked, being invariably the first to arrive in the morning to unlock and open the doors of the offices of the Pontifical Council for Culture formerly located at Piazza San Callisto, I was referred to as gallo, a rooster! Orientals do rise early for the sun rises in the east. But that night when I called Mumbai I do not know what overcame and overwhelmed me. I needed to telephone. I am so glad I did!
I was calling I at home. While we spoke for just a few moments she asked whether she could pass the telephone to her brother A. I readily agreed. In the throes of disability himself, he was alert as ever, as he expressed his pleasure that Springs in the Desert, my earlier work, had been successfully launched some weeks back. The greatness and goodness of the man! I remember having visited the family ere I left Mumbai to return to Wales when I asked him to bless me. I come from a culture where the elderly are not only respected but revered. I myself treat them with near veneration. I have felt more than embarrassed at times when young people back home particularly from non-Christian backgrounds touch my feet. They do so not because I am a priest but because I have long surpassed the span of three score and ten assigned by holy writ to weak earthly mortals. In his humility, A on that home visit did bless me. Would it be the final blessing?
Little did I know that my telephone call conversation that night with A would be the last. The following day, I tried calling me back but did not succeed as I was away on ministry. Finally, she did. From the very first words and the tone of her voice I knew that something had happened as she sounded burdened with grief. “A passed away peacefully a few hours later” she said, her voice understandably choked with feeling. I listened and assured her and the family of my prayer and offered the following day’s mass for him. One of the aches in my heart every time I take leave of Mumbai to resume the mission entrusted to me in Wales is to know that some of those whom I visited while on vacation would be no more when I come down again!
One feels utterly helpless as a missionary being thousands of miles away, to be physically close to those dear to one’s heart in moments of struggle, sickness and suffering, unable to offer any practical help. But prayer, I am convinced, is the bond that keeps us together and the space that keeps us apart. I kept pondering that telephone call. We have such a tenuous hold on life. Do we not? And there could be so many “last times” and “final blessings” in our daily routine and relationships! How more beautiful our world would be, if we reached out to one another with selfless care, concern and compassion! The Lord provides us every day with so many opportunities to do good. We never know which could be our last encounter with persons. If only we could grab them to receive a final blessing! I need to learn that every time I deal or interact with another person, it could very well be the last time.
Sad though I felt on A’s passing away, I felt happy to have had that last conversation with him. I am glad I did call. It would seem that at times following one’s instinct and intuition is better than being guided by reason. Having said what he did, in that conversation on the telephone, A left for eternity. Sharing the grief of the family, A left me even more with his final blessing!