Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote a fictional account of a young convert to Catholicism based on his own life. He entitled it Loss and Gain. in many of our own lives we face that title in a number of ways. We have moments of joy when we celebrate the Sacraments of Initiation with our parish children and convert adults; at the birth of children; at a new or better employment opportunity; at our first home.
But we also face loss, and this half of the title is the more difficult. And what do we do with it. How is it expressed and how does it change us? Loss can be if employment and position in society. It can be financial, or more frequently, the loss of friends and loved ones through death.
St Maximilian Kolbe lost a great deal when he entered the Franciscans to follow Christ in service and poverty through the example of St Francis of Assisi. But he continued this loss when arrested by the Gestopo and sent to Auschwitz Concentration Camp where he later died. His loss was complete. In the jail inside the concentration camp at the moment of execution even ones clothes are taken. Loss is complete even to the loss of life.
I wrote previously of the shock of the loss of a friend from university who was a wife and mother of two children. I discovered her obituary when searching the Internet for news of friends. And I wrote as well about the death of Black, a singer from the 1980s whose music I liked very much and was my own age.
A few days ago a priest I knew from my time living and working in Washington, DC had died. He was 50 and died of cancer. Even though I felt this I was not shocked this time because of the foreknowledge of the disease. But a loss it was the same. And I wondered if there was ever a gain from this and other deaths? From this period of reflection I came to understand that I gained from this priest’s life. He had given to me from his loyalty, knowledge and love of people.
This priest was Fr Joseph Cazenavette of Louisiana who worked for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in their legal office. He had previously worked for in the United States AirForce for the Judge Advocate General. I lived at the USCCB Staff House in Washington where I met Fr Joseph. We had many discussions after meals and in drives to the Metro Station.
I was most touched by when he collected me from the station one day in very heavy rains. On the way he saw a lady at a bus stop and asked her if she would life a lift. She accepted and after introductions, though I don’t remember her name, he referred to he as Miss plus her first name. It was a lovely way of giving respect without overly formalizing the moment. And was reflection of his polite Southern culture. His was an example of the kindness of a stranger. He had a very generous heart.
It was a gain for me to have known Fr Joseph, and in knowing him gained for myself. Yes there is loss in our lives – but there is also immense gain if are prepared to see it.
“The heart is a secret with its Maker; no one on earth can hope to get at it or to touch it”
John Cardinal Newman