COLUMN: Is there anything after this?

IN THE 1980s when I worked as a priest in a town in Fermanagh, I lived next door to a couple who were rather traditional, conservative Catholics.

I wouldn’t have thought of myself as their type of priest as I was a product of the post-Vatican 2 church which for a very brief period flirted with some radical views of liberation theology before traditional orthodoxy was restored by the iron fist of Pope John Paul II.

So I was very surprised when I got a message that I was invited to afternoon tea in their house. When I visited the next day I was offered a gin and tonic instead. It was my first time to try this beverage and I found it to be much superior to afternoon tea. They informed me that their daughter, who was a social worker in London, had terminal cancer and was coming home to die. They said that she was a free spirit and had given up the practice of her religion many years previously. They thought perhaps my more modern presentation might be acceptable to her and they asked that in the event of her being open to some spiritual counsel would I be willing to visit her and tend to her spiritual needs. I told them I would be delighted to do so.

A couple of weeks later the word came that she would like to meet with me. I have little memory of the content of that first conversation but I know that we avoided the subject of religion and her illness. I remember that there was laughter and a connection was made and we concluded the visit with a gin and tonic with her parents. She asked would I bring her Holy Communion daily and so the practice started of me visiting her each afternoon to attend to her spiritual needs which always concluded with a gin and tonic. We didn’t talk much about faith or her impending death as I was only 27 and she was in her early 30s, and such matters were a little beyond us. Then one day she surprised me by asking; “Do you think is there anything there after we die?”

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