Sunday, June 1, 2014

funeral address: Leslie Booth, RIP

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

When someone who is much loved dies, there is a natural tendency to focus on the best parts of the person's character and to edit out their all too human flaws and failings – to all intents and purposes to canonise the person, to make them a saint in our memories. It is not something I tend to encourage – it is far better to remember the person as they really are, than as we would like them to have been - but in Leslie's case I would be inclined to accept that there was very little difference between the ideal and the reality.

I have, for example, yet to encounter anyone who when speaking about Leslie did not describe him as a sweet and lovely man – the medical staff and chaplains at St Luke's, all those who looked after him in the local hospital, and particularly his family and neighbours. Now Leslie was a man who was full of years, and it is often the case that a person may mellow as they get older, so that someone who was in some ways a little unpleasant to be around in their youth and middle years may by the time they are old and grey have acquired a far more saintly disposition. However, I have spoken with those who knew him as a child, his sisters Olive and Gladys, and they speak of a boy with a mischievous sense of humour who loved to tease – a trait he never lost – but who was always kind and considerate; I have spoken with those who knew him as a man, his nephews Desie, Bobbie, Reggie, his niece Olive – for whom he was part of the fabric of the 'homeplace' as they were growing up, and they speak of someone who was like a second father to them – and a good father, at that. And I've spoken with some of his grand-nieces and nephews – Georgina, Amanda, and Desmond – and I know that they thought of him as another grandfather.

He may lose a few points in the 'saints stakes' for not only teaching young Desmond how to drive the tractor but letting him drive it around the fields on his own, much to the dismay of his mother, Doreen; and he might lose a few more for some of his own driving practices – when I arrived in the parish and met him first I asked him if he was still driving; he told me 'Oh aye – I go back and forth to the post office in Crettyard to get a few bits and pieces' … it wasn't until after I found out that what he was driving was his old tractor, which was not, shall we say, fit and ready for inspection should he have been stopped by the local constabulary … but I think we can put that down to his sense of fun and the mischievous sense of humour that he never lost his whole life through.

But of course when we talk about a person being saintly, we mean much more than their simply being a good person, we are talking about whether they are a holy person, someone who was in a loving relationship with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Was Leslie a holy person? All here knew him for many years before I did, and perhaps are better equipped to answer that question than I am. For my own part I can only think of the quiet and simple reverence he showed when I visited him for home Communions, the prayerful way he followed the service, and the humble manner in which he took the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ; I think too of the last time he and I prayed together. I was at the community hospital when he was brought in Thursday afternoon; Doreen followed a few minutes after; we chatted a bit, with Leslie very weak but still well able to follow the conversation even if he wasn't saying much; and before I left I suggested we say the Lord's prayer together. The image of Leslie lying in the bed, eyes closed, whispering the words the Lord himself taught us, at times almost silently, is one that speaks to me of a quiet faith that endured to the end, of a gentle and everyday holiness.

And so I think that as far as it is possible for humble country rector to speak of such things, we may think of Leslie as a holy man; one who is now gone to one of the many mansions that Christ promised to those who loved him and were obedient to his teaching; that he is now in that place where tears and suffering are no more; and that, if we follow his example of holy living ourselves, we may one day see him again as we join with him there ourselves.

To him who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls, by whose wounds we are healed, and who is with us always until the end of the ages, be glory now and forever. Amen. 

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