I have often wished that there was a way to tell people about some of the parishioners with whom I come into contact because, quite often, there are treasures about them that would be good for all to hear. I invariably get to know much about those who have died, and so it is about those that have gone before, that I wish to write.

Take, for instance, Francis Clark. Francis was in a wheel chair all the time I’ve known him. He suffered from a form of multiple sclerosis that had also affected his brother, Hugh, though Hugh died some 20 years ago. Francis could not stand, and mobility came by way of his electric wheel chair. You would see him going up Broadfield Drive, or Fox Lane, for his shopping, and of course coming to Church – often to daily Mass. He was lonely, but cheerful, and very independent. Parishioners have told me how it took him, sometimes, around 15 minutes to take himself to his car, sit in it, put the wheel chair away, oftentimes in the pouring rain that we experience in our beautiful Lancashire. He was not from Lancashire, but from London, and had chosen our Parish, because the Church provided easy wheel-chair access.  He loved his daily prayer and, when possible, daily Mass. He had all the books of the breviary and, the last time I saw him, lying in bed in the Marsh House Nursing Home, he was aware of his illness and full of joy. He confided, once again, his love for the Divine Office, and told me how much he enjoyed the first psalm in the morning.

“Come ring out our joy to the Lord,

Hail the God who saves us.

Let us come before him giving thanks,

with songs let us hail the Lord.”

(Psalm 94 the daily invitation to pray at the beginning of the morning).

With radiance, and an enormous smile – despite his condition, he told me that he felt exultant joy each day as he prayed this first psalm. He was so happy when one of the nurses, sometimes, had time to pray with him.  In heaven, he now will see the reason for his exultant joy. He died last Saturday, quite unexpectedly, aged 67, and is yet to be buried.

Kenneth Hammond was a person I really did not know very well, but was to discover what a treasure he truly was. I loved to see him walking, distractedly, but quite earnestly, up Haig Avenue, because towards the end, he was partially blind: also, in his favourite position, each Sunday at Church by the pulpit, a serious and serene face. He was 90 when he died, and, during the Second World War, he sailed on the Queen Mary to North Africa in his war service. He was a skilled mechanic, trained at the Leyland motors, and spent his time repairing ambulances for the American and the British soldiers. A quiet and unassuming man, he was always ready to support and help others; he loved dancing and dominoes, and was a man of integrity and goodness, devoted also to his God and his Church. He was buried on Tuesday last, and is much missed by his family and by others.

Finally, Barry Forde has just died, and is yet to be buried. He was only 47, and his death was also quite unexpected, occurring as it did on the 22nd of October. Barry was well known to us in the Parish. Most often smiling, he was a large man, prone to severe epileptic fits; often, he was so keen to talk that he could not get his words out fast enough. Barry, I discovered, was not like this from birth.  At the age of 10, he contracted the disease called “encephalitis”, a kind of meningitis that affects the brain; before that he was perfectly healthy, a very good footballer, and a very bright and forward child. He remained a keen footballer.  His fits could occur at any time, and they were so strong in him, that those who did not know him well, could be quite frightened. I remember him serving at Mass and then suddenly keeling over, and I always thanked God for the nurses in the congregation who put him right.

It has been good to meet, personally, his brothers and sister, in all this. Paul, his elder brother, told me a story that says much about Barry. Living near English Martyrs Church, Preston, it happened that one day, a televised international football match, involving England, clashed with a novena going on at Church and his brothers, understandably, were looking forward to the match. Barry, however, chose to go to the novena in church, and they asked him why. “Because I want to”, was his reply.  In the event, it poured with rain, Barry got soaking wet, and he suffered a fit on the way to or from church.  When eventually the neighbours told the family, and they got him sorted out, the brothers exclaimed: “There you are going to church, and look how God treated you – why do you do it?” Barry replied, quite simply, “I love God, that’s why!” His love for God, I can verify, right up to his last moment, and now again, we can be sure that he will have his reward, for his devotion and his love. Life was not easy for him, and he did feel the loneliness and frustration of his condition, but did not feel sorry for himself. He was someone who touched me deeply, beyond words, and there came a moment that will not be forgotten, when after last Sunday’s Mass, with his two brothers and sister-in-law, I found myself sharing, personally, their grief.

The puzzle, and challenge, that remains with me, is how will our present and future generations of ordinary people – like me – and in a sense like Francis, Kenneth and Barry, get to know and love God and his Church? Life seems so different today, in 2009, and I wonder how God will continue to provide us with the robust faith, and robust prayers that will enable us to be like these men, throughout future days? Among other things, we need individuals to inspire us; we need methods of prayer that respond to our needs; we need the desire within to know and love God and our neighbour; we need families of faith or communities of faith, where we can feel at home.

At an inset day with 110 teachers and governors from our schools, at our Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, last Friday 23rd October, we were introduced to different ways of praying. They were imaginative, helpful and engaging. Immersion in the Word of God – experienced and lived – will mean we are united with God. Provided we stay faithful, this will result in us being able to deepen our prayer, and our living, in the way Jesus wishes for us. Jesus did say, “Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you”. Perhaps this is a beginning of a road-map for us to go ahead?