The four of us Lay Missionaries live in the presbytery attached to the St. Joseph’s church in Nechells which is surrounded by cemetery on all sides. The place is very quiet and peaceful, but honestly speaking too, since moving here in March, because of the tomb stones I see all around us, I am often reminded to pray the prayer for souls, “Eternal Rest grant to them oh Lord, let perpetual light shine upon them may they rest in peace. May their souls and the souls of your faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen!”
Many times, people cannot believe that this is the place where we live. The first time we took a taxi home at night, though we told the taxi driver when to turn, he still took the wrong turn. We explained and the driver asked with uncertainty in his voice, “You live here? Here?” We laughed and assured him, “Don’t worry brother we are humans!”
Before I joined the Columban Lay Missionaries, I read an article dated more than 12 years ago, that explained that in the early church, all believers were called saints. This fact was also mentioned in the “Sunday Plus” 9th of October issue of the parish magazine, distributed in our current church St. Josephs. Nowadays we only think of Saints as those who died and are officially canonized by the Pope, but in the early church it refers to all believers of Jesus Christ, both the living and the dead.
Having that definition of a Saint in the early church in my mind, when we were informed that St. Josephs presbytery would be vacant and we were asked if we were willing to live there, I had the courage to raise my hand and to say YES. I’d been praying to St. Joseph for a few months prior to this whilst we were looking for somewhere new to live because the landlord of the house we were renting at that time was planning to sell it. To me, the name of the place itself was a confirmation that St. Joseph indeed helped us and had provided a place for us to stay, in a similar way that he did for Jesus and Mother Mary.
Sometimes people say, ” You do not have neighbours where you live”. To me, the Saints and the departed faithful that surround us are our neighbours, surely as we pray for them, they are praying for us too. Our house is attached to the church and so Jesus is our next-door neighbour! Jesus resurrected, He and his believers are actually alive, for how can He speaks to Moses and Elija in the Mount of Transfiguration if they are dead or sleeping.
For the four of us Lay Missionaries who live together in the presbytery, with all honestly, we know we may not be saints that will be canonized by the Pope. Just like the apostles of Jesus in the Bible, sometimes we have moments of bliss in our journey together, and sometimes we have challenging moments too, but I trust that in His time, Jesus will complete the good works He started in each of us, though the faith in our heart might be small like a mustard seed. With that thought, and the definition of ‘Saint’ in the early church, I believe, I am living with saints inside the house too as well as outside our house.
Reflecting on the tombstones that surround our house, to me is a constant reminder of God and to be humble and embrace my mortality. Therefore, as the missionary Etienne de Grellet, once said, “I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” May God give me the grace to consistently apply it in my life before I join the believers of Jesus on the other side.