Some months ago, a migrant friend here in Hong Kong texted me with the request that the Columbans hold her husband’s ashes in our chapel until she could bring them back to his home country for burial in the family plot.
I was surprised that she did not want to keep the ashes in the house where she and her husband had lived for many years. When I asked her about this, she told me that she had no difficulty in doing so. However, many of her neighbours would not come to visit her if they knew that her husband’s ashes were in the house, since they believed that it might bring them misfortune.
I understood, then, her dilemma and readily agreed to hold her husband’s ashes in the Columban chapel. Jesus’ disciples hadn’t prepared a grave for him since his violent death was unexpected. Moreover, the fact that the day following his crucifixion was a High Sabbath meant that there was no time to explore various burial options. Something had to be done and done fast.
At that moment, Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus, came to the rescue. Not only did he take the body of Jesus down from the cross and wrap it in a linen cloth, but he also provided a fine tomb for his burial. It was in fact the tomb that Joseph of Arimathea had prepared for himself.
When Fr. Charles Cullen left Ireland to begin his missionary life in China in 1921, he was twenty-five years old and full of life and vigour. However, within two years he died unexpectedly. During the following days, waves of shock and sadness spread over the Catholic community and his priest colleagues, not only because of his youth but also because he was the first Columban to die in China. In their desolation, a local man came forward to provide a well-designed and carefully constructed coffin. This benefactor was not a Christian. Moreover, he had in fact prepared that fine coffin for himself!
This Easter, my friend here in Hong Kong will take her husband’s ashes from the Columban chapel and bring them back to his home country for burial. Even though she is a devout Buddhist, not only did she ensure that her husband received all the sacramental support of his Catholic faith throughout his prolonged decline and final illness, but she now wants to ensure that he receives a final Christian farewell with the hope of being re-reunited with him one day.