Mariannhill Monastery

1882 Abbot Francis Pfanner – South Africa

In Memoriam Fr. John Driessen, CMM

Posted by Mariannhill Monastery May - 29 - 2012 Comments Off on In Memoriam Fr. John Driessen, CMM

Lately the community lost one of his members, Fr. John Driessen. Such an event is always an important moment in the life of the community. We want to share it with you through the text of the homily Fr. Henry Ratering delivered on the occasion.

In Memoriam, Fr. John Driessen, CMM
John 15: 5-17

Humanly speaking, death seldom comes on time. For some, it comes too early, and for others it comes too late. Just as a tired child may still protest about going to bed, so it can be with the elderly. Just as the tired child has a right to sleep, so the elderly have a right to die. Death can be as natural as sleep. We sing this in one of the hymns at evening prayer:” We praise you, Father, for your gift of dusk and nightfall over earth, foreshadowing the mystery of death that leads to endless day”.

And so, despite the pain of loss and the feeling of emptiness at his sudden death, we want to thank God for the life of Fr. John Driessen, and for the blessings that his ministry has brought to so many, young and old.

It is our Christian belief that we are not burying Fr. John; we believe he is with the Lord, and we just bury his clothes, the outer garment as it were, with the confidence that he will come back for them one day to collect them. This is what we profess in the Creed: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting”. Till then, we say “John, sleep well, rest after a life of activity, and enjoy peace. We do not begrudge you your rest”.

● For the Christian, life itself is a series of deaths, dying to my pride and selfishness, my possessions, my opinions, my comforts, for the sake of others. The French proverb says it well: “Partir, c’est mourir un peu” – even parting is a little dying.

● Life is a journey, too, from one birth to yet another birth, from the life in the womb into the womb of Life, into fullness of life. There is a striking parallel between the beginning of life, with the infant, and the end of life. Both are fragile, vulnerable; there is dependency, nursing, a great need of loving tender care, and in some cases: second childhood!

● Of course, we feel sad at this sudden departure. Bereavement is like an amputation. It takes some time for a person to adjust to having just one leg. It is the same with the loss we feel. Grief is the price we pay for love. Grief and sorrow are as much part of life as joy and laughter. The tears of Jesus at the death of his friend Lazarus were real, but they were not signs of despair (Tears may be our friends on the way). Jesus told Martha that her brother would rise again. “Yes, I believe”, she said, and so do we.

● And yet, my dear brothers and sisters, I must admit that it is hard. I have lost a friend whom I have known from 1950 on, when we studied together, first at St. Paul in the Netherlands, then at Pius Seminary in Würzburg, Germany, and then later on when we worked in different ministries in the diocese of Mariannhill. Fr. John was one of those people with a big heart, who had room for many. You may say: a heart like a taxi to Pinetown or Durban, where there is always room for one or two more!
No wonder that for a long time he suffered from heart trouble and had to undergo heart surgery. Recently he said light heartedly “I live on borrowed time”.

● As a priest Fr. John was a curious mix of the old and the new. He was traditional in his theology, in his spiritual life and piety, but as a pastor he would always see first and foremost people in need, and try to help. He had great love for the sick; in his ministry he made long and tiresome trips to visit the sick and elderly in faraway outstations. Also, after his retirement at Mater Dolorosa Home, here in Mariannhill, he was often called to the sick and dying at St. Mary’s Hospital. Moreover, many sisters and priests came to him, or were sent to him, for counselling, or for a conducted retreat.
However deep the problems and questions, however subtle the answers, his faith had a childlike simplicity. It was deeper than all the questions, and all the possible answers as well. All those tough questions, e.g. regarding the future of our Congregation, would have to wait for their great and glorious revelation on the Last Day. And John was content to wait.

● It is not surprising that he had a certain distrust of so-called “clever” people. He used to say “They may have a B.A. degree, or be an M.A., I am content to be just B.F. (=Bloody Fool!). And yet he was creative in art and had ideas, sometimes fantastic ones. In recognition of his creativity and as a tribute to its make we have displayed the Christmas crib on which he has been working this whole year (from crib to cross, from womb to tomb).

● It grieved him deeply that several of his class mates who were ordained with him in 1960, left the priesthood, even after years of missionary work in Papua New-Guinea, or elsewhere.

● Fr. John practised the old virtues, the old decencies if you wish, such as loyalty; he was a man you could trust. There was his hospitality, his care of anyone in distress, his plain goodness and humanity; his contentment in old age, and his willingness to make sacrifices. In this age of hype and mega and spin and fudge and cover-up, the above virtues are generally lost to present-day society, and are sorely missed in present-day Church. We are all the poorer for it, yet we can still be inspired or challenged.

● Death remains a deep mystery. Death confronts us with our own mortality. The poet puts it like this: “When you hear the death bell toll, don’t go out and ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for you.” In old cemeteries one may find inscriptions such as: To-day it’s me, tomorrow it’s you! Or the dead speaking as it were to the living: You are what we were – What we are you will be.  Memento mori … Be prepared. See to it that you have got oil in your lamp when the bridegroom comes in the middle of the night.

● We understand little about the mystery of death, but enough for it to be the raw material for faith to work on. It is through the death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ that we have this basic, though dim, hope for our future. In this hope we pray for ourselves who are alive, that we may persevere in active faith, hope and love till the end, and for Fr. John and all our deceased loved ones that they may enjoy eternal life in the Father’s House, where there are many rooms…says the Lord.
I like to conclude with a prayer of St. Jerome:

“WE thank you God, that he was ours,
We thank you that he still is ours,
For he is not dead, he is only away.
And whoever returns to the Father,
Remains in the family.

Eternal rest grant to him, o Lord, and let your light shine on him for ever. May he rest in peace! Amen.
Mariannhill, 6 October, 2011
Fr. Henry Ratering, CMM

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