He was a gambler who, in his youth, lost everything he had on racehorses, a gentle, prayer-filled man whom Mother Teresa described as “very, very holy”. As a priest he was later instrumental in founding a community of Brothers devoted to the service of the poorest of the poor. He shared their lives in Saigon, Cambodia and many other places of violence and suffering, and wrote sublimely of the “beautiful” unsung people he met along the way, whom he believed to be the hope of the world. With fear and trepidation he appeared on prime time television. The interviewer and the audience were manifestly touched. A public platform beckoned from which he could have spoken powerfully on behalf of the voiceless of the world, until some of those close to him called him to account. There had been times when he had drunk too much and set a bad example. They wanted him to go into a clinic. Acknowledging with characteristic humility his frailty, he nonetheless declined. For him to do so would, he said, be a denial of the truth of his being. I have never met anyone whose being was so truthful. He opted to relinquish the leadership of his Brothers to become instead a “troubadour in a small boat”. Possessing nothing, leaving God alone to arrange his life, he journeyed with the wind and tide, took retreats and wrote small booklets and letters. We met only a handful of times; we corresponded for some twenty years. His words increased in beauty, wisdom and light in a way that surprised him most: it could only, he was sure, be the Spirit at work through his weakening humanity. He died of stomach cancer, opting not to have expensive treatment but to end his life as he had lived it: in communion with the poorest of the poor. His voice still sings to me with richness, love and compassion from the pages of his letters.
When spirits are low, pain appears to rule and even the incarnated deity seems inattentive and distant, it is you, my friend, who are the tangible sign of God.