As you will all no doubt already know, the community of Beechen Cliff and the wider community of Bath have been shocked and saddened by the tragic news of the death of Max McMullen this week. We at St Gregory’s have been praying for all those affected and send our thoughts and prayers to all those who are mourning the loss of Max. As the week has progressed it has become apparent how close this city truly is, with so many of our young people at St Gregory’s connected to Max through friendships or siblings. The fast paced networking that social media offers has opened up our students and your children to a world of highly emotive messages, pictures and songs which are shared and liked at an incredible rate. I believe this culture of social media connection has opened our students up to so much more than they would ordinarily encounter already in the days since. The positives of this are incredibly touching with young people offering comfort and encouragement aplenty towards each other, with no boundaries between all our schools. However, it also opens them up to an avenue of grief that is hard to close off, and maybe for some replaces the conversations they need to have with parents and other support. Maybe, something to be aware of during half term especially.

We continue to offer as much support in school as is required to those who feel affected by Max’s death, both directly and indirectly. Earlier today I led a liturgy at break time, for all those who wished to attend to give us an opportunity to gather and pray for Max and his family and friends, as well as all of us who are struggling. The Chapel was completely full with students and staff who were able to reflect on readings from scripture and reflections, before lighting a memorial candle and contributing to our book of condolence. Below is a lovely picture of the candle light spelling out Max’s name from the liturgy.

If there is one question I get asked as a Chaplain at moments such as this, and have been asked several times this week it’s – Why? As we grieve and struggle for answers the biggest question is Why? Why would God let someone with his whole life ahead of him die? I have no easy or definite answers. I can honestly admit I don’t know. But I do seek assurance in knowing that whilst God didn’t choose for these circumstances, he is there for us to turn to in comfort if we wish to knock at the door and express how we feeling what the emotions. I find the following passage from the late Cardinal Hume helpful:

Death is a formidable foe until we learn to make it a friend. Death is to be feared if we do not learn to welcome it. Death is the ultimate absurdity if we do not see it as fulfilment. Death haunts us when viewed as a journey into nothingness rather than a pilgrimage to a place where true happiness is to be found.

The human mind cannot understand death. We face it with fear and uncertainty, revulsion even; or we turn away from the thought for it is too hard to bear. But faith gives answers when reason fails. The strong instinct to live points to immortality. Faith admits us into death’s secrets. Death is not the end of the road, but a gateway to a better place. It is in this place that our noblest aspirations will be realised. It is here that we will understand how our experience of goodness, love, beauty and joy are realities which exist perfectly in God. It is in heaven that we shall rest in him and our hearts will be restless until they rest in God.

We, left to continue our pilgrimage through life, weep and mourn. Sadness reigns in our hearts. Our tears will not be bitter ones now but a gentle weeping to rob our sadness of its agony and lead at last to peace, peace with God.