This morning, after nearly two years since the diagnosis of an incurable and aggressive brain tumor, my friend, Manfred, has died. While I cried after I received the news, I also felt a deep gratitude to God for the privilege of having one of his Son’s true followers among my friends. And I don’t mean to say that my relationship with Manfred has always been rosy - on the contrary, at times I felt like we had nothing in common and I thought that we weren’t even meant to be friends. If we had just met at some random event, we may well have said hello, but our conversation would not have lasted and we would have gone our separate ways.
Instead, Manfred was truly my friend. At difficult moments, he had words of encouragement for me, while at moments of indecision, a sentence from him could shake me from hesitation and set me on the right path - the path of loving my neighbors and through them God, instead of getting side-tracked into the trivial. I am also profoundly grateful that my ten-year-old son met Manfred earlier this year and was witness to Manfred’s choice of God in the midst of the final stages of his holy journey on this Earth.
As a focolarino, Manfred has said his “yes” to God and devoted his life to making Jesus’ last testament - that we all may be one - a reality among those around him. His love was practical, selfless and direct, throughout a life during which he was at one moment present at the birth of new realities within the Church, at others putting the Gospel into practice while living - literally! - within shooting-distance of the Berlin wall, at others making his Christian faith inform his senior positions of responsibility within the prison service and at yet others being a bridge through which countless young people encountered Jesus.
During his illness, he continued being deeply generous, also with sharing his inner life. A whole community of his friends from various backgrounds and contexts hung onto his every word on Facebook and on his blog, where he shared his moments of joy and suffering and where he freely offered the spiritual gifts that crystalized through his love for Jesus, suffering and abandoned on the cross.
Since I hope he would have liked it, I have picked out some of my favorite passages from his writings during these last two years and would like to share them with you next. They are in reverse chronological order and start from among the last posts he put up before his condition deteriorated to the point where writing was no longer an option.
9 August 2013: “Today I have the impression that time for me have my sight is deteriorating out as it takes longer to get to normal! I can read, but my peripheral vision is sort of rainbow haze! As if I was tripping! Perhaps I’m! At first it was an hour, then three, then five, and finally today is the first whole day. But there I discovered many signs! I am less distracted when someone talks to me! I discover the beauty of listening. Another diamond I still read and type! Today is also the first day of physical pain, in joints, muscles, on the skin, but hey, patience is the watch word! The gift is to slow down!”Dearest Manfred, you who are now with our heavenly Father, enveloped by the Holy Spirit, by the side of our brother Jesus and our mother Mary, thank you for all the love you have shown me!
13 July 2013: “Today I have rediscovered the immense value of living the present moment. I went with a friend to my GP to plan some practical steps in case of my rapid decline. He gave me a “just in case” prescription of various medicines. When we left the surgery I couldn’t face losing my life! But then I realised why: because I don’t trust in God’s love AND because I wasn’t living in the present moment, loving the person next to me. Often, in the past I said to God: here is my life, it’s yours, but soon I found out it is not just a formula! He takes me seriously! But he never leaves me alone and gives me all the help I need. It is like Mary under the cross who offered her son, who died! And besides God never says “no”. He says “no” to our desires because they are in many ways focussed on loving ourselves [rather] than the other. I discovered that it is ok to complain to God.”
6 July 2013: “In these past two or three days some important things that happened to me, showing me how the Holy Spirit puts the spanner in the works of my daily routine! I was so tired that I could not sleep during the night, which meant that I could not meditate or pray. Now I have to get used to living in a wheelchair, that I can not climb stairs. Therefore I changed my room. I felt that I did not live well! My “routine” has changed!”
22nd June 2013: “Do not allow myself to fall into activism and the illusion that I must “do” things and for them to take your place!”
21 June 2013: “In the last few days I realized that my trust in the Father is rather lacking! For a loving father who wants my good, I ask for one thing or the other as if God was not aware of my needs! Yet Jesus tells us that the Father knows what I need before I ask, because He is love! Then I realized that I see God in human dimensions, that is, I have my lists of wants and needs and I asked many people to pray for the same thing, as if we should “persuade” God to “change” idea! That to me does not sound [like] true prayer! True prayer is union with God, who knows everything, and because He is love, does not need to pay attention to my needs! It is I who constantly needs [to] entrust confidently my life to Him, knowing that all is his love.”
20 June 2013: “The nature of the tumour is such that it does adapt very well to the latest medication. I wonder whether it would adapt to a miracle! I understood that I only have the present moment! I need to discover the love of God in that moment as if the was my last! I understood that I only have the present moment! I need to discover the diamonds in that moment as if [it] was my last!”
17 June 2013: “My life is no longer mine, it has never been mine!”
31 May 2013: “Today’s reflection by the Pope made me look again at welcoming my suffering as a gift of God’s love! Everything points to me being outside myself, in the way that love is! Love is totally giving, not thinking of itself, being nothing! That’s the root of joy!”
8 May 2013: “How many tribulations, little niggles, discomforts do we come across during our day! Today I don’t want to have [anything] standing between my neighbour and me! All is love of the Father for us!”
30 April 2013: “It is sometimes difficult knowing how to wait! We have all our unique gifts and we rush to show them, thinking they are ours! Once I realise yet again that they are God’s love for our neighbour, they will shine in the right moment, not before and not after! For that I need patience!”
29 April 2013: “How quick am I to pounce if my neighbour makes a mistake! How quickly do I pass judgement without even knowing the full facts! How quick do I call someone who holds different opinion, political or otherwise, a liar or a cheat, or somebody who is not honest whilst putting me in the best possible light of honesty and integrity! Fool me: by doing this I have become the very person I condemn in the other! Jesus asks me time and again to love with his love, which puts all categories to one side in order to be always with the person next to me: There is no obstacle, because love conquers all, and that love is always concrete, is full of action! […] I can start again despite all that has happened, all the mistakes I made. So if God allows me to start again I must allow my neighbour to start again!”
15 April 2013: “This is real challenge: how to lose my thoughts, what is most dear to me out of love for my neighbour! In my thoughts Mary at the foot of the cross came to mind as the perfect example that perhaps I overlook many a time. […] This will be my “model” that points to the essential in my everyday life. Every time I find it difficult to lose, I have to ask myself: Does it matter (DIM)? Is it more important than my dialogue with God in my neighbour?”
12 April 2013: “Today I reflect [on] how easy it is to break relationships! A word or the lack of a word; a gesture or the lack of an expression, a thought, an assumption, an expectation! I understood that our relationships are really very fragile!”
17 February 2013: “It so easy to become self-absorbed both as individuals and as groups! On an individual level I wake up every morning wondering what the tumour will bring today, how am I, what is happening for me. Then my morning prayers put me in the right attitude of thanksgiving to God for another opportunity to love him, for the health I have, for the neighbours to love in the present moment!”
6 February 2013: “12 months ago today I collapsed at work and was diagnosed with the brain tumour! What a year it has been! Full of graces, full of gifts, full of signs of God’s love for me. But there are also temptations and sufferings, such as getting fixated with dates. At the beginning I was told the prognosis is on average 14 month which gives me another 8 weeks. That is a very limited way of looking at thing, because whether that is true or not does not depend on me or anybody, but on the plan God has for me. So in the meantime live fully in the present moment. Today’s motto then is to build peace in the present moment by loving my neighbour!”
16 January 2013: “We know how easy it is to confuse our own opinions and desires with the inner voice of the Spirit, how easy it is, therefore, to fall into arbitrariness and subjectivity. I must never forget that the Reality is within me. I must silence everything within in order to discover the voice of God there. And I need to draw it out as if I were extracting a diamond from the mud: polish it up, highlight it and allow it to guide me. Then I can be a guide for others as well, because this subtle voice of God which urges on and enlightens, this lymph which rises up from the depths of the soul, is wisdom, it is love, and love is meant to be given.”
31 December 2012: “Because Jesus died on the Cross he transformed pain and suffering into love. Where I see suffering and joy, God sees love in both. I can begin again now in this present moment and every moment because God never ceases to love me. What a wonderful gift to receive, because it means that all those moments of pain and suffering in the past year I can fill with one act of love making a parcel of all those things and give them as a gift to Jesus on the Cross. My year becomes his and it is a year full of the God’s love for us. Today I dedicate to giving all my past year to Jesus on the Cross as a gift of love.”
23 December 2012: “Often I put God in a box, I see him as static, I want him to be the same, confining him to religion, church and liturgy. And yes God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, but at the same time he is also always new, a person who changes always and is life! He never loves us in the same way, because if I respond to his love his love for me will be different from before! Isn’t that a great gift? Today I want to dedicate to a special intention and giving all my love to him in every person I meet!”
1 December 2012: “Jesus Forsaken by the Father, who cries out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is the one alongside me! What a privilege to have a brother like that. And so in these days he asks all the “whys” contained in that big why. Why do I remain so full of myself, attached to a pair of slippers when I am asked to give my life to God? Why is it such an effort for me to be rather than to do? Why am at this stage in my life? What is going to happen next?”
26 November 2012: “So, today it is meant all happen. I am waiting for the call from the hospital and then, wait a minute! Do I put my life on hold for a phone call. No, so back to the present! Yes, I am a little anxious perhaps, but all can be lived for something. Thinking of others who are really suffering, with no way out.”
23 November 2012: “After a beautiful period of light and insight during which I have come to understand many things in my relationship with God now another part of the same trip seems to open up, very much full of temptations, temptations to retreat within myself thus excluding God.”
6 November 2012: “I see that just because I try put God at the centre of my life I am not immune to the feeling and worried of what might happen. The big difference for me is that I know that my lifelong friend Jesus on the cross is always with me.”
24th August 2012: “I was thinking that living in the present is a bit like being on a conveyor belt lighting candles that come past. If I concentrate on each candle I can light it. The more candles I light the more there is light. But every now and again I get distracted by the shape of the candle, or its colour. So I miss the next one. If I run after it, I will miss even more and there is less light! So, I have to stay put and starting again I light every candle that comes past me. Is that not living the present well? If we failed one moment, let’s not worry. Does it matter, or short DIM? I got this from a friend who is well practised in this. Any time she and her husband are at risk of worrying, or missing something, or getting worked up about something, DIM does the job. […] If I have chosen the greatest thing on earth, i.e., God who is love, is there anything that matters more than that? Promptly I am put to the test with some not so good news about a friend. I cannot do anything practical in my condition, except worry. Or I can make sure I light those candle every moment for her, to root for her, to live my life for her! Loving the other means also to offer my little suffering as a token of my love for Jesus Forsaken.
The photo at the top of this post shows Manfred Kochinky with Graziella De Luca, one of the first companions of Chiara Lubich, the founder of the Focolare Movement.