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Sep 01, 2021 525 Late Father John Hilton Rate,
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Live Your Best Life

He didn’t have much time left, but Father Hilton chose to thrive on the promises, inspiring millions and changing lives

My journey through life has not been very smooth, but from the moment I decided to follow Christ, my life has never been the same. With the Cross of Christ before me and the world behind me I can firmly say, “There’s no turning back…”

During my schooldays at Bede’s College in Mentone, I felt a strong calling from within. I had great mentors there including Brother Owen who inspired and fostered my love for Jesus. At the tender age of 17, I joined the Missionaries of Sacred Heart. After 10 years of study, including a stint at the University of Canberra and a Theology degree in Melbourne, I was finally ordained.

Tryst with destiny

My first appointment was in Papua New Guinea, where I received a practical grounding living amongst simple people with a great sense of living in the present moment. Later, I was sent to Paris to study liturgy. Doctoral studies in Rome were interrupted by tension headaches which prevented me from completing it. And soon it became clear that my calling was not to teach in the seminary. On my return to Australia, I got involved in parish ministry and had a taste of 16 parishes in several different states across the country. I was revitalized by my involvement with two fabulous movements which nurture and revive marriage and family life—Teams of Our Lady and Marriage Encounter.

I felt content. Life was going very well. But all of a sudden, on 22nd of July 2015, everything changed. It didn’t come totally out of the blue. Over the past six months, I had seen blood in the urine on a couple of occasions. But now I was unable to even pass urine. In the middle of the night, I drove myself to the hospital. After a series of tests, I received alarming news. I had been diagnosed with kidney cancer which had already reached the fourth stage. I found myself in a state of shock. I felt cut off from normal people. The doctor had informed me that even with the medications, I could only expect to live for another three and half years. I could not help thinking about my sister’s tiny children. I would never see these charming toddlers grow up.

Until this crisis occurred, I had loved praying the morning meditations but from then on I struggled. After a while, I found an easier way to meditate. Resting before the Lord’s presence, I repeated a mantra inspired by Dante, “Your Will is my peace.” This simple form of meditation enabled me to restore my peace and trust in God. But as I went about my normal day, I found it much more difficult. I was often distracted by thoughts such as ‘I wouldn’t be around much longer…’

The Best Advice

After three months of treatment, tests were done to see if the medication was working well. The results were positive. There was significant reduction in most areas, and I was advised to consult a surgeon to remove the offending kidney. I felt a burst of relief because in the back of my mind I doubted if the medication was really working. So this was really great news. After the operation, I recuperated and returned to being a parish priest.

This time around, I felt more energized towards evangelization. Not knowing how long I would be able to do this work, I put all my heart into everything I engaged in. Every six months, tests were done. Initially, the results were good, but after a while the medicine I had been taking became less effective. Cancer began to grow in my lungs and in my back, giving me sciatica and causing me to hobble. I had to undergo chemotherapy and start a whole new immunotherapy treatment. It was disappointing, but not a surprise. Anybody who is on a journey with cancer knows that things change. You can be well one moment and next moment disaster strikes.

A beautiful friend of mine, who has been a nurse in the oncology department for many years, gave me the best advice: Go on living your life as normally as you can. Have coffee if you enjoy coffee, or have a meal with friends. Keep doing the normal things.

I loved being a priest and felt excited by the wonderful things happening in our parish. Even though the journey was no longer smooth, I still loved what I did. I always loved celebrating the Mass and ministering the Sacraments. It is something I held very precious and I am always grateful to God for this great privilege.

Beyond Horizons

I had a strong conviction that we really need to make greater efforts to turn around the dwindling number of people coming to the Church by being proactive. In our parish we endeavored to make Sunday more engaging. Since I had always loved the contemplative side of our Church, I wanted to create an oasis of prayer and peace by bringing a little bit of the monastic spirit into our parish. So every Monday night, we held a contemplative, candlelit Mass with soothing contemplative music. Instead of giving a sermon, I read a reflection.

One of the songs that touched me deeply is the GRAMMY winning single “10,000 reasons (Bless the Lord) by Matt Redman. Whenever I sang the third verse of the song, I almost choked up.

And on that day
when my strength is failing.
The end draws near
And my time has come
Still my soul will
Sing your praise unending
Ten thousand years

And then forevermore
Forevermore

I found it so moving because what we are ultimately trying to do is to give praise to God and develop our relationship with Jesus. Despite my illness, it was one of the most exciting times in my life as a priest. It reminded me of the words Jesus spoke, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” John 10:10

“My husband who is not a Catholic and only beginning to learn about faith got to know Father John by chance. Later he said ‘From what I know about this guy, Jesus… Father John seems to be just like Him. To know you are going to die and continue to give of yourself more and more even though the people around you don’t realize that these are your last days…” – Kaitlyn McDonnell

“One of the things John was very clear about was his purpose in life. He was an absolute driver and really made Jesus real in this world. I would often wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t been that strong in terms of his faith and values. It might have been very challenging for him but every Sunday when we met him, he had the same energy. Regardless of what happened around him or with him or to him, he had a sense of serenity around him. It was an incredible gift.” – Dennis Hoiberg

“We had to remind him that he had limitations, but that didn’t slow him down. He was such an inspiration because here’s a man who’s been told you’ve got a limited time. Yet he still kept giving instead of getting overcome by his disease and thinking about it.” – Shaun Sunnasy

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Late Father John Hilton Rate

Late Father John Hilton Rate passed away on 22nd of September 2019 after a long and protracted fight with cancer. At the time of his death, Father Rate was the Parish priest at Henley Beach, Australia. The article is based on an inspiring talk shared by Father John Hilton Rate in the Shalom World program “TRIUMPH”. To watch the episode visit: shalomworld.org/ show/triumph

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