”And How Are You Today, My Dearest, Dearest Darling ?”

A Simple Gesture

Father Michael loved his ladies. These for­tu­nate souls were usu­al­ly home-bound and received reg­u­lar vis­its from Father M. Some of them were quite elder­ly-in their nineties and even over a hun­dred years old. He loved bring­ing them Holy Eucharist and vis­it­ing with them. He admit­ted to being total­ly fas­ci­nat­ed with their life sto­ries and wise per­spec­tives. Father Michael often men­tioned how old­er peo­ple showed open­ly how their souls were prepar­ing to meet God. He told me that the vis­its tru­ly inspired awe in him. He approached them with rev­er­ence , respect and humor.

Father Michael had his own way of inspir­ing awe , to be sure. Many times I heard him say “And how are you today, my dear­est, dear­est dar­ling?” as he answered his calls or greet­ed some ladies after Mass. Father Michael was a preach­er to his very core. And I wit­nessed that charism spill over at times into reg­u­lar con­ver­sa­tion and every­day eti­quette. A few words from Father Michael could eas­i­ly be God’s grace to a needy soul. He just knew the right thing to say, or to make the sim­ple mean­ing­ful gesture.….always some­thing framed with love.

I once chal­lenged Father Michael about the “dear­est dar­ling” line. I said it kind of sound­ed like his Cana­di­an ver­sion of  Aun­tie Mame. Well, that didn’t change any­thing in his view; it stayed a VERY Father Michael turn of phrase. And he used it often-even on me! I have to admit that being addressed direct­ly like that  had its  warmth and charm . Those ladies were so blessed!

Father Michael con­tin­ued the vis­its to his ladies,as best he could, through­out his ill­ness. Call­ing on the lady friends while he fought his can­cer was priest­ly -and an effort­ful, holy thing. He cher­ished bring­ing them the Eucharist. He rel­ished their con­ver­sa­tions. Father Michael was always a priest, first and fore­most. Here is a text Father M sent me in Feb­ru­ary, about a month before he died:

I had a good nite! Thank God! I was tired after doing the funer­al of my 99 year old girl­friend. She and I were sup­posed to get togeth­er this Thurs­day since we hadn’t seen each oth­er since Xmas. Hope you are rest­ed as well. My objec­tive today is to go for a walk.”

Sec­ond nature to Father M; no big deal. Those dear­est dar­lings were sure­ly blessed. Yet they walked mean­ing­ful­ly with Father Michael in his ill­ness, and so blessed him.

Serendipity and “Solsbury Hill”

Solsbury Hill
Sols­bury Hill

Grow­ing up with the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s, I wasn’t too famil­iar with Peter Gabriel’s work. But I lis­ten to the oldies radio sta­tion and, alas, now 80’s and 90’s music is old. So I was pleased one day last sum­mer when I heard Gabriel’s song “Sols­bury Hill”. I was enchant­ed by the beat and the cheery melody. And the words…well noth­ing stuck out until I heard “Grab your things , I’m going to take you home”. Those cer­tain­ly struck a chord with me. I thought of Father Michael and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of his ‘going home’. I found myself lis­ten­ing atten­tive­ly each time the song played.

Those oldies sta­tions seem to group these songs in bunch­es and some then get played more fre­quent­ly. I was hear­ing “Sols­bury Hill” prob­a­bly every oth­er day. It was a trig­ger for some kind of med­i­ta­tion . First I enjoyed it and just thought it was beau­ti­ful. Then I’d some­times focus more on the words and I would find it omi­nous . Peter Gabriel would belt out “my heart going boom, boom, boom,” and I would loud­ly sing over it, yelling “no, no, no!”. The song became a kind of anthem of Father Michael’s can­cer jour­ney for me. Even­tu­al­ly I reached a point where I’d hear the open­ing bars and a mel­low­ness would come to me, a peace­ful­ness. Instead of yelling “no, no, no”, I found myself smil­ing, join­ing in enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly at “you can keep my things , they’ve come to take me home!”

So, in Jan­u­ary this year, I wrote my week­ly note to Father M. I wrote about how my expe­ri­ence had ‘evolved ‘ with this song — and how it always made me think about and pray for him. We nev­er dis­cussed it in per­son, though. Our time vis­it­ing was very lim­it­ed and was con­stant­ly being inter­rupt­ed. Play time of “Sols­bury Hill” seemed to be wan­ing on the radio.But it picked up again in Feb­ru­ary and March. As Father Michael’s jour­ney began to wind down, the song was play­ing quite a bit once again.

March 27 was the day Father Michael died. It hap­pened close to 9 am, but was nev­er spec­i­fied. I had attend­ed Mass and for the very first time prayed for Father Michael’s “hap­py death”. Up till then I‘d held true to my promise of always pray­ing for his com­plete heal­ing. The pre­sid­ing priest was quite frank about Father M’s state, so I knew it was time to change my prayer. I stayed after for a bit then went to my car and did my usu­al text to Father Michael. It was about 8:35. I drove home and pulled in front of my house. I was about to turn the car off, when “Sols­bury Hill” start­ed to play. I wait­ed and lis­tened and won­dered “have they come to take him home?”

I got in the house, straight­ened up, made cof­fee and then looked at my com­put­er. There was an email from the parish  :“Father Michael goes home to the Father”. I wept , but also prayed in thanks­giv­ing. Lat­er I won­dered if “Sols­bury Hill” had been play­ing short­ly before 9.….a bit of serendip­i­ty? The oldies sta­tion has a web­site that pub­lish­es their playlists, past and future. I found March 27, scanned the time from 7am to 11am. The song was not list­ed! I sup­pose it was an omis­sion or cler­i­cal error, but I also won­der if my hear­ing it that day wasn’t a spe­cial sign. It cer­tain­ly felt that way and I believe in those things.

Father Michael always said he was a ter­ri­ble dancer, but that his moth­er liked to dance with him,as songs played on the radio. She’d told him “You’re the only one with rhythm”. I used to say to him “ I bet you were a good dancer, Father M. I’m sure, because your own moth­er saw it”. He’d say “Oh,no, no”, but as his con­di­tion wors­ened, he loos­ened up and final­ly told me, “ You know, I real­ly was a great dancer “. I ‘ll bet he’s danc­ing now…maybe to “Sols­bury Hill” !

 

 

Dominican Dog

Priory Saint?

I was work­ing on adding the lit­tle graph­ic of St Dominic last night and remem­bered how Father Michael was always ask­ing about my dogs. I think he secret­ly would have loved to have had a dog. He’d nev­er had any pets grow­ing up oth­er than a very Catholic gold­fish-( he once described how, as a child, he’d cel­e­brat­ed the funer­al Mass for this fish).

I recalled email­ing Father  Michael this pic­ture to cheer him up last Decem­ber. I wrote the sub­ject as “I think you and the St. Pius broth­ers need a dog like this!” The next day I saw a return email , writ­ten at 4 am :

You sure do know how to make an insom­ni­ac laugh! I am sit­ting here hoot­ing as I look at that dog on the cup­board and real­ize what it would be like if we real­ly had one. It would be con­stant bed­lam!”

Father Michael had the most won­der­ful sense of humor about every­thing; I’m miss­ing that today.

”I long for that”

I wrote this as a mem­o­ry of Father Michael for my parish bul­letin.  Edit­ing there changed its mean­ing, so this is the real thing!

I cor­re­spond­ed with Father Michael by email begin­ning in May, 2012. I had some per­son­al issues I need­ed to dis­cuss with some­one holy-and Father Michael sure­ly was the man. In order to lay the ground­work for some of these, I first wrote sev­er­al long emails to Father Michael.One of the long emails was about an NDE-like expe­ri­ence I had dur­ing the birth of my old­est son. Father Michael wrote back to me :

That is an absolute­ly beau­ti­ful sto­ry. I can only imag­ine the joy of being in such per­fect peace and bliss. I long for that. For me these are sim­ple affir­ma­tions of the cer­tain­ty of heav­en and the good­ness of God. To meet three peo­ple of such sig­nif­i­cance in your life, a grand­moth­er, a nun, and a sis­ter whom you didn’t ever know. Whow!!

You have been blessed beyond mea­sure. That is why my hope is that your son will come back ‘home’. I think our only joy is when we are peace­ful in the Lord. Then every­thing else is man­age­able.

Do come to the sac­risty. Tomor­row, I will be there but only for a few min­utes. I am hav­ing b’fast with one of the elder­ly ladies.

Father Michael

Upon receiv­ing Father’s note, I was imme­di­ate­ly struck by his words “I long for that”. Through­out his ‘mal­a­dy’, and even before, when his sick­ness seemed just like stom­ach trou­ble, I often thought about what Father Michael real­ly want­ed. I often felt-and dread­ed- that Father Michael was sooooo good, (though not per­fect!) that the Lord would sure­ly give him what he longed for.

For me, this aware­ness of Father Michael’s yearn­ing, gave the suf­fer­ing, for­bear­ance, courage and faith of his can­cer jour­ney such mean­ing. Pray­ing for him, I strug­gled often in try­ing to bal­ance my self­ish desire for his ‘com­plete heal­ing’ with the knowl­edge that Heav­en was what he tru­ly want­ed and so deserved. So often in these past months I have remem­bered Father Michael’s ”I long for that”. And now it is his…

Reverend and Dear Father

Father Michael

Father Michael was just so MUCH per­son and he always made sure there was enough of him to go around. He took the time for us. Yes, he did all those love­ly, kind, fun­ny, holy, sil­ly, human things with and for us. Father Michael was so much a reflec­tion of the Lord in all ways. John the Baptist’s words “He must increase so I must decrease” bespeak our Father Michael’s life. He squeezed every iota of the Lord into his per­sona: His kind­ness, His love, His gen­eros­i­ty, His humil­i­ty, His suf­fer­ing, His atten­tion, His pres­ence. These were all facets of Father Michael which were so com­plete­ly good, so guile­less­ly pre­sent­ed, so aching­ly beau­ti­ful.

What a spe­cial man! How he could preach! It was always quite sim­ple- about our everyday,ordinary lives- but punc­tu­at­ed with joy and laugh­ter, with sad­ness and some­times tears , always with beau­ty, under­stand­ing and elo­quence. Father Michael’s gift to us there was only enhanced by his love for his prayer life- plain and sim­ple- it was the focal point of his day. He once joy­ous­ly told me “Guess what! Today I had three hours of con­tem­pla­tive prayer before Mass!” Anoth­er time, he spoke of peo­ple vis­it­ing reli­gious web­sites on the net. Father Michael said “I don’t know why they’d do that! I ‘d rather spend the time in church!”

Father Michael was a man of great com­pas­sion. Once he was talk­ing about a fam­i­ly he knew, and said, eyes welling up with tears  “Oh — Peo­ple have such suf­fer­ing in their lives!” He tru­ly suf­fered with people;it was very mov­ing to observe. Anoth­er time he lis­tened to a fam­i­ly sto­ry of mine: I relayed how, as a small boy in the 30’s, my dad had used his news­boy mon­ey to buy his old­er sis­ter some ice skates. I glanced at Father Michael and saw the tears form and fall. He loved see­ing the good­ness in peo­ple. “God is so good” he ‘d say again and again.

For me, it was the “being with” Father Michael that made such a dif­fer­ence in my life. The cir­cum­stances didn’t mat­ter; the truth of our Faith was sim­ply always there with him. It was a joy to be with him no mat­ter what. That was the King­dom of God- right there in Father Michael, plain as day–in that win­some yet wise pres­ence, in that lov­ing heart, in that smil­ing coun­te­nance of peace. If you were with him, you felt it, you saw it, you believed it and knew it — the truth.….. the good­ness of God.