”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.