Humble Preacher

At St PiusFather Michael was a great preach­er. Once I returned to St Vin­cent Fer­rer Church for Sun­day Mass, I quick­ly learned to look for­ward to Father Michael’s hom­i­lies.  The first thing I noticed was Father’s rap­port with the con­gre­ga­tion. It often felt like a one-on-one homi­ly, there was always some­thing per­son­al to relate to in it. All present lis­tened atten­tive­ly. Then there was humor, and many kinds of emo­tions. Father Michael often detailed his many vis­its to the sick of the parish. He was moved by so much and often got choked up talk­ing of his expe­ri­ences. He was sen­si­tive enough to appre­ci­ate and con­vey how an attrac­tive woman under­go­ing can­cer treat­ment would feel about her altered appear­ance. He was tak­en aback by the extra­or­di­nar­i­ly hum­bling cir­cum­stances of peo­ples’ lives: Father Michael once vis­it­ed a parish­ioner car­ing for two bedrid­den  fam­i­ly mem­bers in her home. He said he could hard­ly breathe, he was so stirred by the sac­ri­fice and beau­ty of the love there. Noth­ing was lost on Father Michael. And he passed on his wise under­stand­ing in his preach­ing. And some­times Father’s exquis­ite descrip­tions of these things took my breath away!

Father Michael was so obser­vant and influ­enced by all he saw. He com­mut­ed to St Vincent’s three or more times per week. He trav­eled via the Eisen­how­er and got on it at  Ash­land Avenue.  In one homi­ly, he told of repeat­ed­ly see­ing one home­less man, who always approached Father’s car near the ramp. Father Michael told us “All he wants from me is a buck. He doesn’t ask any­thing more of me. So I give him that buck”. The man was like a dai­ly fix­ture that Father Michael looked for. One day the man was there but didn’t come to the car. Instead, he sat on side­walk; he had a com­pan­ion that day and Father Michael saw the man offer his paper bag’s con­tents to the oth­er fel­low. He told us “All I could think was how th

is was a holy man, that it was so impor­tant for him to share what he had with anoth­er. He was a holy, holy man”. Perspective…surely from the Spir­it.

I remem­ber one dai­ly Mass where Father Michael appeared very shak­en as he began his preach­ing. He was so upset. Appar­ent­ly some­one had made a remark to him about ‘real sis­ters’. The per­son had implied that sis­ters out of habit were not real. Well, Father Michael was not so much shak­en as angry. He was so indig­nant and yet so con­trolled! He just went down the list of all the ways that all sis­ters were the very vis­i­ble pres­ence of the Lord in all their activ­i­ties. I remem­ber in par­tic­u­lar Father Michael’s remark­ing about  the sis­ters’ devo­tion at Mass and at prayer each day. His voice was a lit­tle wob­bly, yet so elo­quent and lov­ing! Father Michael tru­ly appre­ci­at­ed all sis­ters.

My favorite homi­ly has a Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion twist. Father Michael had talked beau­ti­ful­ly to us about the com­fort and grace of that sacra­ment. Father end­ed with a sto­ry of a lit­tle boy who had just com­plet­ed his First Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.  Father Michael gave abso­lu­tion and told the lit­tle boy, “Well, all of God’s graces  and good­ness and love are show­er­ing down on you right now!” The lit­tle boy looked absolute­ly delight­ed at this and enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly replied “I can FEEL it!!” Father Michael,himself delight­ed, told the lit­tle one “You know, you have just made my day!”

So many beau­ti­ful hom­i­lies. I hope that some­how some of them have been record­ed. I sup­pose there are many from wed­dings, if noth­ing else. I would like to think that some oth­er events with preach­ing from Father Michael have been record­ed and are ‘out there’. It seems like at least one per­son should have rec­og­nized that Father Michael had a very spe­cial gift. I cer­tain­ly hope so. It is easy to take these gifts for grant­ed and not expect to lose them.…

Here is a link to Father Michael’s homi­ly at St Pius on Feb­ru­ary 26, 2014, a month and a day before he died:

http://opcentral.org/follow-the-white-habit/2014/02/26/daily-scripture-february-26/

You may need to use a dif­fer­ent brows­er for this to load. It only works inter­mit­tent­ly on Fire­fox for me;Safari works bet­ter.

Also, here is a link to a reflec­tion Father Michael wrote:

http://opcentral.org/follow-the-white-habit/2014/03/13/lenten-reflection-march-13-esthers-anguish/

The Reluctant Penitent

This car­toon cracks me up. I iden­ti­fy with it in a round­about way. I, too, need to get con­fes­sion “beat­en” out of me. I am not one of those who has a love­ly cathar­sis after I’ve been giv­en abso­lu­tion. Nope, I breathe a huge sigh of relief !! I think some­times I am stuck in the Con­fes­sion mem­o­ries of childhood:in church- wait­ing ner­vous­ly with my schoolmates,under the watch­ful eyes of Sis­ter, while lis­ten­ing to the yelling com­ing from the Con­fes­sion­al, try­ing to remem­ber WHO had gone in there last. Yes, there was lot of yelling in those days. I think it was a game of my male class­mates — to see who could get Father going the loud­est. So many boys came out of the box just beam­ing or even laugh­ing. In ret­ro­spect I guess it could have been cathar­sis.

But my reluc­tance goes way back. It’s cer­tain­ly not for a lack of sin! Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and the grace of a good con­fes­sion are recur­ring themes in hom­i­lies, espe­cial­ly in Advent and Lent. My pas­tor, espe­cial­ly, has a fond­ness for sound­ing the wake-up call-often. After one of his week­day Mass­es last year, my friend and I were dis­cussing our reluc­tance to go to Con­fes­sion. She brought up the real­i­ty of always con­fess­ing the same sins over and over…the feel­ing of get­ting nowhere, nev­er improv­ing. We talked about how so much of what we saw in our­selves as sin­ful, were bad habits or ingrained parts of our per­son­al­i­ties. It seemed so point­less.

Father Michael was very ill at the time and I could only call or write to him. So that week , I wrote a let­ter about this to him. He called me , but I missed the call. Father M left me a mem­o­rable, love­ly voice­mail, though. Father Michael advised:

” I wouldn’t be so wor­ried about Con­fes­sion and repeat­ing the same thing . I always say to pen­i­tents-when we con­fess the same thing over and over again, which we do for years and years and years, every one of us, some­how it’s like chip­ping away at the Pietà and even­tu­al­ly some­thing beau­ti­ful emerges, which is our free­dom from our bur­den. Michelan­ge­lo basi­cal­ly knew that the Pietà was inside that piece of mar­ble. And by chip­ping away and chip­ping away, it soon pre­sent­ed itself. So, don’t be too wor­ried about that sacra­ment; it’s just an instru­ment of grace.”

So I was inch­ing my way along to going. But not long after this, I was in church after Mass on Sat­ur­day and the chil­dren in the Reli­gious Edu­ca­tion pro­gram all arrived for Reconciliation.The Pas­tor showed up and per­haps six more Domini­can priests. He assigned the oth­er priests to dif­fer­ent ‘sta­tions’ and then said some­thing like ‘please allow the chil­dren to be first, then you peo­ple who are my age can come up’. Well that was so weird- what a way to put it! I was the only oth­er per­son present who was his age . I felt like a tar­get. I left.

I fired off a text mes­sage to Father Michael in the church park­ing lot. I was upset- feel­ing guilty, yet intim­i­dat­ed and some­how targeted.…a lit­tle para­noid too. I knew that Father Michael would be able to put it all into per­spec­tive. So imme­di­ate­ly Father Michael texted me back:

You are filled with grace. No crowd or priest has any right to intim­i­date us!!!! I am still not feel­ing so well, so I am exper­i­ment­ing with ‘bland food’. Hope it’s a good day despite the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion intim­i­da­tion.”

Always the good shep­herd, I think Father Michael under­stood that some of us sheep need some space. At the time, I was com­fort­ed so much by his reas­sur­ing words. But I can­not ignore Father’s gen­tle reminder of the ‘instru­ment of grace’  always avail­able to us. I joked about hav­ing con­fes­sion “beat­en” out of me. It’s real­ly more like a wear­ing down. I do go.…eventually. I think for those who can read­i­ly respond to its graces, it is a joy. I’ve known people(a few) who loved  Con­fes­sion. Must be nice.…

”I Do Will It”

The Leper by Ron DiCianni

So often this past year, I talked to Father Michael about Jesus ’ heal­ing of the lep­er, the sto­ry where the lep­er approach­es the Lord with a man­ner­ly “Lord , if you wish, you can make me clean.” And Jesus, stretch­ing out His hand and touch­ing the man, replies “I do will it. Be made clean”. There was just some­thing about that state­ment that spoke to me. I’d read and re-read the words “I do will it” and they were what even­tu­al­ly con­vinced me that Father Michael would be healed.

It turned out this was the gospel of the Mass on the very first day that Father Michael received chemother­a­py. I saw that as a most hope­ful sign! I con­stant­ly returned to “I do will it” for inspi­ra­tion as Father M’s jour­ney pro­gressed. I remem­ber Father Michael’s heal­ing ser­vice so well. Father Michael told us all that no mat­ter what hap­pened to him , there would be a heal­ing. I know Father Michael is healed accord­ing to God’s will. Father Michael is at peace. The rest of us are still a heal­ing in progress, some fur­ther along than oth­ers. It will take time. Father Michael is irre­place­able, a trea­sure.

I often read Alden Solovy’s web­site http://tobendlight.com .His prayers are won­der­ful, sim­ple yet full of mean­ing. Today Solovy’s prayer for heal­ing brought back the feel­ing of intense fer­vor, the excite­ment of hope–and the peace of pray­ing for Father Michael. I’m shar­ing it because it touched me so much today. Per­haps some­one needs it:

Sim­ple Prayer for Heal­ing
G-d, grant Your heal­ing pow­er
To all in need,
Those whom I know,
______________ [list names],
And those unknown to me.

G-d, grant Your com­fort and con­so­la­tion
To all who grieve,
Those whom I know,
______________ [list names],
And those unknown to me.

Blessed are You, Adon­ai our G-d,
Ruler of the uni­verse,
Who lifts up the fall­en.

© 2014 Alden Solovy and http://tobendlight.com All rights reserved.

The Feast of Corpus Christi

Aquinas :EucharistFather Michael was so keen­ly aware of the Gift of the Holy Eucharist. We spoke of this in one our first con­ver­sa­tions. I was talk­ing about how much my view of the Eucharist had changed in my life. I spoke of how as a First Com­mu­ni­cant, I was focused on meet­ing Jesus and hav­ing Him become part of me, a per­son­al vis­it and union. Then I told of how, post Vat­i­can II, the focus was so much on the Peo­ple of God, Church as Christ’s Body and we its mem­bers, our neigh­bors, that union- I remem­ber very lit­tle remain­ing of my child­hood view­point. But I told Father Michael I felt that as an old­er per­son I had come back to my child­hood view, but now keep­ing the com­mu­ni­ty in the pic­ture.

Father Michael just beamed as I spoke. I did some addi­tion­al explain­ing of how I was think­ing and Father  became most seri­ous as I talked. I wish I could remem­ber what I’d said.  Father M then stat­ed “Well that is a beau­ti­ful expla­na­tion of  amaz­ing­ly sound The­ol­o­gy!!”  with some sur­prise in his demeanor. I said “I know”, but won­dered why he was so sur­prised. Father said “But you don’t real­ize how many peo­ple don’t have a clue!” I replied “But Father Michael, I have six­teen years of Catholic edu­ca­tion, I should know this stuff.” He would often men­tion to me lat­er, as he fought his can­cer, that I was tru­ly blessed with under­stand­ing of the Eucharist.

I was aim­ing to have Father Michael become my spir­i­tu­al direc­tor at that point. He sug­gest­ed some read­ing about St Char­bel and to study some books on the Eucharist. We nev­er got around to the direc­tion because Father Michael’s can­cer showed up. Father was too sick to have the meet­ings. For quite awhile I didn’t see Father Michael at all. What a dis­ap­point­ment!

But I remem­ber Father M’s pure delight in dis­trib­ut­ing Holy Eucharist to all of us. He always smiled as we approached him, eyes gleam­ing. He radi­at­ed such warmth and reflect­ed a qui­et delight in giv­ing this great­est of Gifts to us, his parish fam­i­ly. Today is Cor­pus Christi and I think of Father Michael’s love for the Eucharist. Father’s beau­ti­ful being and pres­ence, his gen­tle­ness and holi­ness- all bore wit­ness to the exquis­ite nour­ish­ment pro­vid­ed by Our Lord.

And through the same Gift, we are all still togeth­er:

‘Now with glad thanks­giv­ing, praise Christ glo­ri­fied;
He in us is present; we in him abide.
Mem­bers of his body, we in him are one;
Hail this sacred union, heav’n on earth begun!’

A Priest Forever

This will be an odd post. It’s about my imag­i­na­tion and my dreams. So, no one’s real­i­ty but mine. I will note: I vis­it­ed Father Michael most recent­ly at St Pius. Each time I came by, he was dressed casu­al­ly in jeans and sweater or khakis and flan­nel shirt and on his weak­er days , paja­ma bot­toms  or sweats. Since Father Michael died, I have often recalled sev­er­al of our last con­ver­sa­tions. And I pic­ture the scene, most­ly at the St Pius Pri­o­ry par­lor, just exact­ly as it was. And I recall Father Michael just as he was-sit­ting or stand­ing- as we talked. But I  had the sense that some­thing was dif­fer­ent in the mem­o­ries; I strug­gled to put my fin­ger on it. Final­ly I real­ized what it was. In every mem­o­ry, I see Father Michael dressed in his habit, most times even wear­ing the Domini­can black cap­pa! There is one mem­o­ry where Father is stand­ing in front of me, vehe­ment­ly lec­tur­ing me, and he is garbed in a beau­ti­ful gold cha­suble. It shim­mers and sparkles in spots- stun­ning. In anoth­er, I clear­ly see him sit­ting in the reclin­er with his cap­pa all about him, a la Darth Vad­er, look­ing pleased as punch-and so ele­gant and serene.…and healthy.  And Father is say­ing “1981, Ah, I was just at the begin­ning of my Domini­can life”. It had been my son’s birth­day and Father asked me the year he was born.

When I final­ly real­ized what I was see­ing, I tried to make sense of it. It had nev­er hap­pened pre­vi­ous­ly. I have always thought of Father Michael as first and fore­most a holy priest. His priest­ly char­ac­ter was so vis­i­ble. So I feel like God blessed my mem­o­ries in this way to recall every minute with Father as being in the pres­ence of an extra­or­di­nary priest . It is a lit­tle thing -but so sig­nif­i­cant. I cher­ish this grace of see­ing Father Michael robed as a ‘priest for­ev­er’.

On a lighter note, after I wrote my “Sols­bury Hill” entry, I had a dream. I saw Father Michael in his habit-there he was, a vision in black and white -Irish step-danc­ing to “Sols­bury Hill”. He cut quite a rug.

When Father  Michael was alive, part of my prayer rou­tine was to say a per­son­al­ized ver­sion of the Divine Mer­cy chap­let, nam­ing Father Michael in each prayer. After he died, I went back to the reg­u­lar chap­let. It cer­tain­ly went a lot faster! Then late­ly, I’ve had a few recita­tions where I ‘slipped’ into my old habit, say­ing Father Michael’s name in the prayer.  It amused me because I couldn’t imag­ine Father Michael need­ing my prayers any­more. I was sure he’d gone right to Heav­en.… until I had this dream.……

I saw Father Michael and he gave me a hug. I remem­ber noth­ing at all about the set­ting, just him. I thanked him for help­ing me and oth­ers who had prayed to him for this or that . (I think so many of us feel we now tru­ly know a saint in heav­en who pays atten­tion to us.) Any­way, Father Michael was so hap­py to have helped. He said he was very busy. I said “It sounds like you’re work­ing up there!” And he said “Well, the Lord has gra­cious­ly allowed me to be half­time in Heav­en and half­time in Pur­ga­to­ry”. I said “you’re still in Pur­ga­to­ry????!!!!” Father said “Yes, but there were just so many prayers and requests to me,that they want­ed to let me loose to start tak­ing care of them- so I ‘m doing it half­time”. I said “maybe the Lord will let you do many things at one time”. He laughed and said “Well , just keep pray­ing that Divine Mer­cy chap­let for me, I need it”.  That was it.

Iron­ic about the half­time-at least he doesn’t have to com­mute on the Ike!

Yep, I know,crazy.  I am doing the spe­cial chap­let though, at least for a while.

Karma, Lady Luck and Aquinas Institute

IllinoisLottery-Instant-Win

 

Father Michael loved lot­tery tick­ets, raf­fles and slot machines. I told him once about how my hus­band had ‘won big’ at a pen­ny slot machine at the casi­no. I felt a lit­tle embar­rassed admit­ting we liked casi­nos and the lot­tery. I explained to Father M that it kind of ‘runs’ in my fam­i­ly. Well, Father Michael was just entranced; I needn’t have wor­ried. He was a ‘gam­bler’ from way back. I had told him the big win sto­ry on the phone and a few days lat­er he was still think­ing about it and sent me this email:

I am blown away by the casi­no sto­ry. I have dreamed of a big win but it has nev­er hap­pened. When my dear moth­er was alive I would go with her and we’d have a ball. She would say ‘Fr Michael  let’s go to mass and then to the casi­no and we will come home and have a drink’. It was just per­fect. And I always laughed. She was much more of a win­ner than I  was.

One day we should sneak away and win a bun­dle!!!!

Bless­ings

Fr. Michael

Well, I was floored. Lat­er I found out that Father Michael also loved Instant Lot­tery tick­ets . He advised me too, that if he ever got a chance to buy any kind of raf­fle tick­ets, he always did. So that became a way that I gave small gifts to Father Michael-I’d buy him instant tick­ets! When there was a raf­fle tick­et avail­able, I got him one of those too. He was always so grate­ful -and sooooo excit­ed.

After Father’s can­cer diag­no­sis, I bought him some tick­ets every week. He would hold onto them for a few days before scratch­ing, savor­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties as long as he could. At one point, Father M con­fid­ed to me that he real­ly want­ed to win a mil­lion dol­lars for Aquinas Insti­tute of The­ol­o­gy in St Louis. Father Michael had so enjoyed serv­ing on the AI Board of Trustees for sev­er­al years. Gosh, I prayed that he’d win that mil­lion. He did win small amounts reg­u­lar­ly. A few times, he actu­al­ly won $100! He enjoyed treat­ing his broth­ers to piz­za with those wins.  But the ‘big win’ was not to be. I can recall some very fun­ny ‘rav­ings’ of Father Michael about the ’ low return’ rate of these tick­ets. Father M kept say­ing he was going to call up the gov­er­nor( a man with Domini­can ties) and take him to task about it. Father Michael was so fun­ny; he could get so per­turbed by los­ing. Once I had bought him sev­er­al extra tick­ets and lat­er asked how he’d done. “They were ALL DUDS!!!” he exclaimed, look­ing just like a deject­ed lit­tle boy.

Oh, yes we did go to a casi­no once. That was a trip. We had a snack ear­ly and then quick­ly got into the slots. I had brought a nice bankroll to share. I real­ly want­ed Father Michael to win some­thing sub­stan­tial. He was always so hope­ful. Well, we lost and lost! At one point I grabbed what I thought was $20 from my purse to give to Father Michael. It turned out to be two holy cards ! I laughed and start­ed to put them back , but Father M said “no, let me have them”. He read the prayers on the back first and then  pro­ceed­ed to tuck each holy card into the sides of his machine’s screen. Then he start­ed to rub the screen up and down as he remarked “I see all the old ladies do this”. The per­son sit­ting on the oth­er side of Father was watch­ing him, get­ting quite a kick out of  all the rit­u­al. THEN Father Michael rais­es his right hand and BLESSES the machine!!! I real­ly lost it then; I almost fell off the chair , I was laugh­ing so much. But Father Michael, as seri­ous as could be, was the pic­ture of devo­tion and determination—and HOPE ! We still lost. Nev­er got through my bankroll; Father Michael was anx­ious to get back to St Pius for prayer.

Father Michael loved to hear about my casi­no vis­its, espe­cial­ly as he became more home­bound. He’d often tell me ” You have good Kar­ma, I knew you’d do well”. I’d say ” we’re Catholics- should we even be using the word Kar­ma?” Father M would just smile. I’d often take a pic­ture of good hits at the casi­no and send them to Father Michael. He would always respond imme­di­ate­ly with a “Well done!”, “How much were you bet­ting?” or my per­son­al favorite, “YEAH!!!!”

Again these are some of the lit­tle things-cer­tain­ly world­ly-but I know all of them helped Father Michael in his can­cer bat­tle. Per­haps they were just dis­trac­tions from the pain and the dif­fi­cul­ties on the jour­ney. But Father Michael rev­eled in their sim­ple delights. On my last vis­it to Father Michael,  he told me “I sure would like to go to the casi­no with you again”.

FYI-if any­one would like to donate to Aquinas Insti­tute, here is a link to their online giv­ing page:

http://www.ai.edu/Online-Payments/Online-Payments-and-Donations

the Fr. Michael G. Kyte, O.P., Excel­lence in Preach­ing Fund, Domini­cans, 1910 S. Ash­land Ave, Chica­go, IL 60608. — See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/chicagotribune/obituary.aspx?n=michael-kyte&pid=170399841&fhid=6266#sthash.7K2dHOrY.dpuf

Also there is a new spe­cial fund ded­i­cat­ed to prepar­ing our future preach­ers study­ing at AI: The Father Michael G. Kyte, O.P. Excel­lence in Preach­ing Fund, 1910 S Ash­land Av, Chica­go IL 60608

Some of the Little Things

Drying the sheetsJust a short note to focus the spot­light  on the ‘lit­tle things’ on this blog. Father Michael often used those two words. I remem­ber most­ly hear­ing them in his beau­ti­ful hom­i­lies. Father Michael spoke so often of the impor­tant ideals, lifestyles,choices, that we select­ed for our lives- how we accom­mo­dat­ed our faith to those choic­es . He always empha­sized the lit­tle things  that made the dif­fer­ence in our deal­ingswith each oth­er. Father M saw the real­i­ty of our Faith and the Lord’s pres­ence in the every­day, in the ordi­nary.

One day Father Michael was mar­veling about a ven­dor he passed dai­ly near St Pius in Pilsen.  Father Michael said he greet­ed the man each day with an “¡Hola!” and the man always smiled and returned the greet­ing. The ven­dor kept busy through the day sell­ing Mex­i­can bev­er­ages and snacks from a cart. Father Michael told me, “He works so hap­pi­ly, I’m sure he is a holy man.”  Well, on this par­tic­u­lar day, when Father first glimpsed him, the man appeared to be relax­ing. But as he came clos­er , Father M saw that the ven­dor was engrossed in a book — and it just hap­pened to be a Bible!! This gave Father Michael such joy. It was like an affir­ma­tion of the good­ness he had always assumed. This was just a lit­tle thing, but to Father M, it spoke vol­umes.

Once Father Michael shared some love­ly mem­o­ries of grow­ing up, watch­ing his moth­er laun­der, mend, air dry and iron the family’s sheets. A big job for a fam­i­ly that large, but def­i­nite­ly one of those ‘lit­tle things’. Father spoke ten­der­ly about how she dili­gent­ly patched the worn sheets. I wrote him an email thank­ing him for the sto­ry-which I thought said much about his own char­ac­ter. He gra­cious­ly answered:

I did love my birth moth­er. She was very play­ful (also extra­or­di­nar­i­ly orga­nized- a trait I missed.)
I love old things. I love restored hous­es and patched sheets and patched shirts and mend­ed socks and shoes that have been renewed at the shoe mak­er. Some­how they give me a great sense of peo­ple car­ing for peo­ple. ”

I think Father Michael stayed con­tin­u­al­ly aware of so many of these lit­tle things-through­out his life. He eas­i­ly saw the love in all of them, the ‘peo­ple car­ing for peo­ple’.

 

The Rowboat, the Shore and the Bramble Arch

"Michael, row the boat ashore,Hallelujah.."

I’m putting the video of Father Michael’s funer­al homi­ly below. It is an absolute­ly fit­ting trib­ute from his close friend Father Louis Mor­rone O.P.  Lots of humor, lots of joy, lots of love in that talk.

Father Louie recounts how Father Michael spoke of his vision of going to Heav­en. Father Michael told me the sto­ry, too. Some of the details in mine are a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. For one thing, Father Michael relayed this to me as a ‘one- time’ expe­ri­ence. Though I have no doubt , that it was an expe­ri­ence to which he con­tem­pla­tive­ly returned quite often. He’d been relax­ing in his room at St Pius V Pri­o­ry, eyes half closed, feel­ing like he was drift­ing off, sort of in and out of sleep. He saw the water and the far-off shore and a  row­boat (or “it could have been a canoe,” he said). He then was in the row­boat and knew he must pad­dle to the shore. Father Michael then inter­ject­ed , that he had known and worked with a Domini­can sis­ter, who spoke of the jour­ney to Heav­en as trav­el­ing across water to Heaven’s shores. Father M said the sis­ter had been quite con­vinc­ing in her talk  and years ago he began to pic­ture the jour­ney to eter­nal life the same way. So there he was, on the water , approach­ing the shore and there was a hill there. As he gets the boat on land, he looks up and sees an arch made of bram­bles at the top of the hill. Sud­den­ly a woman is there at the arch . He doesn’t rec­og­nize her, but as she runs down, he sees her clear­ly. It is his moth­er. She runs into his arms and embraces him and says “Oh Michael, it’s been so long since I’ve seen you!”

Hear­ing this sto­ry, I became quite excit­ed and exu­ber­ant -and talk­a­tive- with Father Michael. I spoke of how peace­ful and secure this expe­ri­ence must have made him feel. I remem­ber stat­ing how blessed he was to have this vision, some­thing to rec­og­nize, some­thing to help him-when the time came . But I now won­der if there was more to the sto­ry that I didn’t hear, that maybe he hadn’t fin­ished it . Per­haps his moth­er had had more words for Father Michael. Per­haps this was the key to his feel­ing the immi­nence of his death. This was my fault for inter­rupt­ing Father M.…maybe some­one else can fill me in- if there was more to it.

Much ear­li­er in his can­cer jour­ney, Father Michael told me that he had envi­sioned his liv­er going from black to a healthy pink. And he was sure that he was get­ting bet­ter. He said he had pic­tured the cells of his liv­er and he saw the can­cer cells in a bunch and they became stiff and dead-look­ing. He saw this as a sign that they were par­a­lyzed. In these same imag­in­ings, Father Michael felt his moth­er was present. He recount­ed that he couldn’t see her clear­ly at all except for her smile and her teeth. “My moth­er had the most per­fect teeth!”-so he’d rec­og­nized her in them and was sure she was keep­ing his can­cer at bay.

After  I heard the sto­ry about the per­fect teeth , I began to pray that Father Michael would con­tin­ue to feel the help of his moth­er in his ill­ness. I nev­er heard about any oth­er inci­dents, but was quite heart­ened by Father M’s beau­ti­ful vision. I know it could only have helped him in those last days on earth.

 

Consolation at the Cemetery

Father Michael's graveWent to vis­it Father Michael’s grave today. I last saw it the day after he was buried, when its sur­face was plain old dirt.  That time, I prayed for all of us (so many !) who need­ed con­so­la­tion.  I remem­ber think­ing that maybe Father Michael would ‘leave’ me some­thing, some lit­tle token. I’d often told him I would so cher­ish some­thing he had writ­ten, like an essay, or the out­line of a homi­ly or even some per­son­al reflec­tion. Well, that’s what I would have want­ed. I was think­ing  about that as I stared at the dusty earth that day and the wind start­ed to pick up. Suddenly,on the grave, I saw this dry brown leaf stand up and dance on its stem- lift­ed by the wind.  What do you know.…It was a maple leaf- emblem of Cana­da, the home­land of my dear friend. Well, that’s appro­pri­ate, I thought and I picked it up as a remem­brance of Father M. I keep it pressed in the pages of my Bible .

So today, I talked to a friend after Mass. She relayed that close friends of Father Michael  were vis­it­ing the ceme­tery each Sat­ur­day. I felt sad that I had not gone for a while. It was rainy and seemed like a good day to go to a ceme­tery, so I decid­ed to dri­ve over. Well, there is no mark­er yet, but Father Michael’s grave is a stand­out. The grave is sod­ded and so green right now. There is a lit­tle peachy rose­bush plant­ed near the top and two mini ros­es, pink and yel­low, are at the foot of the grave. All are bloom­ing quite nice­ly. There is a white cross and red dec­o­ra­tive  flower where the mark­er soon will rest. Some­one placed a rock with a mes­sage near the cross; it states ‘always in our hearts’. Above the grave, actu­al­ly plant­ed at  the foot of anoth­er Domini­can friar’s plot, is an arrange­ment of annu­al flow­ers. I took a pic­ture with my cell phone.

It cheered me to see this bright spot in the ceme­tery and to know that Father Michael’s body, the for­mer tem­ple of his spir­it, rests beneath it. Cer­tain­ly there are oth­er bright spots around, dec­o­ra­tions and flow­ers here and there- but this was the bright­est of all. Again, most appro­pri­ate for some­one whose light was nev­er, ever under a bushel! I hope the rose bush­es make it, though I think that would be a mir­a­cle. Ceme­tery pol­i­cy for­bids plant­i­ngs except near large fam­i­ly plot mark­ers. I’m afraid every­thing will even­tu­al­ly be mowed over and yanked out ‘per the rules’. But I hope some­how this lit­tle spot can be over­looked for a bit, just so we , still need­ing con­so­la­tion, can savor it. See­ing the flow­ers actu­al­ly grow­ing from that spot makes me think of all the good seeds Father Michael plant­ed and nour­ished in his holy life.

My life flows on in end­less song, above Earth’s lamen­ta­tion..”