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..”