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.