I was introduced to Father Michael’s manner of handling things long before I ever spoke to him. I had been back at St. Vincent’s for a month or two. I didn’t know Father Michael’s name, nor had I attended any of his Masses. But I had seen him greeting people after Mass -and I’d noticed how there were always lines to talk to him or he’d be surrounded by people.
So one day I was going to visit my mother, driving past a local school. There are two stop signs about a block apart by this school. I stopped at the first sign and glanced in my rear view mirror. I saw a familiar face. It was Father Michael, dressed in a black suit with the Roman collar . I thought “Oh , it’s that popular priest from St Vincent’s”. In the few seconds I watched, Father Michael began to grimace, and shake his head from side to side, he grasped the steering wheel and then pounded it. He looked completely exasperated, almost about to cry, moving sharply, literally ‘beside himself’. I’d never seen anything like it. It was obvious that Father Michael was extraordinarily upset and completely oblivious of my attention. I thought I’d better stop staring at him and get moving. I drove to the next stop sign and Father quickly came up right behind me. I looked again in the mirror and Father Michael continued all the agitated movements and anguished faces. My gut feeling was that Father M had heard bad news about his health or that of a loved one. I felt so shaken seeing him like that. What on earth was wrong? Something had to be wrong. I had to turn off that street to head to my mother’s and as I drove on I prayed for Father Michael. I looked for him that following Sunday and he wasn’t at church. I feared the worst (this was two years before his cancer diagnosis). The following Sunday, Father Michael was back, holding court after Mass. All was well, it seemed. I was so relieved.
Later, when I got to know Father Michael, I wrote him about what I had seen a few years before. I didn’t ask him to explain it, but in this email, he did:
Isn’t it funny that we see people in cars and wonder what is happening. I have a tendency to really ponder the suffering of others. One brother says that I have to ‘filter’ all the pain I encounter from God’s people. You certainly are intuitive.
Keep me in your prayers that I can be more faithful to the quiet and prayer. There is always so much to do that seems ‘urgent’. But one African American lady used to say to me ‘God is able’. So I have to trust that all will be well.
After I understood how he processed people’s troubles in true pain of his own, I saw Father Michael’s sensitivity as his way of seeking to suffer with others. Another of his graces.
Last November Father Michael ,very ill, wrote me:
“It is now 12:30 am and I can’t sleep. I have had significant anxiety today. I think it was brought on by feeling rotten all day and being worried that the pain level doesn’t seem to go away nor is my appetite good. I think some days are just difficult and filled with fear. I try to recite the Apostles Creed to calm me down. It is the one prayer that I was able to say since this journey began last December 8th when those three medical people came into my room and changed the direction of my life……..I thank you for your prayer ‘complete cure’. Again it may be the day and the fact that I am not so well that I really needed that positive energy today.Hopefully ,tomorrow will be better. Surrendering to the will of God is so much more difficult than words or saying we will do so. I think you may know that I have always loved the Agony in the Garden because that is where Jesus says an absolute yes and experiences a marvelous surrender to what God the Father wants of Him.”
We all prayed so much for Father Michael. Reading his account of his own suffering above, I could only hope that our prayers had helped. I remember Father Michael calling me, talking about being fearful in the night and mentioning again the Apostles’ Creed-how he said it over and over. And then he prayed it with me on the phone- with so much emotion and strength in his voice….out of the depths.