I’ve been thinking some more (in my continued insomniac condition) of the last month of Father Michael’s life. Because it was this time last year, it is so very easy to feel like it was yesterday!
On Fat Tuesday in 2014, I brought some Polish paczki to treat the brothers at St Pius. I was due to meet Father Michael at 3pm. I parked my usual three blocks away from St Pius and walked-carrying the pastries-which were quite heavy. As I approached Ashland, I saw a familiar figure come out of the Province office building. It was Father Michael, all bundled up, walking slowly and leaning heavily on his cane. I was too far away to catch up with him. So I continued my careful walk on the icy sidewalks ,but also kept an eye on Father M. He moved slowly, but determinedly, got to the light and rested his weight on the cane. I was so touched , watching Father. He was putting all his effort into getting himself to that priory. And he was going there in sheer goodness and selflessness, to meet with me-a proven thorn in his side! I was as moved thinking this as I had been at hearing so many of Father’s homilies. I was teary- eyed when I finally caught up with Father at the priory door. He greeted me kindly and we went into the parlor to talk.
Father Michael said he’d again been doing the clerical work- some phone calls for the province. He was happy that he could do something. I also think at that time, that his living quarters were probably overrun with ‘organizers’. After Father died, some parish ladies told me they had been recruited to organize, rearrange and discard Father’s papers, cards, letters and many possessions. I can imagine how uncomfortable he was with this. Not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings though, I bet he acted grateful to the ladies. No wonder he stayed down in the parlor!
But anyway, that day, Father M happily told me he had written a Lenten reflection for the Dominican website. There is a link to it at the end of the “Humble Preacher” post on this blog. Father told me “I mention you in the reflection”. Well, I knew it really couldn’t be that simple or personal. But he said “Listen” and took a paper from his pocket and read it to me. Here is the line he was talking about:
“What we are experiencing is the fidelity of God. He never abandons us. No matter how low life might seem to get there is always abundant hope. I am living my time of hope. Even though things do not always look good I feel so blessed by many people asking God for ‘ a total cure for Father Michael.’ “
I thanked Father Michael for remembering me (and so many others!!) in that reflection. We had a lovely, peaceful visit-for the most part.
In these latter visits, many times Father Michael would get very angry and confrontational. He was quite moody. I remember one conversation where he got irritated that I had used the term ‘water sports’. I had been talking about his young life in Nova Scotia, imagining how kids would grow up surrounded by the ocean and lakes and would take advantage of the many recreation possibilities of the water. Well, Father Michael got so angry with me, saying that I was implying all Nova Scotia people hung out in fancy yachts.
Sometimes it was very hard for him to calm down. I think many people would say this was his cancer talking and acting in such a mean way. I certainly believe the stress and pain and sadness acted as catalysts for this uncharacteristic behavior. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that there was no truth in it. On the contrary,in seeing these moments I feel that I was blessed with a glimpse of the soul and character of Father Michael. It was a glimpse with a different perspective, for sure.It was always so easy to see the good in Father when all was well. Father Michael simply shone with the good. But these other traits-the darkness, the anger, the impatience-they were very real. In observing these negatives, I comprehended the human and sinful things with which Father Michael struggled. Along with Father M’s many virtues, these struggles, too, contributed to the making of this wonderful man . And seeing this complete picture, it made me all the more appreciative of Father Michael’s true holiness.