Simple Gifts and Insights

 

Mexican fresco
Mex­i­can fres­co

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.

 

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