Sublime in the Ordinary

Aurora Borealis/ NASA photo

Around this time last year, I saw Father Michael at St Pius, and he told me a sto­ry which had giv­en him so much hope. One of Father’s younger sis­ters had vis­it­ed him recent­ly and told him some­thing which had hap­pened a few months back-on one of her ear­li­er vis­its.

Father Michael’s blood was defi­cient in mag­ne­sium; yep, it was pret­ty much nil. As he was receiv­ing one of his many mag­ne­sium infu­sions, his sister,(whom Father called ‘my sen­si­tive sis­ter’) decid­ed to talk pri­vate­ly to Father’s oncol­o­gist. She relayed to Father Michael how upset she had been, cry­ing and cry­ing and cry­ing. Things were look­ing so dis­cour­ag­ing- the mag­ne­sium prob­lem was just the most recent of many set­backs that had occurred. It was over­whelm­ing to her- and she had to go back to Cana­da that evening.  As she cried, she explained to the doc­tor “You have no idea how my broth­er Michael is just so spe­cial to our fam­i­ly- we can’t lose him.” The good doc­tor respond­ed  with ” I think with Father Michael we just might get a mir­a­cle.”

Well, Father Michael was so in awe of the doctor’s hope­ful words and so pleased that his sis­ter had shared them. It was as though he had received a trea­sure in those words. So I remem­ber today the solem­ni­ty with which Father Michael told me this story,the rev­er­ence, the grat­i­tude.  And there was such hon­esty and sim­plic­i­ty with which he told it to me. He was trans­par­ent and so very hum­ble.

I loved that, in telling the sto­ry, Father Michael had to refer to him­self as ‘spe­cial’. And he had no qualms or hes­i­ta­tion about say­ing it! He knew it was the truth. He knew very well that he had quite an impact on peo­ple.

So often, since Father’s death, I have heard oth­ers say  “Father Michael had NO idea of how influ­en­tial he was”. Or I have read “Father Michael just nev­er real­ized how spe­cial he was”. Just not true. Father Michael knew ; he was total­ly aware of his God-giv­en gifts and their effects.  He just didn’t need to talk about them or draw overt atten­tion to them. Cer­tain­ly, as a human being , he was pleased when he was rec­og­nized or praised. But Father Michael’s  true focus was on ‘being the vehi­cle’, a tool in the hand of God. He val­ued this above any praise for him­self. I once wrote him an email prais­ing him for a love­ly homi­ly. He respond­ed  with this :

For­give my tar­di­ness in acknowl­edg­ing your kind words. It meant a lot. Often times we won­der if our words are fine. Real­ly, we are sim­ply vehi­cles of the Word. We pray and study and hope that God gives us some­thing that will help fel­low ‘pil­grims’. So your kind words are a bless­ing to God.”

Leave it to Father M to see my would-be com­pli­ment to him as a bless­ing to God!  I miss him–and his per­cep­tive observations–so very much.

Once I asked Father M if he was going to con­cel­e­brate a farewell Mass with a priest who had just been reas­signed from our parish. He said “No, I hadn’t planned on it.” Sur­prised by this, I said “Oh, I thought you would be there just to be nice and to say good­bye”. Father Michael said noth­ing in response. But that Sun­day, there he was, up in the sanc­tu­ary . He had arrived too late to walk in the pro­ces­sion, but his pres­ence more than made up for his late arrival. And after Mass was over, Father Michael just beamed as he accom­pa­nied the oth­er priest back down the aisle. Yes, Father Michael was blessed with an hon­est under­stand­ing of his influ­ence.

And we were priv­i­leged to know and love a man of true humility.….the sub­lime in the ordi­nary.


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