Always the Shepherd

The Lost Sheep/Daniel Bonnell
The Lost Sheep/Daniel Bonnell

Yesterday I was looking at a video of a Dominican event that took place in March, 2013. At the end of the video the camera panned the group of people in attendance. Then it focused on some Dominican friars standing in the back of the room. And there he was, Father Michael, holding court just like he used to do at St Vincent, hugging and kissing up a storm. There was audio, too, and I could faintly hear Father’s voice. Gosh, it brought tears to my eyes to see, as real again, a  common scene I have remembered and cherished. Sad to say, they were still tears of sadness, not joy. I watched the clip twice and and then decided to just leave it alone. It’s not surprising to me that these ‘little things’ still hold a very deep meaning. Later I remembered that I had actually called Father M that day, wanting to know if he was ready to eat some pies after completing his chemo. Well, he was out of state, he said, but he was anxious for pie upon his return to St Pius. It was exactly a year and a day before he died.

I want to focus on the positive. So I’ve decided that I will share some early memories of Father Michael-before his cancer diagnosis. I know that I have mentioned that I came back to my parish to discuss some spiritual issues with a priest. It was not a matter of confession; there was more to it. After a long delay, I approached Father M and he was very welcoming. First I emailed Father, then I visited him in the sacristy, then set up an appointment. This is about my first appointment.

I made the appointment about a week before and was a little nervous, yet felt I had found the right person. I was so impressed with Father Michael, I thought “I just know he’s going to talk about the grace of Reconciliation”. I was sure he would suggest that to me. I thought if I made my confession to Father Michael, I’d be so emotionally spent that I wouldn’t be able to talk about all the other stuff. So that morning,after Mass at St Vincent, I went to a close-by parish for Confession. I knew the priests were available right after Mass. So funny, because I think I felt like I had to cleanse my soul before I dared face the very holy Father Michael. And yes, he did bring up Reconciliation that day!

Well, I was on time for the appointment, Father Michael was a few minutes late. I knew he had been with a prominent member of our parish who had passed away. The receptionist had been on the phone “getting the word out”. When Father arrived, we went into his office and sat down. Even though I had eaten, my stomach had been rumbling away-probably nerves. I decided to just be open about it and apologize for the noise ahead of time. Well, Father M laughed and said “Oh you don’t know about me and my stomach issues. Girl, you and I will just sit here and gurgle at each other!” So that broke the awkwardness for me! Father Michael then started to give me a history of his stomach issues,the current ones (which many ladies of the parish knew well-and discussed freely) . He then told of the bleeding ulcer he had in Denver. He was Dominican Novice Master at the time. He said the doctors had told him he had “24 hours to live”. He claimed he told them “Good, no drama, don’t worry about notifying my family”. He never said how long it took him to recuperate or if his family were ever notified. I asked what he thought caused the ulcer and he said “I kind of let everything get away from me”. I didn’t feel comfortable asking him to elaborate, though now I wish I had. In later conversations, he did say that whenever his stomach would give him trouble, he’d just stop eating,sometimes for a few days. He talked about possibly having lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome and multiple bowel obstructions. Father M was very frank about this stuff- though he never mentioned a doctor’s diagnosis. And– he also alluded to some regret about not being stricter as a Novice Master-“when I hear how some of them are now.”

So after the stomach discussion Father asked me about myself. He was so careful in how he asked about education. It was clear to me that he was leery of offending someone (especially a woman) by assuming her level of education was lower than she had achieved. I’ll bet he’d made that faux pas a few times! The caution was actually very charming. But I only have a B.A. from Loyola-so he had nothing to fear. That’s pretty average. Then Father asked more questions about possibly stressful situations in my life. I recognized all the queries as being pretty standard about death, divorce, moving, job, abuse, addiction. Father was very gentle and kind and tentative in his questioning. I think he just assumed I was having marital problems. He mentioned annulments and remarriage a few times. Well, my issue was none of these, but it took me three or four appointments before I felt comfortable telling him. I didn’t want to be discourteous and shut down all his kind effort, so I went along with it.

Of course we talked about other things, most notably family, Reconciliation and the Eucharist. But most interestingly, Father Michael gave me a little lecture on the power of the sense of touch. He explained that when he was a freshman at Dalhousie University, he and his older brother had attended a seminar or lecture by a very famous scientist. The lecture was all about the sense of touch and how important and meaningful it was. I found myself thinking “I am a wife and mother of three, why is he telling me this? If nothing else, I am fully aware of how important this is for bonding mother and baby.” Well, Father talked for over ten minutes on this subject. I was fascinated at his great emotion in relaying his thoughts with such conviction. Father ended his talk telling me of the new widow he had just left. He described poignantly how she had stroked her dead husband’s arm over and over. And he showed me just how she did this. He choked up and teared up as he described his awe being in the presence of such a great love.Quite an unexpected turn in our talk, but as I grew to know Father better, I learned that using touch was a hallmark of Father Michael’s being.

Then we spoke of the Eucharist. I’ve written about this awhile back. For some reason Father Michael was impressed by my words that day. I still wish I could remember what I’d said. In any case, Father M started talking about the way people received the Eucharist , people who would just grab IT from him, those who approached disrespectfully, those who would receive and just walk out the door. He lamented that poor catechesis  had resulted in people ‘who didn’t have a clue’. He was truly sad about this. Then Father shared the experience of celebrating Mass in Canada with those very close to him. He quickly gave a rundown of those who were no longer practicing Catholics and those extended family who belonged to different denominations. With big tears rolling down his cheeks, he said “I feel so bad about their receiving Communion, but I don’t know what to say.” Wow, was I surprised about that!!!!  After all he was a priest-and a good and holy one- who wouldn’t listen to him?  I was concerned and empathetic, seeing again this great emotion show so quickly. I said “Father Michael, I can understand that you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or start a war, but maybe one of your brothers could explain this in a non-hurtful way”. Father just shook his head, he felt truly helpless about the situation. Father was unique in openly showing his vulnerability and I was privileged to see this in significant matters of faith. When he visited Canada, I prayed that he might have peace about this.

In my earliest posts, I’ve written about other aspects of this meeting. I won’t repeat them here.The meeting ended most pleasantly. And I felt that God had given me a great gift in leading me to Father Michael. It is so nice to reminisce. So much was so meaningful.

After All, We Are An Easter People

549443_873708899357112_6993983978990308286_nIt’s just after midnight on Easter Sunday. I attended the Easter vigil at St Vincent’s. It was exciting to welcome the newly baptized and confirmed members of our church. That was a true highlight of the liturgy. I’m glad I attended for that reason.

But gosh, the homily was such a downer. Just my insignificant opinion.  Our priest chose to emphasize the negative (dead- as he put it) attitudes in our lives…..on Easter!! No encouragement, no empathy, no attempt to understand…..so depressing.  It left me feeling sad, for I know every one  of the congregation has experienced these feelings.

To counter this I’m going to share some wonderful words of Father Michael from his emails to me. I needed to be lifted up after that homily; reading them has  helped immensely. Hope you all will enjoy the POSITIVE:

After our first ‘in-person’ meeting-

I was thrilled to see you this morning “in the sacristy”!!!!! You are so joyful and faithfilled and your family is lucky having you praying for them.Come often just to laugh or say hi !

         If you want to chat about anything, call anytime.

         Blessings,

Father Michael


Know you are welcome anytime to share anything. You can decide when it is good or the spirit guides you. I’m thrilled with your story. God is so powerful and yet we still need to hear these kinds of stories.

        Hope the rest of the day is great.. Keep COOL as best as you can.

Blessings
Fr. Michael op


    I don’t mind at all receiving your emails. I am sorry to read your son’s view of faith. Sometimes I   wonder how our children turn so far from faith after being formed in it. But with God all things are possible and that anger/hurt may turn to a new zeal. Maybe now that he is looking for a job, he will be more open to God’s grace and gifts.

        Blessings on all your worries but gratefulness for your faith.

Father Michael


        Thanks for that funny story about your Aunt. Everyone should have an aunt like that.

       I am so touched by your generous offer. Honestly, that is hardly necessary. I have loved my priesthood these 25 years although there have been painful times. But God has always stuck with me. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t pray in gratitude for his fidelity. I am awed by it.

It is true that the most devastating moment in my academic life led me to the Dominicans. I have often thought of that. Today, it was comforting to know someone of the status of St. Alphonsus Liguori had a terrible professional experience that led to great things.

I’m off to Canada on Friday. Say a prayer that all will be well with the family. I just want pleasant weather and to swim.

Blessings
Fr. Michael


After an unpleasant, touchy ‘discussion’ of common stereotypes:

I once did a talk with a Dominican sister and it was on stereotypes. We would mention a culture and the audience had to do a spontaneous response. It was astounding. For almost every culture the first response was negative. For example Irish equals drunk, German equals rigid etc. Truly, I have heard the Polish jokes but I have always been dismayed because of the brilliance of our Polish brothers and the faith that saved a nation when so much of Eastern Europe lost it. The human condition seems to move quickly to negative responses which I see as the result of original sin.

One blessing I have always thanked God for is that I usually can see positive things even in the terrible realities of life. Some say I have rose colored glasses, others just say I am naive. But I do believe God wants me to love and to live by positive reinforcement. There is a school of psychology that is directed at healing by affirmations that help the patient.

Anyway, I’m glad you are blessed with finding the good in people.

Also well done at the casino. I just know you have good karma!!!!!

Blessings
Fr. Michael


It is a wonderment to me that even in talking about  negative, unpleasant things, Father Michael was able to see the good, the hopeful, the positive. It is so good to see his words and remember.

I feel much better—–Happy Easter to all!

 

Home for a Year Now….

Fra Angelico Update
Fra Angelico Update

 It’s been a year and yet in some ways, it seems like yesterday. Tonight at St Vincent Ferrer church, we will celebrate a memorial Mass in honor of Father Michael. As happy as I am that Father Michael is in Heaven, it still saddens me that he was lost to us so soon. And personally, I regret that I did not get to know Father Michael earlier. Two years is way too short a time, but I am grateful for what I had.

From its beginning, this blog has been an attempt to honor and remember Father Michael. And I have done my best to share what I know of him with all of you. I have always been truthful, which is why not everything you read here of Father M advertises his perfection. No, Father was not by any means perfect. He had his faults.  But he was most certainly a holy, holy man and a true instrument of Our Lord. I’ve never met anyone like him; I know I’ll never meet his like again, at least in this life.

Over the course of this past year, fellow parishioners have periodically written about their experiences with and thoughts and feelings for Father Michael. I identified with each person’s story, the familiarity and truth of Father Michael came through in each essay. Every story was authentic and celebrated the lovely aspects of the character of Father Michael. How much he was loved! How much he is missed!

On this first anniversary of Father Michael’s death, I want to state  a simple reason why he was so special to me. For me Father Michael just was kindness.He personified that fruit of the Holy Spirit. Sure, I’ve experienced my share of true kindness from many others in my life. It was there in my parents, my family, my friends, coworkers and sometimes strangers. It supported me and lifted me up. Experiencing kindness taught me how to be kind. It heightened my awareness of how little things, simple, kind acts can make a difference in people’s lives.

But the kindness in Father Michael just enveloped his whole personality. Whether talking or silent, laughing or serious, in Father Michael the kindness was always there. Gestures and words really weren’t necessary; somehow the kindness stood on its own with him. I just felt it. I could see it. It seemed to emanate from him. In my whole life I have NEVER felt kindness as sincere, as accepting, as loving, as warm, as dependable-as shown by Father Michael. To me this was the very tangible presence of the grace of God-that just could not be contained-but kindly reached out to all. I know that I will never experience this level of complete kindness from another person. It was another special gift of Father Michael.

We look for the Lord in each other. And usually, with effort, we do find Him. But with Father Michael, He was always right there…..no looking necessary.

                                                  I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me…

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.

 

It Takes a Great Heart

Entrance to Giverny under the Snow/MonetThis cold and snowy weather is reminiscent of last year in Chicago. I do think we had a lot more snow last year though. I visited Father Michael and I got to be pretty good at parallel parking in Pilsen, taking my chances and crossing my fingers as I maneuvered into the snow-banked spaces. I almost always parked two to three blocks away from St. Pius. There was always carpool traffic for schools and many parking spaces being held by chairs or other objects.

I’d call Father M (he wanted to know when I’d arrived) and he’d say “Are you here? Where are you parked? I don’t see your car”. Often he’d say”I’m looking out on Ashland and there is an open spot right across from me.Why don’t you just drive over and grab it”. Now knew by the time I got over there, the space would be taken and I’d be out of luck. Father Michael didn’t understand my reluctance to try; he was a man of faith, after all. The Lord takes care of His specially beloved-His priests -and available parking just might be a given for them. But the rest of us….no.

Father Michael liked to take short walks when he was feeling more energized. I was privileged a few times to have him walk me to my car after my visits. Then I would drive him back to St Pius and he would be so pleased that he had ‘exercised’. Such a simple thing to do to make his day!

I remember one icy ,windy day when Father and I decided to walk to my car. When we reached it, Father waited on the sidewalk as I pulled the car away from the piled snow to allow the passenger door to open. It took a minute or two; some rocking, it was so slippery. I almost panicked as I looked over at the curb. Poor Father M stood there shaking so visibly as the wind whipped around his slight frame. He looked like he was going to cry. When he was finally able to get in the car, he went from not being able to talk because of his shivering-to yelling at me for me being so slow. I felt so bad. I had underestimated the wind chill and the sun was going down, too. It was my bad judgment that Father Michael would be ok for the walk.

Father Michael was always cold. Even when he was well and temperatures mild, Father M always wore a sweater! He used to joke about it. So often in his last year, he spoke of the cold. He dreaded going out in it. In fighting his cancer, his  body’s cold sensitivity was heightened. Yet he was always keenly aware of the plight of the poor and the homeless. In one email he talked of being so chilled to the bone and anxious to get to the warmth of his bed, yet he told me-

“I’m going to pray tonight for all the homeless out in this cold. There is so much suffering.”

I was certainly aware of the suffering that extreme weather caused everyone. Effortlessly Father Michael could always put a face on that suffering and elicit a deeper response. Father Michael’s simple words were so powerful,so transparently true, they went straight to the heart. How I miss him and his great heart.

“The tragedy of the world is that so many are unloved. Roses always look beautiful and smell sweet, and hence they are a prize to be possessed. Sweetbriar, however, has fragrant leaves, and they are never so fragrant as when it rains. The common people of the world are like these leaves; they have something fragrant about them, particularly when the days are dark and clouded and rain falls in their lives. Anyone can love a rose; but it takes a great heart to love a leaf.” – Archbishop Fulton Sheen

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.

 

”The Wonderment of God”

10646633_805091119552224_7151441132180897568_nIn July of 2013, I asked Father Michael if he would pray for the healing of a young man.I only knew of Thomas through his online writings and tweets, but I had always been very impressed by him. This young man, married just three months , had suffered an injury to his spinal vertebrae in an accident. When I first asked Father M for prayers, the prognosis for Thomas was not encouraging. The doctors talked of a “persistent vegetative state” and paralysis. But Thomas improved remarkably, perhaps miraculously. He moved , he talked-and got much better. Thomas was surrounded through it all by loving, faith-filled family, friends, colleagues – and of course his spouse, Natalie.

Well, Father Michael was impressed by the unwavering faith of this young couple and constantly was asking me for updates on them. He would often say things like “can you imagine a couple facing this so early in their marriage? How many people even imagine something like this happening when they say their vows?” Father Michael looked at this young couple as an extraordinary example of a loving marriage. He often spoke of how the love and sacrifices and graces of that sacrament awed him, especially when their effects were so evident in peoples’ everyday lives.

I was dependent on updates from  Thomas’ recovery website to keep Father M “in the know”. I relayed Thomas’ newly recovered abilities and sent Father M some of the pictures that were on the Recovery page. I sent texts whenever I wanted to quickly inform Father M. Father Michael marveled at it all and gave thanks for each improvement in Thomas’ condition. He became more and more fond of this young couple ! He wrote me this email:

“Thanks for the picture! What a lovely couple! I continue to be awed by their faith and the miracle that has happened. God is good and we have to celebrate all the good in life.”

He sent this after seeing pictures of Thomas’ rehab work : ” It is so good to see Tom able to use his body. Isn’t God awesome? He has done incredible work since the accident. It could be a whole different reality”

And this after receiving another picture from their site:”What a wonderful photo. Aren’t we blessed to be connected by this story! Thanks for keeping me updated on this marvelous couple. Blessings and hugs, Fr.Michael”

And this-after several of my text updates:”Thanks for all the updates on Tom. He will be the Thanksgiving and Christmas miracle! Can you imagine their short journey of marriage thus far?”

And on Labor Day 2013 Father M left me a voicemail full of hope for Thomas and himself. I’ll let him speak for himself—

Thomas Peters continues to recover- through much effort and the grace of God. If you would like to know more of his story,here is a link to the recovery web site

http://tpetersrecovery.blogspot.com/

So Father Michael saw this all as the “Wonderment of God”. I often think of Tom in rehab and his efforts to walk again -and I pray for him and Natalie. I also picture Father Michael nearby, surveying it all, hoping for the miracles to come. He wouldn’t want to miss them-something to celebrate!

As Gold in the Furnace

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 7.41.10 PMFather Michael had ups and downs throughout his journey with his cancer. The most obvious of them were physical. He’d have some encouraging days where he’d feel very well and then overdo and stretch himself. Then there would be those days where he was tired, full of pain, nauseous or all of the above. He suffered terribly with neuropathy both in his hands and his feet.Yet Father Michael was patient, resigned and determined to get better, to be healed . He sent me this comment :

“The pain is hard but I want to develop a better attitude.It really is nothing compared to what He did for us. And I have pills for the pain! I also want to pray for an appetite.The pie was delicious. That is about the only thing I ate today.I will go to the kitchen soon and see if there is something that seems good. Thanks again. I will now take some time and scratch my tickets!!!”

I can remember when he was preparing to visit his family in Canada in August, 2013. The week before, he confided to me “I have never felt pain like this in my life!” I urged him to talk to Father Louie and his doctor and get his pain meds adjusted.I saw him the Sunday before he was to leave and it was evident that Father M. was still in a lot of pain. Of course, when he returned from the visit, he was completely wiped out. He loved his family and friends so much.He didn’t want to miss what would be his last visit home. But when he came back to Chicago, he wrote me:

“Had a wonderful trip home. I do feel tired from all the conversations and constantly being with people. Now I long for a more contemplative time or at least some alone time. I see the grace that our life provides.Shall call you in the next few days after I get all settled in with ‘the boys’.”

So there was the physical burden of Father Michael’s ‘malady’. There was also the spiritual aspect of dealing with the cancer. I can’t pretend that I have any training or talent or insight for this part. I just had decided within a week of Father’s diagnosis, that I would always pray for his ‘complete healing’.  I could not bring myself to ask God just for ‘more time’ or ‘a comfortable and happy death’ ….not for Father Michael!!! He deserved my hope. How could one not ask for the ‘whole enchilada’? Complete healing. Father M. often joked that I meant physical, spiritual and mental. I’d say “Sure, why not? Let’s go for it!”

I prayed often for Father Michael’s spiritual stamina, especially,when later on in the illness, he faced some big setbacks . He always tried to interpret these as  just a twist  in the road, something that would have to be overcome in a different way. But there were times when he’d speak with  such dread about his upcoming chemo, anticipating the misery of its side-effects.He’d get very down. On other occasions, Father M. was enthusiastic and wanting to ‘get on with it’! So many times, he’d email or text me, “I think the worst is now over” or ” I need to rest so I will be fit for the onslaught !” Such hopeful words. Yes, he certainly lived with hope.

But I began to notice a change, beginning with Father Michael’s speech at his healing service last November. This was where he had said “no matter what happens, there will be a healing”. I felt there was a bit of glibness in that statement. Personally,I found it disturbing. I thought about the atmosphere of the priory, the constant influence and presence of many loving brothers. So many intellectual brothers, Dominicans,…men of faith and wisdom, but also of science and logic. So many had known Father Michael from the beginning of his religious life.This was the family that had surrounded him for most of his adult life. They loved him. I found myself wondering if sometimes the brothers’ intelligence and their living with the reality of his cancer might unintentionally overshadow their faith in a cure for Father Michael. So in one of my notes, I brought this up to Father Michael.

At our next visit , this was all that Father M. wanted to talk about. He was very emotional about it, often on the brink of tears. He told me he knew that no one meant to be discouraging or unhopeful, but many things had been said. Father also spoke sadly of several friends who would talk to him about his ‘entering the pearly gates’ . And he mentioned too, those who had lost someone they loved, who asked him to relay messages when he ‘got up there’. I know he took it all in good humor and was kind, but he realized that many people really did not have hope or faith that he could ever be cured. We spoke of this every time we met after that, four or five times, in the weeks before Father Michael died. He found it so very difficult to accept peoples’ resignation to his death and really needed to express his sadness. I found it hard to accept,too. Yet in my conversations with other parishioners, I’d picked up on the negativity more and more .

Once, after a visit, I had the impression that Father Michael had given up.His mood had been so resigned. I texted him when I got home and flat-out asked him. He sent this back:”That is the farthest thing from the truth !!! unless I am in ‘la-la’ land!! I live with hope !!!!”

Father Michael once took a break from St Pius and flew to visit his brother in Denver. I had no idea he’d gone there, but hadn’t heard from him via phone or text for a while. I was concerned. He had been kind of down at my most recent visit. I really wanted to call, but often felt intrusive doing that, so I resisted. But something kept urging me to use my phone. Looking at it, I saw there was an option to record a message and just have the message go into the person’s voicemail. Perfect ! That way, Father M. doesn’t have to talk or even acknowledge me if he’s not up to it, I thought. So I recorded a one minute message. I tried to say the most encouraging, hopeful things I could think of. I just felt he really needed it. I sent the message and then in the late evening, Father Michael called back. He was so grateful! He said “You know it was God who made you send that message to me. I needed it so badly today. I have been so down here at my brother’s. Thank you!” Father Michael wept as he spoke to me and yet he was so happy, full of joy. I told him how I’d been wanting to contact him, but had hesitated. He said “It was the Spirit telling you to do this. Thank you so much for listening to Him and doing it.” I’ll never forget his joy …and his grateful tears.

I remember one of my last visits where Father Michael talked of having read through all his correspondence. He pulled a letter from his desk and read me some of its contents. I don’t know his name, but the writer had been Father Michael’s novice master. Father Michael was so delighted, loudly reading the words “I am one who will pray for your complete healing”. And this priest expressed his faith that miracles do happen. Father Michael seemed so content and at peace, reading those words aloud.

Suffering and hope, disappointment and joy, hurt and faith- above all great love -all were part of Father Michael’s journey. Someday I will understand how it was a healing. For now, I easily see how the journey,with all its ups and downs, readied Father Michael to meet his God.

“Chastised a little,they shall be greatly blessed,because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them…”

A Piece of Work

10659323_792403544131940_8024746960880772086_n“In genuine gratitude toward God man becomes beautiful. He emerges from immanence, from the confines of ego-relatedness and enters into the blissful giving of himself to God, the quintessence of all glory, into the realm of goodness and true kindness. In gratitude, man becomes great and expansive. Blessed and victorious freedom blooms in his soul.”

Just some short thoughts today….the quote above is from  the book, The Art of Living by Dietrich von Hildebrand-his essay on gratitude. I’ve had this book since the early ’90s. I keep it bedside and continue to find new meanings and nuances in all its essays.

This quote has always been one of my favorites, but in re-reading it today, I am struck by how it captures Father Michael and his ever-present gratitude. Who can ever forget all the times Father Michael said “God is so good”? He was constantly expressing his gratitude and calling our attention to do the same.

Good and kind, great and expansive….. beautiful. I am grateful to have seen the truth of this in Father Michael. Blooms of his soul!!!

And that brings this Shakespeare quote to mind:

“What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!”

A Simple Song

Feeling nostalgic today.  In the ’70s , I often listened to Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass”. I became very fond of several of the songs. “A Simple Song” is so lovely; it is my favorite. I liked it so much that I chose to have it sung as part of my wedding Mass. It’s one of those songs that regularly goes through my mind every other day or so. It is like an ‘ongoing prayer’ for me. The saying goes “He who sings, prays twice”. The beauty of the song makes that so easy!

When Father Michael was battling his cancer, he often spoke of his difficulty in sleeping. He’d tell me he’d been up at three or four in the morning, unable to feel any peace or relax. Sometimes I’d wake up, usually about 3:30 am and just feel that Father M was also awake. I would text him then, most times with some of the lovely words of this song with its origin in the Psalms. I often wished I could have somehow communicated the song itself to Father Michael. I know he would have found it soothing to hear. It was so appropriate for Father Michael…..Blessed is the man who loves the Lord…and walks in His ways.

We are so blessed to have our holy priests.

This version of the song is from a 1981 revival of “Mass”. Enjoy!