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_nIn 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!