Finding the True Vine

Grapes-colors

This picture of a beautiful bunch of grapes got me thinking about the Gardener and the True Vine. I am a gardener myself, one who enjoys pruning. I always make those biblical connections when I’m out working on the shrubs and trees. So much thought goes into what needs to be done to this particular shrub and yet with others, the work and thought is minor. It is a work of care and wanting beloved flora to grow and thrive. Find a way to make the plant do its best. Cut out those suckers! Some day I should plant a grape vine.

Here’s a story of Father Michael I’ve been remembering lately. Father M had been having stomach problems as usual. But then, he saw his doctor and received some new meds and had been delighted that they worked so well. I was so relieved ! Father kept telling me how great the pills were and that it had changed his health so much. At the same time, he received the new meds, the doctor had advised him to get a colonoscopy ASAP. I had talked to him by phone and urged him to make the appointment as there was a substantial wait time.Perhaps a month went by and I assumed all was well.

So one evening, I received an email from Father M. It read “Come see me in the sacristy tomorrow after Mass. I have something very important I want to talk about with you.” So naturally I was intrigued. I had been hoping for some spiritual direction from Father and I wondered if maybe this was what was so important.

The next day after Mass I went to see Father Michael. He was chatty and cheery . Many others, the sacristan and the lector and visitors  were there in the sacristy-talking in another area. Father Michael got very quiet and nearly whispered. He stood there and kind of twirled his finger on his stomach and said “I’ve been having some bleeding.”  I was so shocked. Of course, from all his stomach/bowel talk, I knew what kind of bleeding he meant. I said “Oh no, Father Michael !!!!  You told me the pills were working, that you felt better.” He said, “Well at first I did, but then things went back to the usual and now I need to ask you to pray very hard for me.I have so much to do and Provincial meetings are coming up and now this is happening.” I said “Father Michael, I always pray for you and I will do more, I promise. But please tell me, what did your colonoscopy show ?”  He looked at me, took a deep breath, and said “You know, I never made the appointment.” I was just dumbfounded. I really wanted to yell at him. I had all these questions I wanted to ask, but then just thought ‘He must not trust his doctor’.  So I said “Father, I know the most wonderful doctor at Loyola. If I call him right now and ask him, he will take you as a patient. He will give you the very best care; I’ve known him since he was an intern.I promise you, you will be treated by the very best, I’ll call him.”  But Father Michael was not buying it. He wanted things his way and that was to ask for healing prayer.

This was about a month or so before Father Michael went to Albuquerque and collapsed. I was on pins and needles worrying about his damn bleeding that whole time. He didn’t make it any easier. It was like pulling teeth to try to talk to him or get an email response. But he got the prayers.

Lasting Faithfulness

4th

I think this synod is making me think too much about marriage and the family! But I’ve wanted to write this stuff for a while and the synod has given me a  context for my rambling thoughts about this subject. It’s also been a good kick to get me restarted on the blog!

Father Michael once wrote me an email saying that he’d love to talk to me about marriage sometime. Well, we had talked about it in our appointments…several times. I’d been surprised by what he said and even more by what he didn’t say. I think, from his lack of response to many of my statements, that I surprised him with my being somewhat conservative. At that point, he definitely wanted to avoid any disagreements with me. One thing that stood out for me from those talks was Father M’s stating “Well, you know they’re all living together”. Of course that was old news . But Father talked about how some of the engaged were grandchildren of ‘long-time’ parishioners, or devout parents, and talked about not wanting to their hurt the relative’s feelings, etc.In other words Father treated them with care  and courtesy, no matter what their living arrangement. I asked “Do you say anything about cohabiting to them? I know they are with you to do the ‘right thing’, but do you say anything ?”  Father Michael said ” Because they have already ‘shared intimacy’, I tell them that after they are married, God will now bless what they have.” I looked at him and said “That’s it?”  And he nodded.

I’m not stupid. I know that scolding is not the way to go and that these engaged people are aware of their actions. But I have to say, even now, that I was so disappointed in what Father M said.It really kind of shut me up and our appointment ended. I was disturbed by our talk and afterward kept thinking about it. A few days later I sent Father an email. Here’s part of it:

“Off and on I have been thinking about our talk the other day. Remembering what you said about engaged couples, almost all living together , coming to you to prepare for marriage made me kind of sad.I know no one wants to alienate them, since they are at last doing “what they should do”. I’m sure that neither you, nor their parents, nor anyone involved with them wants to rock the boat by saying something to make them feel uncomfortable or chastised in any way. But what struck me was how saying “God will now bless what you are already doing” or ” already have” (I’m sure I’m misquoting you crudely, sorry) though absolutely true, seems so wanting.

I guess I think of the situation as a parent would, hoping that somehow all I hoped I’d taught my child and all the traditions and beliefs I’d tried to convey in rearing them Catholic would still be supported by the church. Almost like another type of seamless garment? Kind of like the trust you have in your spouse that he/she will project the same values to your child that you yourself do. It just seems to me that there should be reminders of these things even if the particular couple doesn’t reflect the ideal. Something should be said. Of course it should never be done in a nasty way and I don’t know how I would even attempt it. Easier said than done, for sure. But I feel like our traditional beliefs should still be held up as worthwhile and as what is really pleasing to God. And then, I think it seems in reality all we are offended about is premarital sex. But sex can be such a profound experience of God; it shouldn’t ever be minimized or overlooked. Glad YOU  are the priest , Father Michael. I’d be freaking out.”

Father Michael’s email response was “You wouldn’t believe some of the things the engaged tell me”. I  didn’t answer him, but thought ‘Oh yes I would’. He never elaborated or discussed this further with me. I have an added understanding now since Father’s cancer fight.I learned that he really abhorred and feared criticism – and I’m sure he saw criticism in my email. So he ignored it. I do wish he would have been willing to discuss it.

  Father Michael often mentioned how he helped people with their annulments. He always had paperwork to do for them. Later in the two years I knew him, he would mention going out to a celebratory dinner with couples who had been waiting for an annulment to marry. It was very clear that he felt people should explore the annulment process -if they were divorced or separated. I think it was a great joy for him to deliver the news that the annulment had been granted. I remember that in the later months of his illness he always made the time to meet with these people. He admired their courage and their desire to make things right with the Church-and their love for each other.

Father Michael  had difficulty in seeing the commitment of engaged couples. He also said that many people really just wanted the church building for their wedding, but not the Church, not the sacrament. He had a hard time officiating at most marriages for this reason. He often spoke in wonder of the sacrifice and evident love shown by older couples, particularly if one partner was ill and the other was a caretaker. He would always say he was awed by this. Father Michael felt that most of the couples he saw had no clue as to what ‘for better or worse, in sickness or in health’ might mean for them down the line.

On the other hand, I recall Father Michael talking about the stories of how some couples met and how God’s hand was so evident. He was very excited one time about a couple who both had children from previous marriages-and they had found each other. He said they had a wonderful story—and Father Michael loved those stories.  He said “so they will be a blended family”. I said ” Oh like that old movie ‘Yours, Mine and Ours’.” Father Michael  laughed and said “No ‘Ours’ yet!”  He paused and thought a second and then said “well ….MAYBE!”

I did get a different perspective on Father M’s beliefs on marriage from other experiences and things he’d say. Once we were on Ashland Avenue by St Pius, waiting to cross. Father was well into his cancer treatment and was very weak. I was about to drive him to St Vincent’s. We were talking about Thomas Peters’ recovery (see ‘The Wonderment of God’).  I mentioned that there was still so much online vitriol toward Thomas regarding his upholding the church’s teachings on marriage. Father Michael said “You mean the traditional church teaching on marriage?” I said “Yes, of course”.  Father Michael got visibly agitated and said “Hey, he has it easy. Anyone who upholds the established position has it much easier than those who question it.”  The light changed and Father rushed ahead into the street. I caught up with him. I said I disagreed– that it really depended on the circumstances and conditions— that ALL  sides would find it difficult in some circumstances. He didn’t answer me. I decided that I would not pursue it as I seldom had an uninterrupted time with Father. I didn’t want to waste the nice ride in the car on an argument .

Once, shortly after Pope Francis was elected, Father Michael called me. Unusual for us, we had a real conversation as opposed to the typical talk about chemo, the weather and the lottery. Father was agog at the “Who am I to judge?” Francis quote.  I remember being comfortable enough to disagree and expound on different situations where I felt ‘who am I to judge’ was not applicable. I had no sense that I was bothering Father Michael. I remember talking about some people expecting this would pave the way to same-sex marriage. At that point Father interrupted me and said forcefully ” I know something has to change……I’ve known too many people who suffer”. I started to respond,then he said “Oh, I’m here at the clinic, talk to you later”.  That was kind of a pattern: Father would say something controversial, then cut off the conversation…..at least with me.

So my gut tells me that, despite Father Michael’s reverent and awe-filled view of the sacrament of Matrimony, he might have been open to other non-traditional views of it. I have so many moving impressions of how a truly holy priest perceived and admired the vocation of marriage.Yet I have additional memories of things that he said hinting at a very liberal and non-traditional perspective, at odds with church teaching.  What was the truth ?  I’ll always wonder.

All this from that darn synod !

Compassionate and Honest

Green Pastures/Megan Duncanson
Green Pastures/Megan Duncanson

I’ve remembered more from my first appointment with Father Michael. I know some subjects carried over to the second and subsequent appointments. I suppose it really doesn’t matter- except from my perspective. That first appointment was an introduction to a stranger- a very holy man – who was full of surprises. One of the amusing things that happened was that Father Michael kept trying to find out my age.Several times he mentioned the year he graduated from high school and other significant events of the ’70s and asked me where I was when they occurred .  I finally realized that he wanted to know my age, so I just told him. I don’t know why it was so important to him, but he seemed calmer once he knew.

Another discussion was about my family, my ethnicity, my siblings, my parents. I mentioned that my dad had died in 1986. Father asked what my dad had died of and his age. I replied “He died of leukemia at sixty-one”. Well, as soon as I said that Father said loudly and incredulously. “Sixty-one? sixty-one? Why, I’m fifty-nine myself!!!”  And as he spoke, he reacted- he put both hands to his face, holding them there for a second , then ran them up over his head a couple of times. And he paced as he did this. He seemed truly distressed. And I was touched again by his visible emotion. Then Father asked how long my dad had lived with the disease. “Two months,” I replied, ” he died in remission.” Again Father repeated my words “Two months?????” and again he got very upset .

Now you know Father had memory troubles; I’ve mentioned that before. The scene above about my dad’s death was repeated no less than four times in the two years I knew Father Michael. Each time, Father reacted exactly the same way. It was like he took it personally, as though it were a message for him. It was this experience and several others that bolstered my belief that Father was intuitive and ‘knew things’.

Before he was even diagnosed with cancer, Father would talk about things having to do with his death. Once I visited him in the sacristy and the first thing out of his mouth was that he had decided that when he died, he was going to have Instant Lottery tickets spread all over the inside of his casket. And then he said “but of course, I wouldn’t have them buried with me and waste them. I’d have them distributed to all the mourners before they closed the casket”. I was amused, but said , “Father M, why on earth are you even thinking about stuff like that??!!”  That time he answered that he’d been to quite a few wakes recently where this had been done–and he liked the idea. He brought this up a second time also, freaking me out a little.

Back to the appointment…..Father talked about his family, his older brother, in particular. Father was very proud of all his siblings. But there seemed to be a special bond between him and his older brother. I believe his older brother protected Father Michael as a child; he’d often spoken of being picked on. Father told of his brother’s education, accomplishments and wealth (yes, a little bragging). Then said “he is a wonderful, devout, progressive Catholic”. Then a moment later “and I am a progressive priest”.

I kind of expected that as I surmised it was part of the reason for Father Michael’s popularity. But I am not progressive, and I’d rather not label anybody or be labeled. When Father said this, he sounded so confiding and secretive, I immediately wanted to let him know that I thought differently. So I asked to tell him a story.It was about the parish I’d belonged to before St Vincent. It was a pretty wild place. My two older kids went to CCD there. Two sisters and a deacon prepared them for Reconciliation and First Communion. I attended the parent education meetings and in the ones for First Communion, I was taken aback by the lack of understanding of the sacrament. People talked about, bread, wine, symbols; no one seemed to have any kind of grasp of the Real Presence. The two sisters said nothing to enlighten or correct anyone. Nothing. I was shaken.

The sister in charge of the Communion catechesis began to preach at Mass on Sunday. It was nearly every Sunday. She was quite gifted,an excellent preacher, no denying that. The parish was integrated with many African-Americans coming to Mass because their kids attended the school. Sister, also African-American, really spoke to them and their lives. And her perspective was certainly enriching to the rest of us.But I realized she should not have been preaching and it bothered me.This continued for a year and then the sister began to wear priestly vestments for Mass. I tried to rationalize that one out; I couldn’t. My gut feeling was that sister was trying to enhance her authority by wearing the vestments. And though there were people like me who would think “who are you kidding?”, there were others who would not be aware of the falseness. I just thought it was wrong.

I contacted the Office of Divine Worship to talk to someone about it. (Father Michael nearly had a conniption when I told him this. He sat there listening, but steaming.) I had to document my observances by letter, so I did. I had to describe the vestments she wore. The priest in that office made sure I knew that a pastor could give permission for someone else to do the homily. He didn’t know what to say when I said ” But Father, it’s nearly every week!” Well, nothing happened. I left the parish and found St Vincent’s-a calm place. About ten years later, a conservative bishop had the sister reassigned. She became head of her order-no surprise there!

I made the point to Father Michael that the sister who was so driven to preach was the same one who didn’t bother to educate at all in the First Communion classes. He got that, but was irritated with me for my contacting the Archdiocese. He yelled at me, so angry that I would question a Dominican’s preaching charism. I yelled back “No, she was NOT a Dominican, Father Michael!”  He was also chagrinned that I would not automatically and unquestioningly support another woman. Father M must have been exposed to a lot of really testy feminists- that’s all I can figure. He acted like he was completely in their corner, but I feel he was trying to show sensitivity.

Anyway, Father Michael understood me better after that. Part of me didn’t want to ever hear that he might be at odds with church teaching. But now I often wonder what interesting scenarios he might have been part of, being progressive “and proud of it” and also open to “trumping the law”. Our appointment ended pleasantly and we continued to meet a few times more, before the cancer.

Once, on the phone, with Father Louie nearby, Father Michael stated that Louie was one of a select group who’d ever seen him get angry. I refreshed his memory about the experience I’ve just relayed. He was surprised and then remembered.

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.

 

Prosper the Work of Our Hands

downsized_0119151140aI just finished the afghan at right, a gift to my son’s future in-laws. It was supposed to be a Christmas present. But I was so waylaid by the flu, so achy, I could hardly work on it. I started it the week before Christmas and finally hobbled to the finish line with it on January 19th. Well, it’s finally done, done well and it’s pretty, I think….but late.

The afghan has a Father Michael connection- that’s why it’s on this blog! Last year I made the same pattern for Father M in an ombre mix of autumn colors-though it was mainly green. It took me three days tops to complete the blanket then.

I was in the habit of getting Father Michael small gifts and even nonsense things to cheer him up as he battled his malady. One day he was going on and on about something really appealing to his ‘feminine side’, saying he needed to pay more attention to ‘her’. I know very little about the anima/animus psychology business. But to hear Father Michael elaborate on it was hysterical….and inspiring! I decided to put together a ‘care package’ for his neglected anima , whom I called ‘Michelle’ (real original, I know). Well Father Michael absolutely loved it. It was mainly grooming items,unisex, but there were a few things like the mini sewing kit, the facial, the mirror and the lace doilies that screamed “I am woman”. I did wonder what Father did with that stuff. Later he told me that the brothers kept a collection of things that they gave as presents to St Pius staff;perhaps that’s where it went. Buuuut,sometime afterward Father Michael did mention the lovely scented candles I’d included and declared “You know I wouldn’t mind some more of those cute little candles, I like to light them for when I have my bath”. Hard to keep a straight face with that holy man sometimes!

Anyway,one day I visited Father Michael at St Pius and saw that he had two or three woven throws in his living area. But there was nothing homemade that I could see. I decided that I wanted to make him a blanket. It was gratifying to buy him the instant tickets, the food and the flowers, but it wasn’t personal. Yet, I knew that Father M just had tons of things in that place-perhaps he had many afghans, but all put away .  I went ahead and crocheted the afghan and enclosed a note with it.  I told Father Michael I wanted to give him something I’d made myself, celebrating our friendship. But I explained he was free to give it away if he wanted. When he responded, Father M said the “blanket is lovely” and that he would treasure it. He told me that he kept it on his bed. So it was a worthwhile effort and I’ll always know Father made use of my gift.

Interestingly, the blue blanket has another connection. I’d used the same beautiful blue yarn to make another small gift. Father had been complaining about how his hands would get cold when he was in bed,  using his ipad. I decided to make him fingerless gloves, hoping they would help. Went to the store, checked out the black and the white yarns and some grey tweed ,too. I thought ‘they must get tired of black and white’. I almost chose red,but settled on the blue. Took me an hour to knit the things, very simple. I brought them to Father that afternoon. He wasn’t exactly thrilled, but insisted on trying them on. Still wasn’t too thrilled. So I said ” Well, I can tell they’re not your cup of tea, but maybe one of ‘the boys’ could use them?  I ‘m sure some of them get cold hands.” Father Michael took off the gloves , folded them and then said vehemently “Nope- they get NOTHING!”  I figured ‘the boys’ must have been misbehaving to elicit that reaction out of Father M. I wonder if he ever used those things??? Such poignant memories.Glad for them.

IMG_441595806

 

On another note, here is a picture of my beautiful Christmas tree. I am embarrassed to say it is still up on January 21. It still smells wonderful; it is a Fraser fir. It’s a bit droopy now, but still holding  most of its needles. I guess one could say we celebrate the 12 PLUS Days of Christmas! I think my flu delayed everything, so I am having the Christmas season now.

It’s always hard to take the Christmas stuff down,but the tree will go out in the yard , where I will still enjoy it and the birds will use it for shelter. And in the spring , my husband will chop it up for mulch for the garden. It will smell good even then. Just couldn’t resist sharing the picture.

 

Seeking and Seeing the Good


St Therese’s quote is pretty straightforward. I think it sums up the best in Father Michael’s life: he was consistently a truly loving person. Not that he never calculated. No, he certainly did -and there were some not-so-fine moments that I witnessed. But they were few and far between – a small reminder to me that all of us, even very holy people like Father Michael, are still sinners.

But the bulk of what I saw and heard of Father Michael was unmistakably loving. He once told me “In the course of my life and my priesthood, I have found that 99.9% of all people are good . And I do believe that all people are good.” I listened to him and didn’t interrupt or  comment,  but realized how different that was from my belief . I was more into “looking for the good” in folks and not usually expecting to find it. In my heart, I didn’t feel that most people were good. I kind of saw them as flawed but decent, well-meaning for the most part-but not simply as “good”. I was (and still am) wary, reserved and cautious. I considered how different my approach to others would be if I believed with all my heart that they were truly, unquestionably, good. How comfortable I would be ,assured that others only thought the kindest and best things about me! Knowing that I was dealing with good people guided by the truth would be reassuring and reinforce the positive traits in my personality.Something to think about.

I considered how Father Michael might incorporate this attitude into his personality and life experience. And I remembered an incident in a restaurant where the young lady taking his order assured Father Michael that he’d be able to self-serve cranberry juice. Given the type of fast food place it was, I had my doubts. Sure enough, there was no cranberry juice on tap. Father M chose lemonade instead. But I was a little indignant and said “You asked that girl specifically about the cranberry juice and she answered you specifically!” I was considering whether the place perhaps had bottled juice stored elsewhere-and that we should go back and ask her. But Father Michael just smiled at me and said sweetly “Oh she’s overworked and underpaid, don’t worry about it”. Well, shut my mouth! But I can see here not only Father M’s patience and charity in his empathy for the worker, but also his will and kindness to ignore the bad-the girl’s discourtesy and her lie. A little thing again-with potential.

Not long after, I had lunch again with Father Michael. It was one of the most interesting and informative conversations I’d ever had with him. We talked uninterrupted for over two hours. At the very end Father Michael said “We’ve got to talk again. I want to tell you my idea that will solve all the problems in the Church.” So I was thinking “He waits till now to mention that ? “ I wondered if he was joking. I hadn’t even mentioned any problems in the Church! I thought “Well, he had to have shared that with his brothers already, I’m sure” And I thought, if so, it couldn’t be something very obvious or revolutionary, could it? Dominicans were still being their Dominican selves. Now I’ll never know. But I have wondered if Father Michael’s seeing all people as truly good was somehow part of the problem-solving.

I like the idea that in choosing to always see and expect only the good in people, Father Michael was expressing his longing and love for God…..and preparing the way.

“Behold, the kingdom of God is among you.”
Luke 17:21

Happy Memories in the Bleak Midwinter

Setting-the-TableSetting-the-TableIt’s the end of 2014 and I’ve been battling the flu through Christmas and I’m still battling. This is a hard one to kick. And I find myself thinking of Father Michael during the holidays last year. He had held up the idea of a special time coming in December. He would mention it often;he hoped to have an extended time of feeling more like himself . This was post healing service and in many ways, Father M felt that he was doing better after the service. He was so hopeful.

I recently found his text thanking me for my Christmas gift to him. Father M was so delighted he’d be able to buy a work of art. He mentioned the painting he loved of the rowboat ‘that will one day take me to meet God’.

Father Michael never got me any presents, but would share things that were incredibly special with me. During the holidays last year he painstakingly made me tea and called me over to look at his computer monitor. There he had a video clip from youtube all set up to show me. It had been filmed by a neighbor who was hosting the Kyte family for dinner in November 1970, within a few short weeks of the death of their mother. You can access this clip by clicking on the picture of Father Michael at 17 in the side panel on this site. In the clip, Father M is the gorgeous and vivacious redhead on the left. What a young-looking 17! I think he looks more like 14 ! Father Michael told me that his best friend at the time, Bernie, is the young man next to him. Bernie’s mom is the hostess.Father’s dad, Arthur, sits across from him. Father Michael remarked as I watched this “there we are , like a bunch of banshees!”  Have no idea what he meant by that-they all seemed so sedate, well-behaved and hungry. And I do sense their cohesiveness and concern for each other. Their mother really must have been the crowning glory of that beautiful family…and she was now gone.

In the same visit, Father brought out a collage of family pictures his brother had composed . He was so happy to point out all the babies in those pictures! I wanted to really look at this collage, kind of study it. But Father had more surprises. He brought out an album, pictures of the art work which he had collected. Long before -I’d actually suggested he do this ; I was so surprised he had taken my advice!! His friend in Colorado had helped him put it together-such a kind gesture. He loved going through the pictures and explaining why each was so special to him.

And then Father brought out a Waterford crystal chalice set that had been given to him by one of his Dominican brothers. What a treat to share and admire!

So here I am, thinking of all these little things, sharing them was such a gift to me. And of course, there was the gift and kindness of Father Michael. God is so good.

Happy New Year!

 

”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…”

The Prior and ‘The Boys’

Father MichaeSome of 'the boys' at AI, a few years ago with their nurse, Fr Wisdom & Fr Michaell became Prior at St Pius V Priory in 2011. Since St Pius is a residence for many of the Dominican senior fathers and brothers,it was a new experience for Father Michael . He had been a prior previously , but the St Pius assignment offered him many challenges. Father M stayed ‘halftime’ as parochial vicar of St Vincent Ferrer , continuing with Masses, weddings  and funerals there,commuting back and forth. But he was now  also in charge of the older priests, including some living in nursing facilities. He visited all his charges often. He was very dedicated to the seniors, though he heard a lot of complaints and demands from them. He tried to keep it all in perspective  and in good humor. In May 2012 Father Michael wrote me this email:”Thanks for the prayers. I find this period of my life difficult as I have to travel so much and looking after older Fathers has many challenges.” An understatement!

Sometimes stories of “the boys” would creep into the Sunday homilies. I remember once when Father Michael told us of the broken St Pius elevator and the great project it was to get everyone up and down the stairs safely. It sounded like such a catastrophe ! I think Father Michael was most upset with the complaints about something that obviously could not be immediately fixed. So he vented to us and we all kind of chuckled. But I remember Father M ending the homily with a description of his ‘boys’, rapt in evening prayer,their collective lives and presence a gift of grace. He said “And when they are praying all together, what power for the Lord they show!” He loved them and held them in reverence. Father Michael wrote me an email the next day :

“Even when I am close to the ‘edge’, I still keep laughing with ‘the boys’. Praise God the elevator is fixed and we are back to our routine.Funny how little things really upset the applecart.But it all keeps me quite humble and thank God I have humor.”

Father Michael had humor, yes, but he also was very human. He had his moments of pure irritation with the boys. Once he called me to vent about some incident, asking me if he should start writing a blog about all the stuff that happened at St Pius. I said I thought it could be interesting and entertaining, if  he kept his humor forefront. I don’t think he ever wrote it…..too bad. There was another time when Father Michael was so exasperated by some of the boys, he told me that he and Father Louie were making a list of all the individual brothers’ most admirable traits and accomplishments. Father Michael said he felt he needed to remind himself to look beyond the surface.

Here are some typical quotes from Father Michael’s emails about his prior duties:

“I’m off to see my brothers in the nursing home. Today at mass I realized how many of them had illnesses that are truly slowing them down. But they are troupers.”

“Now I will go to the emergency room to bring one of the brothers who fell and cracked his head. He doesn’t want to go , but we have to have him checked. I hope it is not a 7 hour stay!!!!!”

“I am off to see one of the brothers in rehab. Another has to go in the nursing home and there are no beds at the moment.A third will soon be told he has to stay here permanently. I am running for shelter!!!!!”

Written when he was in cancer treatment:”I’m just back from more blood work and off to the hospital with one of the Fathers.”

When Father Michael returned to St Pius from Albuquerque, diagnosed with cancer, he broke down when he entered the building . The community had gathered to welcome him.He described his reaction as profound and told me how incredibly moved he was when one of the senior Fathers asked him sweetly and tentatively “Will you still be our Prior?” Father Michael continued as prior as long as he could, quite far into his illness. Then Father M resigned, but remained deeply involved with” the boys”.

In the fall of 2013, I began to visit a very weak Father Michael at St Pius. Father Michael loved pie, so I’d bring him a pie. And then I added coffee cake for sharing and later a loaf of Czech houska bread–and then an extra one for the boys. I felt so good because it was so simple to do and pleased Father Michael. Here is a typical response from Father M:

“The food was delicious. I even put my favorite bread in the bread box thinking there would be some for the morning. Was I wrong! They got a taste of that and they were off to the races! It is a joy to see that small things make them so joyful. Thanks for bringing that joy to our house.”

In that amusing vein, I recall Father Michael warning me not to just drop off the cakes and bread with the receptionist. He said “No,no,no — give me a call to meet you there…..otherwise ” the boys” are like vultures “. So funny.

Around the same time last year, I started to send Father Michael beautiful lilies every month. He enjoyed them so much, but was more excited that “the boys are delighted”. Later he told me that the scent was overpowering at times for some of the fathers, including him! I  made a mental note about that.

I have no one to visit at St Pius anymore, so no more bakery deliveries from me! But I still send the brothers lilies on special days– Asiatic lilies with no annoying scent. I know it must please “the boys” to receive lovely flowers…a little joy. I hope it reminds them of their days with Father Michael. I know they are grateful.