Out of the Depths…

De ProfundisIt was easy to see Father Michael’s great empa­thy for peo­ple. He was very open, very respon­sive , very vul­ner­a­ble. All his emo­tions were right there on his face, an open book.

I was intro­duced to Father Michael’s man­ner of han­dling things long before I ever spoke to him. I had been back at St. Vincent’s for a month or two. I didn’t know Father Michael’s name, nor had I attend­ed any of his Mass­es. But I had seen him greet­ing peo­ple after Mass -and I’d noticed how there were always lines to talk to him or he’d be sur­round­ed by peo­ple.

So one day I was going to vis­it my moth­er, dri­ving past a local school. There are two stop signs about a block apart by this school. I stopped at the first sign and glanced in my rear view mir­ror. I saw a famil­iar face. It was Father Michael, dressed in a black suit with the Roman col­lar . I thought “Oh , it’s that pop­u­lar priest from St Vincent’s”. In the few sec­onds I watched, Father Michael began to gri­mace, and shake his head from side to side, he grasped the steer­ing wheel and then pound­ed it. He looked com­plete­ly exas­per­at­ed, almost about to cry, mov­ing sharply, lit­er­al­ly ‘beside him­self’. I’d nev­er seen any­thing like it. It was obvi­ous that Father Michael was extra­or­di­nar­i­ly upset and com­plete­ly obliv­i­ous of my atten­tion. I thought I’d bet­ter stop star­ing at him and get mov­ing. I drove to the next stop sign and Father quick­ly came up right behind me. I looked again in the mir­ror and Father Michael con­tin­ued all the agi­tat­ed move­ments and anguished faces. My gut feel­ing was that Father M had heard bad news about his health or that of a loved one. I felt so shak­en see­ing him like that. What on earth was wrong? Some­thing had to be wrong. I had to turn off that street to head to my mother’s and as I drove on I prayed for Father Michael. I looked for him that fol­low­ing Sun­day and he wasn’t at church. I feared the worst (this was two years before his can­cer diag­no­sis). The fol­low­ing Sun­day, Father Michael was back, hold­ing court after Mass. All was well, it seemed. I was so relieved.

Lat­er, when I got to know Father Michael, I wrote him about what I had seen a few years before. I didn’t ask him to explain it, but in this email, he did:

Isn’t it fun­ny that we see peo­ple in cars and won­der what is hap­pen­ing. I have a ten­den­cy to real­ly pon­der the suf­fer­ing of oth­ers. One broth­er says that I have to ‘fil­ter’ all the pain I encounter from God’s peo­ple. You cer­tain­ly are intu­itive.

Keep me in your prayers that I can be more faith­ful to the qui­et and prayer. There is always so much to do that seems ‘urgent’. But one African Amer­i­can lady used to say to me ‘God is able’. So I have to trust that all will be well.

Bless­ings
Fr. Michael

After I under­stood how he processed people’s trou­bles in true pain of his own, I saw Father Michael’s sen­si­tiv­i­ty as his way of seek­ing to suf­fer with oth­ers. Anoth­er of his graces.

Last Novem­ber Father Michael ‚very ill, wrote me:

It is now 12:30 am and I can’t sleep. I have had sig­nif­i­cant anx­i­ety today. I think it was brought on by feel­ing rot­ten all day and being wor­ried that the pain lev­el doesn’t seem to go away nor is my appetite good. I think some days are just dif­fi­cult and filled with fear. I try to recite the Apos­tles Creed to calm me down. It is the one prayer that I was able to say since this jour­ney began last Decem­ber 8th when those three med­ical peo­ple came into my room and changed the direc­tion of my life.….…I thank you for your prayer ‘com­plete cure’. Again it may be the day and the fact that I am not so well that I real­ly need­ed that pos­i­tive ener­gy today.Hopefully ‚tomor­row will be bet­ter. Sur­ren­der­ing to the will of God is so much more dif­fi­cult than words or say­ing we will do so. I think you may know that I have always loved the Agony in the Gar­den because that is where Jesus says an absolute yes and expe­ri­ences a mar­velous sur­ren­der to what God the Father wants of Him.”

We all prayed so much for Father Michael. Read­ing his account of his own suf­fer­ing above, I could only hope that our prayers had helped. I remem­ber Father Michael call­ing me, talk­ing about being fear­ful in the night and men­tion­ing again the Apos­tles’ Creed-how he said it over and over. And then he prayed it with me on the phone- with so much emo­tion and strength in his voice.…out of the depths.