The Rowboat, the Shore and the Bramble Arch

"Michael, row the boat ashore,Hallelujah.."

I’m putting the video of Father Michael’s funer­al homi­ly below. It is an absolute­ly fit­ting trib­ute from his close friend Father Louis Mor­rone O.P.  Lots of humor, lots of joy, lots of love in that talk.

Father Louie recounts how Father Michael spoke of his vision of going to Heav­en. Father Michael told me the sto­ry, too. Some of the details in mine are a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. For one thing, Father Michael relayed this to me as a ‘one- time’ expe­ri­ence. Though I have no doubt , that it was an expe­ri­ence to which he con­tem­pla­tive­ly returned quite often. He’d been relax­ing in his room at St Pius V Pri­o­ry, eyes half closed, feel­ing like he was drift­ing off, sort of in and out of sleep. He saw the water and the far-off shore and a  row­boat (or “it could have been a canoe,” he said). He then was in the row­boat and knew he must pad­dle to the shore. Father Michael then inter­ject­ed , that he had known and worked with a Domini­can sis­ter, who spoke of the jour­ney to Heav­en as trav­el­ing across water to Heaven’s shores. Father M said the sis­ter had been quite con­vinc­ing in her talk  and years ago he began to pic­ture the jour­ney to eter­nal life the same way. So there he was, on the water , approach­ing the shore and there was a hill there. As he gets the boat on land, he looks up and sees an arch made of bram­bles at the top of the hill. Sud­den­ly a woman is there at the arch . He doesn’t rec­og­nize her, but as she runs down, he sees her clear­ly. It is his moth­er. She runs into his arms and embraces him and says “Oh Michael, it’s been so long since I’ve seen you!”

Hear­ing this sto­ry, I became quite excit­ed and exu­ber­ant -and talk­a­tive- with Father Michael. I spoke of how peace­ful and secure this expe­ri­ence must have made him feel. I remem­ber stat­ing how blessed he was to have this vision, some­thing to rec­og­nize, some­thing to help him-when the time came . But I now won­der if there was more to the sto­ry that I didn’t hear, that maybe he hadn’t fin­ished it . Per­haps his moth­er had had more words for Father Michael. Per­haps this was the key to his feel­ing the immi­nence of his death. This was my fault for inter­rupt­ing Father M.…maybe some­one else can fill me in- if there was more to it.

Much ear­li­er in his can­cer jour­ney, Father Michael told me that he had envi­sioned his liv­er going from black to a healthy pink. And he was sure that he was get­ting bet­ter. He said he had pic­tured the cells of his liv­er and he saw the can­cer cells in a bunch and they became stiff and dead-look­ing. He saw this as a sign that they were par­a­lyzed. In these same imag­in­ings, Father Michael felt his moth­er was present. He recount­ed that he couldn’t see her clear­ly at all except for her smile and her teeth. “My moth­er had the most per­fect teeth!”-so he’d rec­og­nized her in them and was sure she was keep­ing his can­cer at bay.

After  I heard the sto­ry about the per­fect teeth , I began to pray that Father Michael would con­tin­ue to feel the help of his moth­er in his ill­ness. I nev­er heard about any oth­er inci­dents, but was quite heart­ened by Father M’s beau­ti­ful vision. I know it could only have helped him in those last days on earth.