A Fathom Unknown

shutterstock_380150137Today is the sec­ond anniver­sary of Father Michael’s death. And it is East­er Sun­day- a great day to reflect on the real­i­ty of ever­last­ing life and love.

This past week , I have revis­it­ed all the sad and poignant moments of the last few weeks of Father’s life. Fun­ny how those things nev­er get old.…and real­ly nev­er will. For some rea­son, I’ve recalled how very often in the last few months of his life, Father M would tell me he didn’t take some of his meds. At first, I assumed that he’d just for­got­ten. (He’d men­tioned a few times that he’d wak­ened at night in ter­ri­ble pain- and would real­ize he’d for­got­ten to apply his pain patch.) So I thought he was absent- mind­ed about it. So duti­ful­ly, I’d tell him to go over the phar­ma­cy instruc­tions and that maybe he could make up the dos­es on some pills.

But lat­er on, I noticed that he’d tell me that he didn’t take the pills and then kind of look at me in a chal­leng­ing way. I start­ed to respond with “Well, that is your choice Father” or “It’s your life,Father M”.I nev­er asked him for any expla­na­tion. I tried to respect his feel­ings and pri­va­cy. I think it was Father’s way of accept­ing his com­ing death and also to be tru­ly present to those who loved him.Very often when I vis­it­ed, he’d drift off to sleep in his chair. I ‘d think “At least he’s relaxed.… he must need the sleep”. But Father M would wake up and be so apolo­getic; he clear­ly felt he should be awake and alert. So I could see his rea­son­ing -some of the pills knocked him out.

There was one time, when he’d told me that he hadn’t tak­en the meds. I respond­ed in the usu­al way. Sur­pris­ing me, he got angry and said “But I want to live! I need the pills to live!” I think he want­ed a pep talk about com­plete heal­ing and hope–and I didn’t come through for him. It was hard to know then how to be the best friend that I could.

But Father Michael was sac­ri­fic­ing his com­fort and per­haps some of his remain­ing life-to “be with” me and so many oth­ers who came to spend time with him.… to have the plea­sure of his com­pa­ny.

I pestered Father Michael for a long while with many ques­tions I had about his life, his voca­tion, his faith. I received very few answers. Father would say, rather non­cha­lant­ly, “It is hard for me to talk about myself because I tru­ly am ‘oth­er-cen­tered’ “. Well, I didn’t com­plete­ly buy it because I observed many sides to Father Michael; he could be self­ish -was not per­fect. But this ‘no med­ica­tion’ thing was again one of the ‘lit­tle things’ Father did-a small way which proved  that he was more con­cerned about oth­ers than him­self.

At one point, again in those last few months of Father Michael’s life, I start­ed to notice a bit of dis­tanc­ing. He start­ed to speak and make obser­va­tions in a more hard­ened way. It was kind of chill­ing to see this behav­ior in such a kind, sen­si­tive and holy per­son. I remem­ber writ­ing to him about it. I felt that he was show­ing the cold­er influ­ence of his coun­selors and per­haps oth­er con­fi­dants. I told him out­right “Father M, who­ev­er you are lis­ten­ing to, they DO NOT LOVE  the way you do, they are not you. Please be your­self.”

Pri­or to those last months, though, Father Michael was the very best exam­ple of care, con­cern and love for others.The finest I’ve ever known. The man of the bot­tom­less heart.

Life’s for the liv­ing and death’s for the dead–and the depth of a heart is a fath­om unknown”.—————Buffy Sainte-Marie

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.

The Beauty Continues.….

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It’s the last day of 2015-and I’ve been neglect­ing this blog, most­ly because I’ve been busy and tired- always good excus­es. But I don’t want to skip a post­ing in any month. I feel an oblig­a­tion toward the blog, a true com­mit­ment. I also need to con­tin­ue my  writ­ing about Father Michael.

This blog has giv­en me a sense of pow­er. It has been influ­en­tial on so many peo­ple-some express­ing so much in their silence.….Others are hap­pi­ly sup­port­ive and com­pli­men­ta­ry.  Some open­ly dis­ap­prov­ing. I appre­ci­ate them all. And I look for­ward to anoth­er year of cre­at­ing and shar­ing beau­ty on this blog.  No, it’s not yet time for me to shut up about Father Michael and just act grate­ful.

2016 , here I come, a lit­tle slow­er, a lit­tle weak­er, but ready to car­ry on. I promise.

Here is a link to a great arti­cle about grat­i­tude and grief from Tim Lawrence :

http://www.timjlawrence.com/blog/2014/12/15/gratitude-doesnt-erase-grief

Savoring My Advent …

winter_scene_30-1024x768Novem­ber is almost over. It’s been a very busy month for me-and my fam­i­ly. I’ve had some health issues that caught up with me –and just didn’t feel well for most of the month.

Novem­ber also rep­re­sent­ed a ‘recov­ery’ and adjust­ment peri­od for my fam­i­ly. My youngest son got mar­ried on Octo­ber 31st -and there was a lot of hoopla lead­ing up to that !!  The wed­ding took place in the bride’s Ortho­dox church. My pas­tor assured us that it is com­plete­ly ok for a Roman Catholic to get mar­ried in the Ortho­dox church as all their sacra­ments are valid . Our church respects this. But I have to say it was an adjust­ment to wit­ness it. I am so used to hear­ing vows spo­ken and par­tic­i­pat­ing in Eucharist at our Catholic wed­dings. The Ortho­dox  priest admin­is­ters the sacra­ment and the rite is very long. I did rec­og­nize some ele­ments that remind­ed me of Jew­ish wed­dings. All in all, it was quite beau­ti­ful, but a bit out of my com­fort zone!!

So often in this past month, espe­cial­ly while ill, I thought of Father Michael. Just lit­tle mem­o­ries here and there. I recalled how often Father Michael expressed his fear about his ill­ness. I looked back over his many texts that I have saved and found this:

The only hope is prayer. I have lots of fears as I face each new day of uncer­tain­ty. You are in my thoughts as well.”

I think see­ing Father Michael being that kind of human example-accepting,uncertain, fear­ful, yet still full of faith, still pray­ing- left a last­ing impres­sion on me. It inspired courage in me. While going through my sick­ness, I didn’t have to dig to be very strong. Think­ing of how Father Michael was gave me peace and I felt at one point that he was present,right beside me. God is so good.

I dealt with nurs­es, doc­tors, var­i­ous tech­ni­cians and have noth­ing but admi­ra­tion and grat­i­tude for them. One of the most touch­ing expe­ri­ences was meet­ing an R.N. who’d been in the mil­i­tary for the  four years pri­or to start­ing at his cur­rent hos­pi­tal. “I’ve worked in mil­i­tary hos­pi­tals all over the world”. He was so proud of his work and yet so hum­ble. He was so kind to me and very unas­sum­ing-as opposed to “pro­fes­sion­al”. Before I was to leave the hos­pi­tal, this nurse said good­bye to me and shak­ing my hand, said “It has been an hon­or tak­ing care of you”. I thanked him, but was oth­er­wise pret­ty speechless–and very moved.

Today I saw this quote and real­ized that young man embod­ied it:

Bring them the Gospel not by your words but by your exam­ple, not by pro­claim­ing it but by liv­ing it. Make the sal­va­tion of all peo­ple the one, sin­gle work of your life, until Jesus the Sav­ior, which is a name express­ing per­fect­ly [who Jesus is], like­wise express­es per­fect­ly what you are. But how can this be done? Be all things to all peo­ple with a sin­gle, clear desire in your heart: to give them Jesus.”
Blessed Charles de Fou­cauld (1858–1916)

Well, this is a very self-cen­tered post. I am grate­ful, though, that I had  Father Michael in my life to look back on and ulti­mate­ly help me in my jour­ney .

Lasting Faithfulness

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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 !

These Holy Men of Mystery

fm-sr vowsI couldn’t let Sep­tem­ber get away with­out a post-so here it is at last. I know you all have been wait­ing with bat­ed breath. (HaHa) It’s been a busy month for me and I think they will be that way for a while -from now on.

Pope Fran­cis has just left the Unit­ed States. I think I am fed up with priests, bish­ops and car­di­nals -and their cell phones. For me it was just so bizarre to see par­tic­i­pat­ing priests, even con­cel­e­brants, in Papal Mass­es, just shoot­ing away. Oth­er observers seem to feel it was charm­ing sight — imper­fect, but under­stand­ably human . I dis­agree, but I’ll leave it at that.

As usu­al, I don’t know what to say about Pope Fran­cis. To me, he is a pal­pa­bly good man and straight­for­ward in many, many ways. I liked him so much at first- and still do. I even remem­ber writ­ing to Father Michael after Fran­cis had been pope a few weeks. I end­ed my short note with “Father Michael, Pope Fran­cis is like YOU !!! “  Cer­tain­ly the open, lov­ing, vis­i­ble atti­tude toward all peo­ple was some­thing they both shared. I know they both had that gift of being able to express and show delight in each per­son. You know they see the Image of God in all.

I wish I knew what else they might have had in com­mon. Each one, in his own way, is still a mys­tery to me. It is amaz­ing how one can feel the pres­ence of God and His love in a per­son like Pope Fran­cis or a Father Michael.  There’s no deny­ing some­thing spe­cial is there-but you just know there is a ‘rest of the sto­ry’. I think for most peo­ple, none of that mat­ters. For them it is  more than enough that these gifts of God exist. But to oth­ers, like me, the ‘rest of the sto­ry’ is what tru­ly mat­ters: the whole truth.  I want to under­stand how these spe­cial peo­ple became that way. It is not enough for me to just accept “through God’s grace, a mys­tery”. I want to have the priv­i­lege of under­stand­ing as much as I can of that mys­tery.

I sus­pect that we will see more and more details as to what makes up Pope Fran­cis. He is cer­tain­ly real  right now . But  upcom­ing church events will sure­ly reveal more of him as time goes by.

Father Michael is a dif­fer­ent sto­ry. I can’t ask him ques­tions any more- or bet­ter said- I can’t expect any answers if I choose to both­er him in his heav­en­ly home.  But he had so many lov­ing friends with whom he shared his rich ful­fill­ing life. More of Father Michael’s sto­ry is cer­tain­ly out there.

I’ll end this with a ‘vignette’ from a short dream I hap­pened to remem­ber. I usu­al­ly don’t remem­ber dreams at all.Even with this one-I don’t know if there was any­thing more to it. This is what I recall:

I was in a large room, with many peo­ple around me. Across the room I saw anoth­er group of peo­ple , milling about lengths of tables. Noth­ing was dis­tinc­tive; every­thing and every­one every­where was BEIGE. I won­dered where I was and it came to me that it was like U.S. cus­toms at the air­port. Now, I’ve only been through a few times;and I’m not well-trav­eled at all. And it’s been 40 years since I’ve trav­eled out of the coun­try. I’m sure that cus­toms is not like this now. So in my dream I gazed away at the oth­er group. Sud­den­ly a col­or­ful fig­ure caught my atten­tion, mov­ing through the crowd,right up to the table. He was smil­ing right at me and looked so hap­py.  Yes, it was Father Michael . But he was dif­fer­ent, very dif­fer­ent-not dressed in his habit. He was wear­ing a black and jew­el-col­ored get­up. I could only see to his hip lev­el-the table obstruct­ed full view. The weird­est thing was that he was wear­ing a black beret. At least that’s what I thought at first, but then it seemed like the kind of hat that St Thomas More wore. I con­clud­ed that it was actu­al­ly like aca­d­e­m­ic attire worn for for­mal meet­ings at uni­ver­si­ties. I also saw that the flash of col­or, a bright bur­gundy, was like a tri­an­gu­lar lapel or sash across his chest. Father Michael just con­tin­ued to beam at me. I asked him “Why are you so far away?” No answer, just the con­tin­ued smile and a lit­tle wave. That was it.

Adven­tures in Par­adise?  Pay­ing a vis­it to his alma mater?  My brain work­ing over­time?  Got­ta say, what­ev­er it was, it was nice to see Father Michael.

It Was Fascination…

stock_exchangeIn my sec­ond appoint­ment with Father Michael, he sur­prised me by talk­ing about the stock mar­ket. A long time before, I had told him that I’d inher­it­ed some mon­ey from my very spe­cial aunt. I explained that my inten­tion had been to stop work­ing at my very stress­ful job. I thought I’d take a break for a while and then try to find some­thing ‘ful­fill­ing’, non-stress­ful-and with­out a three to four hour round-trip com­mute.

Well, the econ­o­my and the stock mar­ket tanked. I felt uncom­fort­able con­sid­er­ing tak­ing a mod­est-salaried job from some­one who need­ed the mon­ey way more than I did. So I bus­ied myself with a few trips, some fam­i­ly wed­ding prepa­ra­tions and lots of genealog­i­cal research. I was amazed at times how quick­ly the days passed as I worked on the fam­i­ly tree. And so I explained all this to Father Michael.

We talked about my aunt, who was a true indi­vid­ual for her era. I explained how she some­times had worked three part time jobs, was fru­gal and saved. I told Father M how my aunt loved to swim in Lake Michi­gan and spent all her spare time on the beach in the sum­mer. She was able to con­vince one of her boss­es that she could do a full day’s work in four to five hours. She’d get to work at 6 AM and be at the lake­front by 11AM.….with her boss’s bless­ing. In the win­ter, she just went home ear­ly. This same boss was extreme­ly gen­er­ous with my aunt and gave her huge Christ­mas bonus­es. I remem­ber one for $6000 one year and $10,000 a few years lat­er. And this was in the ear­ly 60’s!  My aunt invest­ed in the mar­ket, with guid­ance from her boss. Father Michael remarked “the broth­ers and I often mar­vel at these amaz­ing women and the amount of mon­ey they amass.”  He was quite impressed. Inter­est­ing to me that rich women were the sub­ject of pri­o­ry dis­cus­sion.

Father M was also com­plete­ly intrigued by the stock mar­ket. He asked me some sur­pris­ing­ly blunt and,to be hon­est, nosy ques­tions. I answered most, but was tak­en aback by quite a few of them. One was about the approx­i­mate per­cent­age and dol­lar amount of prof­it I had earned the past year. There were more that were sim­i­lar to that; Father M was quite bold.He stared at me with those big eyes, look­ing com­plete­ly guile­less. I just stared back at him and didn’t answer. I very much had the feel­ing that he was try­ing to gauge exact­ly how much mon­ey I had in invest­ments. Per­haps I was wrong.….

Father Michael changed the sub­ject a bit and talked about his old­er brother’s loss­es in the mar­ket. He asked me what my broker’s new strat­e­gy was. I told him “Well, he’s always telling me ‘stay the course’”. Father Michael said that was what his broth­er was doing, but he hadn’t recov­ered all his loss­es. But he assured me that his brother’s busi­ness had con­tin­ued to do very well.  This con­ver­sa­tion just amazed me. I had nev­er expect­ed to dis­cuss this with Father.

Father M then admit­ted to being a lit­tle embar­rassed by his inter­est in finances. He relayed how he had been “prayer part­ners” with a lady in the parish,who had recent­ly passed away. He told me “You know I’d go over to her house and she would go over all her stocks and invest­ments and how they were doing. She knew I was fas­ci­nat­ed with them. But then it would be time for our prayer and I would find it dif­fi­cult to NOT think about those stocks!”  I admired his hon­esty in admit­ting that.

Fun­ny, now I remem­ber how I pur­chased some $20 instant tick­ets as a spe­cial treat for Father after the can­cer diag­no­sis. Father Michael was so excit­ed, but he put off scratch­ing the tick­ets till late in the evening. Lat­er he texted me that all he could think about dur­ing evening prayer was what he would do if he won a mil­lion dol­lars. So I’m think­ing “well, of course he’ll be help­ing the poor”. I was NOT expect­ing “Hey, I’ll be call­ing you from Hawaii”. Anoth­er time he told me “You know what hap­pens if I win, right?”  I said “No-what hap­pens?”  Father Michael: “I’m out­ta here!”

Father Michael — as he would say- “What a hoot !”

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.

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.

The Words That Guide Us

Emulating Julian of Norwich?
Emu­lat­ing Julian of Nor­wich?

Words can inspire and move. Words can teach and relay wis­dom. Words can also sow con­fu­sion and dis­cord. In par­tic­u­lar, the words of a preach­er in a homi­ly are sup­posed to be cho­sen with care -and be helped along, God will­ing — by the Spir­it. But, I’ve got to won­der at times. I’ve heard many, many won­der­ful things from the pul­pit. I’ve also heard some ridicu­lous pro­nounce­ments, spo­ken as near-dog­ma, some unthink­ing, hurt­ful gen­er­al­iza­tions, and some rep­e­ti­tious per­son­al themes, pre­sent­ed as the truth. Because I want to vent a bit, this post will be about the neg­a­tive stuff.

We, the faith­ful, are right­ly chas­tised for say­ing things that are insen­si­tive and hurt­ful to oth­ers . Yet our priests may do the same thing, espe­cial­ly from the pul­pit. Many times, though, the priests pos­sess that ele­ment of author­i­ty and holi­ness that may make us feel reluc­tant to reject, ques­tion or crit­i­cize their words.

Even some­one like Father Michael had his “bad days”. Yes, Father M was most­ly excel­lent as a preach­er, but some­times he just blew it. When this hap­pened, it was just a turn of phrase here and there-but to me, a few real­ly stood out: One time he began his homi­ly describ­ing the return of some­one who’d been away from the faith for a while. He talked about the man’s pro­fes­sion­al back­ground and then declared “Oh, he was mar­ried, but the mar­riage was over. It had been over for a long time.” I was sur­prised by the flip­pan­cy of a Catholic priest using the words “the mar­riage was over” . I know that this is how our soci­ety would describe it, but I felt sad­dened and dis­ap­point­ed that a priest would refer to a mar­riage with prob­lems this way. I instinc­tive­ly felt empa­thy for the many, many couples(some sure­ly there in church) who strug­gle through the bad times, to keep their mar­riages togeth­er. I thought these words were so thought­less; they dis­tract­ed me from hear­ing the rest of the homi­ly.

Anoth­er time Father Michael was speak­ing about how he per­son­al­ly had the most trou­ble keep­ing his vow of obe­di­ence. In the course of explain­ing this he said “Sure, we all strug­gle with celiba­cy.”  Ok — we know celiba­cy is choos­ing to be unmar­ried and chaste. I think Father meant chasti­ty, but what­ev­er, once again he was flip about this-which set the crude tone for many loud and inap­pro­pri­ate con­ver­sa­tions he con­duct­ed in the vestibule after Mass that day.

Then there was the time in the gospel where Jesus told of  get­ting the ox or don­key out of the pit on the Sab­bath. Father Michael gave a few more exam­ples show­ing com­mon sense or kind­ness in con­flict with ‘the rules’. He con­clud­ed his homi­ly with a big grin say­ing “And so you see, my dear broth­ers and sis­ters, love ALWAYS trumps the law.” I looked up at him grin­ning there and just shook my head. We lat­er had a dis­cus­sion about this in our meet­ing. I told him I felt his gen­er­al­iza­tion sound­ed nice, but was very mis­lead­ing.  I gave him my own exam­ples of how peo­ple, espe­cial­ly young peo­ple, could be influ­enced by a state­ment like that. Father M went on and and on about how  ‘we know Jesus was a man of the law’. And I said “Yes, of course , but you nev­er said that !!!”  He was very upset, but he final­ly got the mes­sage. But those hear­ing the homi­ly?  We’ll nev­er know.

Anoth­er priest in our parish seems to have a pen­chant for using the words “anger, bit­ter­ness and resent­ment” in hom­i­lies. He often talks in his hom­i­lies about our hearts being full of those three emo­tions. It is a recur­ring theme that gets tired. Of course he always encour­ages us to rid our­selves of these atti­tudes. As a per­son who some­times feels all three, I’d wel­come a lit­tle instruc­tion on com­bat­ing them and a lit­tle com­pas­sion for what caused them in the first place.Scolding doesn’t do it for me. It’s just not that sim­ple to say “Be gone !”  I think I am ripe for inspired instruc­tion.

The same priest seems to equate an out­go­ing, chat­ty, ‘peo­ple per­son’  with the ide­al Chris­t­ian. He talks in hom­i­lies about how we should all be of ser­vice, and seems to feel that social­iz­ing in any way pos­si­ble is the only sure way to the King­dom. He doesn’t seem to under­stand that there are oth­er, less ‘in your face’ ways to prac­tice one’s faith.You know-like prayer-which he hard­ly ever men­tions! If I had been alive in Christ’s time on earth and per­ceived Him as an over-the-top extro­vert, I would NOT have fol­lowed Him.  Not everyone’s a par­ty ani­mal. That sure­ly can’t be ‘the Way’.

And anoth­er priest tends to re-use the same hom­i­lies for some of the big­ger feasts and solem­ni­ties. You would think he’d at least change the jokes. Those make the repeat hom­i­lies more rec­og­niz­able! I remem­ber the jokes. He also has a ten­den­cy to refer to the Prodi­gal Son sto­ry a lot. He talks about the old­er son ‘cre­at­ing his own hell’ by delib­er­ate­ly sep­a­rat­ing him­self from his father and brother.Good one to fall back on, I guess.

Well, that’s enough com­plain­ing, though I may do it again some­time as the Spir­it moves me! FYI- the pos­i­tives in preach­ing real­ly do out­weigh the neg­a­tives-most of the time.