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

Always the Shepherd

The Lost Sheep/Daniel Bonnell
The Lost Sheep/Daniel Bon­nell

Yes­ter­day I was look­ing at a video of a Domini­can event that took place in March, 2013. At the end of the video the cam­era panned the group of peo­ple in atten­dance. Then it focused on some Domini­can fri­ars stand­ing in the back of the room. And there he was, Father Michael, hold­ing court just like he used to do at St Vin­cent, hug­ging and kiss­ing up a storm. There was audio, too, and I could faint­ly hear Father’s voice. Gosh, it brought tears to my eyes to see, as real again, a  com­mon scene I have remem­bered and cher­ished. Sad to say, they were still tears of sad­ness, not joy. I watched the clip twice and and then decid­ed to just leave it alone. It’s not sur­pris­ing to me that these ‘lit­tle things’ still hold a very deep mean­ing. Lat­er I remem­bered that I had actu­al­ly called Father M that day, want­i­ng to know if he was ready to eat some pies after com­plet­ing his chemo. Well, he was out of state, he said, but he was anx­ious for pie upon his return to St Pius. It was exact­ly a year and a day before he died.

I want to focus on the pos­i­tive. So I’ve decid­ed that I will share some ear­ly mem­o­ries of Father Michael-before his can­cer diag­no­sis. I know that I have men­tioned that I came back to my parish to dis­cuss some spir­i­tu­al issues with a priest. It was not a mat­ter of con­fes­sion; there was more to it. After a long delay, I approached Father M and he was very wel­com­ing. First I emailed Father, then I vis­it­ed him in the sac­risty, then set up an appoint­ment. This is about my first appoint­ment.

I made the appoint­ment about a week before and was a lit­tle ner­vous, yet felt I had found the right per­son. I was so impressed with Father Michael, I thought “I just know he’s going to talk about the grace of Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion”. I was sure he would sug­gest that to me. I thought if I made my con­fes­sion to Father Michael, I’d be so emo­tion­al­ly spent that I wouldn’t be able to talk about all the oth­er stuff. So that morning,after Mass at St Vin­cent, I went to a close-by parish for Con­fes­sion. I knew the priests were avail­able right after Mass. So fun­ny, because I think I felt like I had to cleanse my soul before I dared face the very holy Father Michael. And yes, he did bring up Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion that day!

Well, I was on time for the appoint­ment, Father Michael was a few min­utes late. I knew he had been with a promi­nent mem­ber of our parish who had passed away. The recep­tion­ist had been on the phone “get­ting the word out”. When Father arrived, we went into his office and sat down. Even though I had eat­en, my stom­ach had been rum­bling away-prob­a­bly nerves. I decid­ed to just be open about it and apol­o­gize for the noise ahead of time. Well, Father M laughed and said “Oh you don’t know about me and my stom­ach issues. Girl, you and I will just sit here and gur­gle at each oth­er!” So that broke the awk­ward­ness for me! Father Michael then start­ed to give me a his­to­ry of his stom­ach issues,the cur­rent ones (which many ladies of the parish knew well-and dis­cussed freely) . He then told of the bleed­ing ulcer he had in Den­ver. He was Domini­can Novice Mas­ter at the time. He said the doc­tors had told him he had “24 hours to live”. He claimed he told them “Good, no dra­ma, don’t wor­ry about noti­fy­ing my fam­i­ly”. He nev­er said how long it took him to recu­per­ate or if his fam­i­ly were ever noti­fied. I asked what he thought caused the ulcer and he said “I kind of let every­thing get away from me”. I didn’t feel com­fort­able ask­ing him to elab­o­rate, though now I wish I had. In lat­er con­ver­sa­tions, he did say that when­ev­er his stom­ach would give him trou­ble, he’d just stop eating,sometimes for a few days. He talked about pos­si­bly hav­ing lac­tose intol­er­ance, irri­ta­ble bow­el syn­drome and mul­ti­ple bow­el obstruc­tions. Father M was very frank about this stuff- though he nev­er men­tioned a doctor’s diag­no­sis. And– he also allud­ed to some regret about not being stricter as a Novice Master-“when I hear how some of them are now.”

So after the stom­ach dis­cus­sion Father asked me about myself. He was so care­ful in how he asked about edu­ca­tion. It was clear to me that he was leery of offend­ing some­one (espe­cial­ly a woman) by assum­ing her lev­el of edu­ca­tion was low­er than she had achieved. I’ll bet he’d made that faux pas a few times! The cau­tion was actu­al­ly very charm­ing. But I only have a B.A. from Loy­ola-so he had noth­ing to fear. That’s pret­ty aver­age. Then Father asked more ques­tions about pos­si­bly stress­ful sit­u­a­tions in my life. I rec­og­nized all the queries as being pret­ty stan­dard about death, divorce, mov­ing, job, abuse, addic­tion. Father was very gen­tle and kind and ten­ta­tive in his ques­tion­ing. I think he just assumed I was hav­ing mar­i­tal prob­lems. He men­tioned annul­ments and remar­riage a few times. Well, my issue was none of these, but it took me three or four appoint­ments before I felt com­fort­able telling him. I didn’t want to be dis­cour­te­ous and shut down all his kind effort, so I went along with it.

Of course we talked about oth­er things, most notably fam­i­ly, Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and the Eucharist. But most inter­est­ing­ly, Father Michael gave me a lit­tle lec­ture on the pow­er of the sense of touch. He explained that when he was a fresh­man at Dal­housie Uni­ver­si­ty, he and his old­er broth­er had attend­ed a sem­i­nar or lec­ture by a very famous sci­en­tist. The lec­ture was all about the sense of touch and how impor­tant and mean­ing­ful it was. I found myself think­ing “I am a wife and moth­er of three, why is he telling me this? If noth­ing else, I am ful­ly aware of how impor­tant this is for bond­ing moth­er and baby.” Well, Father talked for over ten min­utes on this sub­ject. I was fas­ci­nat­ed at his great emo­tion in relay­ing his thoughts with such con­vic­tion. Father end­ed his talk telling me of the new wid­ow he had just left. He described poignant­ly how she had stroked her dead husband’s arm over and over. And he showed me just how she did this. He choked up and teared up as he described his awe being in the pres­ence of such a great love.Quite an unex­pect­ed turn in our talk, but as I grew to know Father bet­ter, I learned that using touch was a hall­mark of Father Michael’s being.

Then we spoke of the Eucharist. I’ve writ­ten about this awhile back. For some rea­son Father Michael was impressed by my words that day. I still wish I could remem­ber what I’d said. In any case, Father M start­ed talk­ing about the way peo­ple received the Eucharist , peo­ple who would just grab IT from him, those who approached dis­re­spect­ful­ly, those who would receive and just walk out the door. He lament­ed that poor cat­e­ch­esis  had result­ed in peo­ple ‘who didn’t have a clue’. He was tru­ly sad about this. Then Father shared the expe­ri­ence of cel­e­brat­ing Mass in Cana­da with those very close to him. He quick­ly gave a run­down of those who were no longer prac­tic­ing Catholics and those extend­ed fam­i­ly who belonged to dif­fer­ent denom­i­na­tions. With big tears rolling down his cheeks, he said “I feel so bad about their receiv­ing Com­mu­nion, but I don’t know what to say.” Wow, was I sur­prised about that!!!!  After all he was a priest-and a good and holy one- who wouldn’t lis­ten to him?  I was con­cerned and empa­thet­ic, see­ing again this great emo­tion show so quick­ly. I said “Father Michael, I can under­stand that you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feel­ings or start a war, but maybe one of your broth­ers could explain this in a non-hurt­ful way”. Father just shook his head, he felt tru­ly help­less about the sit­u­a­tion. Father was unique in open­ly show­ing his vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and I was priv­i­leged to see this in sig­nif­i­cant mat­ters of faith. When he vis­it­ed Cana­da, I prayed that he might have peace about this.

In my ear­li­est posts, I’ve writ­ten about oth­er aspects of this meet­ing. I won’t repeat them here.The meet­ing end­ed most pleas­ant­ly. And I felt that God had giv­en me a great gift in lead­ing me to Father Michael. It is so nice to rem­i­nisce. So much was so mean­ing­ful.

After All, We Are An Easter People

549443_873708899357112_6993983978990308286_nIt’s just after mid­night on East­er Sun­day. I attend­ed the East­er vig­il at St Vincent’s. It was excit­ing to wel­come the new­ly bap­tized and con­firmed mem­bers of our church. That was a true high­light of the litur­gy. I’m glad I attend­ed for that rea­son.

But gosh, the homi­ly was such a down­er. Just my insignif­i­cant opin­ion.  Our priest chose to empha­size the neg­a­tive (dead- as he put it) atti­tudes in our lives.….on East­er!! No encour­age­ment, no empa­thy, no attempt to understand.….so depress­ing.  It left me feel­ing sad, for I know every one  of the con­gre­ga­tion has expe­ri­enced these feel­ings.

To counter this I’m going to share some won­der­ful words of Father Michael from his emails to me. I need­ed to be lift­ed up after that homi­ly; read­ing them has  helped immense­ly. Hope you all will enjoy the POSITIVE:

After our first ‘in-per­son’ meet­ing-

I was thrilled to see you this morn­ing “in the sac­risty”!!!!! You are so joy­ful and faith­filled and your fam­i­ly is lucky hav­ing you pray­ing for them.Come often just to laugh or say hi !

         If you want to chat about any­thing, call any­time.

         Bless­ings,

Father Michael


Know you are wel­come any­time to share any­thing. You can decide when it is good or the spir­it guides you. I’m thrilled with your sto­ry. God is so pow­er­ful and yet we still need to hear these kinds of sto­ries.

        Hope the rest of the day is great.. Keep COOL as best as you can.

Bless­ings
Fr. Michael op


    I don’t mind at all receiv­ing your emails. I am sor­ry to read your son’s view of faith. Some­times I   won­der how our chil­dren turn so far from faith after being formed in it. But with God all things are pos­si­ble and that anger/hurt may turn to a new zeal. Maybe now that he is look­ing for a job, he will be more open to God’s grace and gifts.

        Bless­ings on all your wor­ries but grate­ful­ness for your faith.

Father Michael


        Thanks for that fun­ny sto­ry about your Aunt. Every­one should have an aunt like that.

       I am so touched by your gen­er­ous offer. Hon­est­ly, that is hard­ly nec­es­sary. I have loved my priest­hood these 25 years although there have been painful times. But God has always stuck with me. Hard­ly a day goes by where I don’t pray in grat­i­tude for his fideli­ty. I am awed by it.

It is true that the most dev­as­tat­ing moment in my aca­d­e­m­ic life led me to the Domini­cans. I have often thought of that. Today, it was com­fort­ing to know some­one of the sta­tus of St. Alphon­sus Liguori had a ter­ri­ble pro­fes­sion­al expe­ri­ence that led to great things.

I’m off to Cana­da on Fri­day. Say a prayer that all will be well with the fam­i­ly. I just want pleas­ant weath­er and to swim.

Bless­ings
Fr. Michael


After an unpleas­ant, touchy ‘dis­cus­sion’ of com­mon stereo­types:

I once did a talk with a Domini­can sis­ter and it was on stereo­types. We would men­tion a cul­ture and the audi­ence had to do a spon­ta­neous response. It was astound­ing. For almost every cul­ture the first response was neg­a­tive. For exam­ple Irish equals drunk, Ger­man equals rigid etc. Tru­ly, I have heard the Pol­ish jokes but I have always been dis­mayed because of the bril­liance of our Pol­ish broth­ers and the faith that saved a nation when so much of East­ern Europe lost it. The human con­di­tion seems to move quick­ly to neg­a­tive respons­es which I see as the result of orig­i­nal sin.

One bless­ing I have always thanked God for is that I usu­al­ly can see pos­i­tive things even in the ter­ri­ble real­i­ties of life. Some say I have rose col­ored glass­es, oth­ers just say I am naive. But I do believe God wants me to love and to live by pos­i­tive rein­force­ment. There is a school of psy­chol­o­gy that is direct­ed at heal­ing by affir­ma­tions that help the patient.

Any­way, I’m glad you are blessed with find­ing the good in peo­ple.

Also well done at the casi­no. I just know you have good kar­ma!!!!!

Bless­ings
Fr. Michael


It is a won­der­ment to me that even in talk­ing about  neg­a­tive, unpleas­ant things, Father Michael was able to see the good, the hope­ful, the pos­i­tive. It is so good to see his words and remem­ber.

I feel much better—–Happy East­er to all!

 

Blessed Seer

Spring is Here/ DuncansonWhen I returned to church, I came part­ly to find a priest with whom I could dis­cuss some spir­i­tu­al mat­ters. I took way too much time to do this.I liked all the priests serv­ing there, but just kept hesitating,(for months!) try­ing to decide among them.Previously I’d talked to priests only in con­fes­sion and in meet­ings to pre­pare for my mar­riage. And, I’d  grown up with priests in my fam­i­ly-but those were casu­al fam­i­ly relationships.In my mature adult life, I was just an ordi­nary parish­ioner who attend­ed Mass and said “Good morn­ing, Father” once-in-a-while. That was the extent of my com­mu­ni­ca­tion with priests. So to desire a real meet­ing to dis­cuss the spir­i­tu­al was a big step for me.

From the begin­ning at St Vin­cent Fer­rer, I was enthralled with Father Michael’s preach­ing. He was not a per­fect preach­er, as many would claim, but he was sure­ly excel­lent. I could tell, he always pre­pared. Some­times he strug­gled, some­times he inspired and some­times sure­ly was inspired. So nat­u­ral­ly, I thought about going to talk to him. I was sure he was a most holy per­son. Still, I held off, as I was put off by all his noisy social­iz­ing in the back of church after Mass. If ever a priest had ‘groupies’, Father Michael did!  I found it dif­fi­cult to rec­on­cile the holi­ness and rev­er­ence I sensed from the altar and pul­pit with the sil­ly, some­times unseem­ly per­son I’d see in the vestibule. I am prob­a­bly alone in my opin­ion, but that is how it felt to me.  So I was stuck between pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive about Father Michael- and I stayed on the fence for a long time.

One Sun­day after Mass, I was lit­er­al­ly  “stuck’ in the vestibule. Anoth­er priest had said Mass and there were sev­er­al well-known Domini­cans who were vis­it­ing. They were all in the vestibule, greet­ing peo­ple, many had small groups around them chat­ting. It was quite crowd­ed. And out­side, it was rain­ing. The peo­ple, involved in their vis­it­ing, or wait­ing for the rain to sub­side, were not mov­ing or even aware that oth­ers were try­ing to get by to the doors. So I was stuck behind sev­er­al peo­ple, aim­ing to get to one of the side doors. I didn’t feel like push­ing, so I just wait­ed and watched for an open­ing.

As I waited,the side door opened and in came Father Michael. He slid in and got his scapu­lar stuck in the door. He turned and fussed with the scapu­lar a bit, got it free. Father was all by him­self for a change. He had a seri­ous, placid expres­sion on his face as he stood there so qui­et­ly. I looked on and he nev­er looked my way nor at all the chat­ter­ing groups. Father Michael stood there look­ing so serene, then moved toward one of the inner stained-glass doors. He peered through the clear part, view­ing inside the church.

The fol­low­ing all hap­pened in just a mat­ter of sec­onds: I thought “My gosh, how odd to see Father Michael so qui­et, so dif­fer­ent- and instead all these oth­er Domini­cans loud­ly shoot­ing their mouths off !” And in my head I heard a ‘voice’ that I’ve always attrib­uted to my guardian angel, because it is so dis­tinc­tive from the mus­ings of my con­science. It said -as clear as a bell- “This is their Seer”. Of course I was sur­prised and thrilled. But in response, I thought ” Their seer ? That’s all I need, if I meet with this Father Michael-some­one who reads my mind!” And as soon as I thought that, I received the imme­di­ate under­stand­ing that no, Father Michael was not any kind of psy­chic. He was a Seer.…. of peo­ples’ hearts. And I knew at once that that was one of his most pro­found gifts.

Months lat­er, when I was final­ly meet­ing with Father Michael, we talked about my expe­ri­ence. I expect­ed that Father Michael would be polite, but dis­be­liev­ing and care­ful with what he said to me. Instead, he was so hap­py! He said to me “Some of my broth­ers will say to me, ‘Michael , how did you know that?’ How could you tell? And I tell them I have no idea”. I was so grat­i­fied that he accept­ed what I had expe­ri­enced. I told Father Michael that I now under­stood that he was a Seer of hearts.I stat­ed that I was able to see that clear­ly in how he lived his life and his great, great ten­der­ness for peo­ple. He thanked me sin­cere­ly for telling him.

As we came to the final days of Father Michael’s life, we had so many dis­agree­ments. I real­ly had to look hard for the per­son I had come to know. I apol­o­gized a lot, not always under­stand­ing what I had said that was hurt­ful. One time, I said “Father Michael, I am so sor­ry. What I said to you came from my heart –and not from a bad place in my heart.” And he said, look­ing at me kind­ly, “There couldn’t be a bad place in your heart”. That was the Seer talk­ing.…

But the eyes are blind. One must look with the heart.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Lit­tle Prince

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!

 

A Piece of Work

10659323_792403544131940_8024746960880772086_nIn gen­uine grat­i­tude toward God man becomes beau­ti­ful. He emerges from imma­nence, from the con­fines of ego-relat­ed­ness and enters into the bliss­ful giv­ing of him­self to God, the quin­tes­sence of all glo­ry, into the realm of good­ness and true kind­ness. In grat­i­tude, man becomes great and expan­sive. Blessed and vic­to­ri­ous free­dom blooms in his soul.”

Just some short thoughts today.…the quote above is from  the book, The Art of Liv­ing by Diet­rich von Hilde­brand-his essay on grat­i­tude. I’ve had this book since the ear­ly ‘90s. I keep it bed­side and con­tin­ue to find new mean­ings and nuances in all its essays.

This quote has always been one of my favorites, but in re-read­ing it today, I am struck by how it cap­tures Father Michael and his ever-present grat­i­tude. Who can ever for­get all the times Father Michael said “God is so good”? He was con­stant­ly express­ing his grat­i­tude and call­ing our atten­tion to do the same.

Good and kind, great and expan­sive.…. beau­ti­ful. I am grate­ful to have seen the truth of this in Father Michael. Blooms of his soul!!!

And that brings this Shake­speare quote to mind:

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in rea­son, how infi­nite in fac­ul­ty! In form and mov­ing how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in appre­hen­sion how like a god! The beau­ty of the world! The paragon of ani­mals!”

St. Dominic’s Feast

St Dominic by BotticelliToday is the Feast of St Dominic, so the Order of Preach­ers is pray­ing, preach­ing and.…partying. They have much to cel­e­brate in the gift of St Dominic and his vision of a unique way for a life to  serve the Lord. There is quite a lega­cy of Domini­can saints- St Thomas Aquinas, St Albert the Great, St Cather­ine of Siena, St Mar­tin de Por­res, St Rose of Lima ‚to name just a few.

And of course we for­tu­nate ones have expe­ri­enced the real, grace-filled influ­ences of many Domini­can sis­ters and priests in our own lives.That brings me, of course,to Father Michael Kyte.….what a won­der­ful Domini­can he was. So often he spoke with great ten­der­ness of his Domini­can broth­ers, the com­mu­ni­ty. Father Michael told me often things like “Father Louie is so kind and always good to me”. Or “Oh Father Rick is so holy and so learned, a schol­ar; he reminds me of St Dominic”. Or (talk­ing to me on the phone) “I ‘m here in the laun­dry room,watching one of the senior Fathers iron­ing his habit. I am hum­bled watch­ing him as I real­ize he has been iron­ing his habit with such care and love every day for over six­ty years.” Father Michael saw all the good­ness and bless­ings in his Domini­can com­mu­ni­ty life.…and tru­ly loved his broth­ers.

Preach­ing and pray­ing were a giv­en for Father Michael. He always claimed he was ‘no aca­d­e­m­ic’ yet I know he stud­ied and read all the time. And all of us ben­e­fit­ed from how he shared his learning-“the fruits of con­tem­pla­tion”, if you will. Father Michael was a true son of St Dominic.

I read Alden Solovy’s newest poem on http://tobendlight.com  this morn­ing. It’s beau­ti­ful-about mir­a­cles- all kinds, large and small. We’ve all expe­ri­enced them-gifts from our Heav­en­ly Father. Some­times the mir­a­cles are the spe­cial peo­ple in our lives. On this St. Dominic’s Day, I’m shar­ing this sim­ple, yet exquis­ite poem:

About Mir­a­cles
Majes­tic Sov­er­eign,
Source of awe and won­der,
When did You decide
To make dai­ly mir­a­cles so sim­ple,
So gen­tle, so qui­et and so small?
Did our fear of Your Voice
Echo­ing from the moun­tain top
Push You away?
Or was this Your plan all along?
To show us Your Glo­ry
In fire and smoke,
In the part­ed sea,
In the dark­ness and in the light,
And then to draw away
So that we would
Yearn for You to be near,
So that we would yearn
For your pow­er and might,
For Your holi­ness
And for Your sal­va­tion?
Or are You wait­ing, patient­ly,
To return, again, with signs
And with won­ders?

 

                     © 2014 Alden Solovy and http://tobendlight.com. All rights reserved

The Feast of Corpus Christi

Aquinas :EucharistFather Michael was so keen­ly aware of the Gift of the Holy Eucharist. We spoke of this in one our first con­ver­sa­tions. I was talk­ing about how much my view of the Eucharist had changed in my life. I spoke of how as a First Com­mu­ni­cant, I was focused on meet­ing Jesus and hav­ing Him become part of me, a per­son­al vis­it and union. Then I told of how, post Vat­i­can II, the focus was so much on the Peo­ple of God, Church as Christ’s Body and we its mem­bers, our neigh­bors, that union- I remem­ber very lit­tle remain­ing of my child­hood view­point. But I told Father Michael I felt that as an old­er per­son I had come back to my child­hood view, but now keep­ing the com­mu­ni­ty in the pic­ture.

Father Michael just beamed as I spoke. I did some addi­tion­al explain­ing of how I was think­ing and Father  became most seri­ous as I talked. I wish I could remem­ber what I’d said.  Father M then stat­ed “Well that is a beau­ti­ful expla­na­tion of  amaz­ing­ly sound The­ol­o­gy!!”  with some sur­prise in his demeanor. I said “I know”, but won­dered why he was so sur­prised. Father said “But you don’t real­ize how many peo­ple don’t have a clue!” I replied “But Father Michael, I have six­teen years of Catholic edu­ca­tion, I should know this stuff.” He would often men­tion to me lat­er, as he fought his can­cer, that I was tru­ly blessed with under­stand­ing of the Eucharist.

I was aim­ing to have Father Michael become my spir­i­tu­al direc­tor at that point. He sug­gest­ed some read­ing about St Char­bel and to study some books on the Eucharist. We nev­er got around to the direc­tion because Father Michael’s can­cer showed up. Father was too sick to have the meet­ings. For quite awhile I didn’t see Father Michael at all. What a dis­ap­point­ment!

But I remem­ber Father M’s pure delight in dis­trib­ut­ing Holy Eucharist to all of us. He always smiled as we approached him, eyes gleam­ing. He radi­at­ed such warmth and reflect­ed a qui­et delight in giv­ing this great­est of Gifts to us, his parish fam­i­ly. Today is Cor­pus Christi and I think of Father Michael’s love for the Eucharist. Father’s beau­ti­ful being and pres­ence, his gen­tle­ness and holi­ness- all bore wit­ness to the exquis­ite nour­ish­ment pro­vid­ed by Our Lord.

And through the same Gift, we are all still togeth­er:

‘Now with glad thanks­giv­ing, praise Christ glo­ri­fied;
He in us is present; we in him abide.
Mem­bers of his body, we in him are one;
Hail this sacred union, heav’n on earth begun!’

A Priest Forever

This will be an odd post. It’s about my imag­i­na­tion and my dreams. So, no one’s real­i­ty but mine. I will note: I vis­it­ed Father Michael most recent­ly at St Pius. Each time I came by, he was dressed casu­al­ly in jeans and sweater or khakis and flan­nel shirt and on his weak­er days , paja­ma bot­toms  or sweats. Since Father Michael died, I have often recalled sev­er­al of our last con­ver­sa­tions. And I pic­ture the scene, most­ly at the St Pius Pri­o­ry par­lor, just exact­ly as it was. And I recall Father Michael just as he was-sit­ting or stand­ing- as we talked. But I  had the sense that some­thing was dif­fer­ent in the mem­o­ries; I strug­gled to put my fin­ger on it. Final­ly I real­ized what it was. In every mem­o­ry, I see Father Michael dressed in his habit, most times even wear­ing the Domini­can black cap­pa! There is one mem­o­ry where Father is stand­ing in front of me, vehe­ment­ly lec­tur­ing me, and he is garbed in a beau­ti­ful gold cha­suble. It shim­mers and sparkles in spots- stun­ning. In anoth­er, I clear­ly see him sit­ting in the reclin­er with his cap­pa all about him, a la Darth Vad­er, look­ing pleased as punch-and so ele­gant and serene.…and healthy.  And Father is say­ing “1981, Ah, I was just at the begin­ning of my Domini­can life”. It had been my son’s birth­day and Father asked me the year he was born.

When I final­ly real­ized what I was see­ing, I tried to make sense of it. It had nev­er hap­pened pre­vi­ous­ly. I have always thought of Father Michael as first and fore­most a holy priest. His priest­ly char­ac­ter was so vis­i­ble. So I feel like God blessed my mem­o­ries in this way to recall every minute with Father as being in the pres­ence of an extra­or­di­nary priest . It is a lit­tle thing -but so sig­nif­i­cant. I cher­ish this grace of see­ing Father Michael robed as a ‘priest for­ev­er’.

On a lighter note, after I wrote my “Sols­bury Hill” entry, I had a dream. I saw Father Michael in his habit-there he was, a vision in black and white -Irish step-danc­ing to “Sols­bury Hill”. He cut quite a rug.

When Father  Michael was alive, part of my prayer rou­tine was to say a per­son­al­ized ver­sion of the Divine Mer­cy chap­let, nam­ing Father Michael in each prayer. After he died, I went back to the reg­u­lar chap­let. It cer­tain­ly went a lot faster! Then late­ly, I’ve had a few recita­tions where I ‘slipped’ into my old habit, say­ing Father Michael’s name in the prayer.  It amused me because I couldn’t imag­ine Father Michael need­ing my prayers any­more. I was sure he’d gone right to Heav­en.… until I had this dream.……

I saw Father Michael and he gave me a hug. I remem­ber noth­ing at all about the set­ting, just him. I thanked him for help­ing me and oth­ers who had prayed to him for this or that . (I think so many of us feel we now tru­ly know a saint in heav­en who pays atten­tion to us.) Any­way, Father Michael was so hap­py to have helped. He said he was very busy. I said “It sounds like you’re work­ing up there!” And he said “Well, the Lord has gra­cious­ly allowed me to be half­time in Heav­en and half­time in Pur­ga­to­ry”. I said “you’re still in Pur­ga­to­ry????!!!!” Father said “Yes, but there were just so many prayers and requests to me,that they want­ed to let me loose to start tak­ing care of them- so I ‘m doing it half­time”. I said “maybe the Lord will let you do many things at one time”. He laughed and said “Well , just keep pray­ing that Divine Mer­cy chap­let for me, I need it”.  That was it.

Iron­ic about the half­time-at least he doesn’t have to com­mute on the Ike!

Yep, I know,crazy.  I am doing the spe­cial chap­let though, at least for a while.