Around this time last year, I saw Father Michael at St Pius, and he told me a story which had given him so much hope. One of Father’s younger sisters had visited him recently and told him something which had happened a few months back-on one of her earlier visits.
Father Michael’s blood was deficient in magnesium; yep, it was pretty much nil. As he was receiving one of his many magnesium infusions, his sister,(whom Father called ‘my sensitive sister’) decided to talk privately to Father’s oncologist. She relayed to Father Michael how upset she had been, crying and crying and crying. Things were looking so discouraging- the magnesium problem was just the most recent of many setbacks that had occurred. It was overwhelming to her- and she had to go back to Canada that evening. As she cried, she explained to the doctor “You have no idea how my brother Michael is just so special to our family- we can’t lose him.” The good doctor responded with ” I think with Father Michael we just might get a miracle.”
Well, Father Michael was so in awe of the doctor’s hopeful words and so pleased that his sister had shared them. It was as though he had received a treasure in those words. So I remember today the solemnity with which Father Michael told me this story,the reverence, the gratitude. And there was such honesty and simplicity with which he told it to me. He was transparent and so very humble.
I loved that, in telling the story, Father Michael had to refer to himself as ‘special’. And he had no qualms or hesitation about saying it! He knew it was the truth. He knew very well that he had quite an impact on people.
So often, since Father’s death, I have heard others say “Father Michael had NO idea of how influential he was”. Or I have read “Father Michael just never realized how special he was”. Just not true. Father Michael knew ; he was totally aware of his God-given gifts and their effects. He just didn’t need to talk about them or draw overt attention to them. Certainly, as a human being , he was pleased when he was recognized or praised. But Father Michael’s true focus was on ‘being the vehicle’, a tool in the hand of God. He valued this above any praise for himself. I once wrote him an email praising him for a lovely homily. He responded with this :
“Forgive my tardiness in acknowledging your kind words. It meant a lot. Often times we wonder if our words are fine. Really, we are simply vehicles of the Word. We pray and study and hope that God gives us something that will help fellow ‘pilgrims’. So your kind words are a blessing to God.”
Leave it to Father M to see my would-be compliment to him as a blessing to God! I miss him–and his perceptive observations–so very much.
Once I asked Father M if he was going to concelebrate a farewell Mass with a priest who had just been reassigned from our parish. He said “No, I hadn’t planned on it.” Surprised by this, I said “Oh, I thought you would be there just to be nice and to say goodbye”. Father Michael said nothing in response. But that Sunday, there he was, up in the sanctuary . He had arrived too late to walk in the procession, but his presence more than made up for his late arrival. And after Mass was over, Father Michael just beamed as he accompanied the other priest back down the aisle. Yes, Father Michael was blessed with an honest understanding of his influence.
And we were privileged to know and love a man of true humility…..the sublime in the ordinary.