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!

 

Home for a Year Now.…

Fra Angelico Update
Fra Angeli­co Update

 It’s been a year and yet in some ways, it seems like yes­ter­day. Tonight at St Vin­cent Fer­rer church, we will cel­e­brate a memo­r­i­al Mass in hon­or of Father Michael. As hap­py as I am that Father Michael is in Heav­en, it still sad­dens me that he was lost to us so soon. And per­son­al­ly, I regret that I did not get to know Father Michael ear­li­er. Two years is way too short a time, but I am grate­ful for what I had.

From its begin­ning, this blog has been an attempt to hon­or and remem­ber Father Michael. And I have done my best to share what I know of him with all of you. I have always been truth­ful, which is why not every­thing you read here of Father M adver­tis­es his per­fec­tion. No, Father was not by any means per­fect. He had his faults.  But he was most cer­tain­ly a holy, holy man and a true instru­ment of Our Lord. I’ve nev­er met any­one like him; I know I’ll nev­er meet his like again, at least in this life.

Over the course of this past year, fel­low parish­ioners have peri­od­i­cal­ly writ­ten about their expe­ri­ences with and thoughts and feel­ings for Father Michael. I iden­ti­fied with each person’s sto­ry, the famil­iar­i­ty and truth of Father Michael came through in each essay. Every sto­ry was authen­tic and cel­e­brat­ed the love­ly aspects of the char­ac­ter of Father Michael. How much he was loved! How much he is missed!

On this first anniver­sary of Father Michael’s death, I want to state  a sim­ple rea­son why he was so spe­cial to me. For me Father Michael just was kindness.He per­son­i­fied that fruit of the Holy Spir­it. Sure, I’ve expe­ri­enced my share of true kind­ness from many oth­ers in my life. It was there in my par­ents, my fam­i­ly, my friends, cowork­ers and some­times strangers. It sup­port­ed me and lift­ed me up. Expe­ri­enc­ing kind­ness taught me how to be kind. It height­ened my aware­ness of how lit­tle things, sim­ple, kind acts can make a dif­fer­ence in people’s lives.

But the kind­ness in Father Michael just enveloped his whole per­son­al­i­ty. Whether talk­ing or silent, laugh­ing or seri­ous, in Father Michael the kind­ness was always there. Ges­tures and words real­ly weren’t nec­es­sary; some­how the kind­ness stood on its own with him. I just felt it. I could see it. It seemed to emanate from him. In my whole life I have NEVER felt kind­ness as sin­cere, as accept­ing, as lov­ing, as warm, as depend­able-as shown by Father Michael. To me this was the very tan­gi­ble pres­ence of the grace of God-that just could not be con­tained-but kind­ly reached out to all. I know that I will nev­er expe­ri­ence this lev­el of com­plete kind­ness from anoth­er per­son. It was anoth­er spe­cial gift of Father Michael.

We look for the Lord in each oth­er. And usu­al­ly, with effort, we do find Him. But with Father Michael, He was always right there.….no look­ing nec­es­sary.

                                                  I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me…

Simple Gifts and Insights

 

Mexican fresco
Mex­i­can fres­co

I’ve been think­ing some more (in my con­tin­ued insom­ni­ac con­di­tion) of the last month of Father Michael’s life. Because it was this time last year, it is so very easy to feel like it was yes­ter­day!

On Fat Tues­day in 2014, I brought some Pol­ish pacz­ki to treat the broth­ers at St Pius. I was due to meet Father Michael at 3pm.  I parked my usu­al  three blocks away  from St Pius and walked-car­ry­ing the pas­tries-which were quite heavy. As I approached Ash­land, I saw a famil­iar fig­ure come out of the Province office build­ing. It was Father Michael, all bun­dled up, walk­ing slow­ly and lean­ing heav­i­ly on his cane. I was too far away to catch up with him. So I con­tin­ued my care­ful walk on the icy side­walks ‚but also kept an eye on Father M. He moved slow­ly, but deter­mined­ly, got to the light and rest­ed his weight on the cane. I was so touched , watch­ing Father. He was putting all his effort into get­ting him­self to that pri­o­ry. And he was going there in sheer good­ness and self­less­ness, to meet with me-a proven thorn in his side! I was as moved  think­ing this as I had been at hear­ing so many of Father’s hom­i­lies. I was teary- eyed when I final­ly caught up with Father at the pri­o­ry door. He greet­ed me kind­ly and we went into the par­lor to talk.

Father Michael said he’d again been doing the cler­i­cal work- some phone calls for the province. He was hap­py that he could do some­thing.  I also think at that time, that his liv­ing quar­ters were prob­a­bly over­run with ‘orga­niz­ers’. After Father died,  some parish ladies told me they had been recruit­ed to orga­nize, rearrange and dis­card Father’s  papers, cards, let­ters and many pos­ses­sions. I can imag­ine how uncom­fort­able he was with this. Not want­i­ng to hurt anyone’s feel­ings though, I bet he act­ed grate­ful to the ladies. No won­der he stayed down in the par­lor!

But any­way, that day, Father M hap­pi­ly told me he had writ­ten a Lenten reflec­tion for the Domini­can web­site. There is a link to it at the end of the “Hum­ble Preach­er” post on this blog. Father told me “I men­tion you in the reflec­tion”. Well, I knew it real­ly couldn’t be that sim­ple or per­son­al. But he said “Lis­ten” and took a paper from his pock­et and read it to me. Here is the line he was talk­ing about:

What we are expe­ri­enc­ing is the fideli­ty of God. He nev­er aban­dons us. No mat­ter how low life might seem to get there is always abun­dant hope. I am liv­ing my time of hope. Even though things do not always look good I feel so blessed by many peo­ple ask­ing God for ‘ a total cure for Father Michael.’ ”

I thanked Father Michael for remem­ber­ing me (and so many oth­ers!!) in that reflec­tion. We had a love­ly, peace­ful vis­it-for the most part.

In these lat­ter vis­its, many times Father Michael would  get very angry and con­fronta­tion­al. He was quite moody. I remem­ber one con­ver­sa­tion where he got irri­tat­ed that I had used the term ‘water sports’. I had been talk­ing about his young life in Nova Sco­tia, imag­in­ing how kids would grow up sur­round­ed by the ocean and lakes and would take advan­tage of the many recre­ation pos­si­bil­i­ties of the water. Well, Father Michael got so angry with me, say­ing that I was imply­ing all Nova Sco­tia peo­ple  hung out in fan­cy yachts.

Some­times it was very hard for him to calm down. I think many peo­ple would say this was his can­cer talk­ing and act­ing in such a mean way. I cer­tain­ly believe the stress and pain and sad­ness act­ed as cat­a­lysts for this unchar­ac­ter­is­tic behav­ior. But that doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean that there was no truth in it. On the contrary,in see­ing these moments I feel that I was blessed with a glimpse of the soul and char­ac­ter of Father Michael. It was a glimpse with a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive, for sure.It was always so easy to see the good in Father when all was well. Father Michael sim­ply shone with the good. But  these oth­er traits-the dark­ness, the anger, the impa­tience-they were very real. In observ­ing these neg­a­tives, I com­pre­hend­ed  the human and sin­ful things with which Father Michael strug­gled. Along with Father M’s many virtues, these strug­gles, too, con­tributed to the mak­ing of this won­der­ful man . And see­ing this com­plete pic­ture, it made me all the more appre­cia­tive of Father Michael’s true holi­ness.

 

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!”

Blessing The Animals

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These pic­tures were tak­en on Octo­ber 4, 2012.…just a few months before Father Michael received his can­cer diag­no­sis. I had seen him after Mass the day before. He had told the sto­ry of his moth­er and the family’s sheets. Very touched, I’d writ­ten a note thank­ing him and he respond­ed the next day with:

I will bless the ani­mals at 2:30 pm. Why don’t you bring your dog? I have mass at noon.It is the feast of St.Francis.Have the best day ever.

Fr. M

Well, my dog Beck­et was very old, 14 years- with hip prob­lems. I tried to get him into my car which was in the garage, but he just couldn’t jump into the back seat! Beck­et weighed 140 pounds, so I also had trou­ble lift­ing him. It was a lost cause. I had start­ed ear­ly, but I didn’t make it to the bless­ing that day. Lat­er I told Father M what hap­pened. He wrote:

Pet bless­ings are not restrict­ed to St Fran­cis Day. You can bring him any time I am there and I will give him a blessing.We had a good crowd of pets yes­ter­day. The chil­dren absolute­ly love it.

Bless­ings,

Father Michael

So on Octo­ber 5, I expe­ri­enced a ‘dri­ve thru’ bless­ing. I was able to get Beck­et into the car eas­i­ly from the height of the curb in front of my house .….a lit­tle mir­a­cle. Father Michael was wait­ing for me as I drove into the St Vin­cent park­ing lot. He told me “Don’t wor­ry about get­ting Beck­et out of the car. Just roll the win­dow down and I’ll sprin­kle him”.Father Michael addressed Beck­et by name and Beck­et turned to look at him atten­tive­ly. We chat­ted after­ward. Father Michael said, a lit­tle wist­ful­ly “he seems like such a nice dog.…is he a good dog?” ” Yes, he cer­tain­ly is” I said. And again I thought of how Father Michael would have loved to have a dog. Father was so hap­py doing this- just as he looks in the pic­tures. With­out a doubt,it was a delight to him .Father Michael then said “Well, I’m glad I got to bless him. You’ll see, he’ll feel bet­ter now.” He knew that Beck­et had been strug­gling at times with arthri­tis and dog­gy old age ail­ments. Beck­et did seem much more ener­getic for some time after­ward ! Beck­et died in his sleep in July 2013.

Bit­ter­sweet mem­o­ries today.…but I’m so grate­ful I have them!

”And How Are You Today, My Dearest, Dearest Darling ?”

A Simple Gesture

Father Michael loved his ladies. These for­tu­nate souls were usu­al­ly home-bound and received reg­u­lar vis­its from Father M. Some of them were quite elder­ly-in their nineties and even over a hun­dred years old. He loved bring­ing them Holy Eucharist and vis­it­ing with them. He admit­ted to being total­ly fas­ci­nat­ed with their life sto­ries and wise per­spec­tives. Father Michael often men­tioned how old­er peo­ple showed open­ly how their souls were prepar­ing to meet God. He told me that the vis­its tru­ly inspired awe in him. He approached them with rev­er­ence , respect and humor.

Father Michael had his own way of inspir­ing awe , to be sure. Many times I heard him say “And how are you today, my dear­est, dear­est dar­ling?” as he answered his calls or greet­ed some ladies after Mass. Father Michael was a preach­er to his very core. And I wit­nessed that charism spill over at times into reg­u­lar con­ver­sa­tion and every­day eti­quette. A few words from Father Michael could eas­i­ly be God’s grace to a needy soul. He just knew the right thing to say, or to make the sim­ple mean­ing­ful gesture.….always some­thing framed with love.

I once chal­lenged Father Michael about the “dear­est dar­ling” line. I said it kind of sound­ed like his Cana­di­an ver­sion of  Aun­tie Mame. Well, that didn’t change any­thing in his view; it stayed a VERY Father Michael turn of phrase. And he used it often-even on me! I have to admit that being addressed direct­ly like that  had its  warmth and charm . Those ladies were so blessed!

Father Michael con­tin­ued the vis­its to his ladies,as best he could, through­out his ill­ness. Call­ing on the lady friends while he fought his can­cer was priest­ly -and an effort­ful, holy thing. He cher­ished bring­ing them the Eucharist. He rel­ished their con­ver­sa­tions. Father Michael was always a priest, first and fore­most. Here is a text Father M sent me in Feb­ru­ary, about a month before he died:

I had a good nite! Thank God! I was tired after doing the funer­al of my 99 year old girl­friend. She and I were sup­posed to get togeth­er this Thurs­day since we hadn’t seen each oth­er since Xmas. Hope you are rest­ed as well. My objec­tive today is to go for a walk.”

Sec­ond nature to Father M; no big deal. Those dear­est dar­lings were sure­ly blessed. Yet they walked mean­ing­ful­ly with Father Michael in his ill­ness, and so blessed him.