Longing and Not Letting Go

2009+Ordination+(279)-1It’s April Fool’s Day, a year to the day that we buried our Father Michael. It’s also the good and kind Father Louie’s birth­day. I’ll always remem­ber what a fit­ting homi­ly he gave to hon­or his best friend a year ago.

 The recent memo­r­i­al Mass for Father Michael  seemed in some ways to cel­e­brate a per­son that I had nev­er known. I only got to know Father Michael right before his can­cer diag­no­sis, when he was suf­fer­ing from unknown stom­ach ail­ments. Although I had heard about his priest­ly par­ty­ing, he was tak­ing meds and being cau­tious at this time. At Mass there were point­ed acknowl­edg­ments giv­en to cer­tain peo­ple and of favors help­ful to Father Michael. It was a very, very exclu­sive group. I think the recog­ni­tion could have been ren­dered to those fifteen(or so)people pri­vate­ly. The rest of us thou­sands of friends couldn’t expect to be men­tioned , but it seemed so incred­i­bly nar­row for the full scope of Father’s friend­ships to be delib­er­ate­ly and point­ed­ly ignored.The Father Michael I knew, who ‘talked the talk’ and ‘walked the walk’ about exclu­sion, would sure­ly have been put off by this.

So if you were one of the thou­sands of oth­er friends, like me, there was a feel­ing of empti­ness, of being exclud­ed, of not being appre­ci­at­ed. All those in atten­dance loved Father Michael. Most like­ly all prayed for him devot­ed­ly through­out his ill­ness. We wept at his death. There was no lack of acknowl­edg­ment of his sig­nif­i­cance on our part. Our pas­tor waxed on about our hav­ing grat­i­tude-one of his old themes regard­ing Father M. He was sin­cere and well-mean­ing and right, as usu­al. And the priest preach­ing the homi­ly empha­sized what a good, good priest Father Michael had been. He spec­i­fied how Father Michael had served us so well in the most impor­tant moments of our lives. He talked about Father shar­ing our joy, ill­ness, suf­fer­ing, loss. But both priests lacked the warmth and con­vic­tion that comes with express­ing the whole truth. What they said was all def­i­nite­ly true, I can’t fault them. But I know some­thing was miss­ing. I think the homilist touched upon it slight­ly when he said “We think of Father Michael with long­ing”.

I think they rec­og­nize our need to remem­ber Father Michael. We’re going to build the hall in Father’s name-a good thing. We can con­tin­ue to have memo­r­i­al Mass­es-great. We have a schol­ar­ship fund and a preach­ing fund. But how do we address the long­ing for Father Michael?  How do our priests assist us in this?  They are the Order of Preach­ers; it is their charism to tell and instruct us.

I know the long­ing for Father Michael is the long­ing for God as embod­ied so beau­ti­ful­ly in Father Michael. It is so strong that we can­not let it go-even after a year. I’m anx­ious­ly wait­ing for our good Domini­cans to start talk­ing.

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…

Sublime in the Ordinary

Aurora Borealis/ NASA photo

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.

 

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

IMG_2753IMG_2760

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!

The Sigh of the Weary

Well, it’s been quite a month. Here’s anoth­er weird post.…all my issues,with just a tiny bit of Father Michael. Late one night in July my broth­er called to tell me that he was tak­ing my moth­er to the hos­pi­tal ER.  I knew that like­ly we wouldn’t know my mother’s sta­tus for a while. I tried to sleep that night , but my head was spin­ning and I couldn’t stop think­ing and wor­ry­ing. So I lay awake and then I felt I ‘heard’ Father Michael’s voice telling me to relax and pray . And he said “I want you to just keep pray­ing ‘Into Your hands I com­mend my Spir­it’. I ques­tioned this as I asso­ci­at­ed those words with the sad moment of Christ’s death. “Oh no,” Father M said,” they are words of trust and hope! Keep say­ing them!”  I did fall asleep then and when I woke in the morn­ing those words were the first I thought. And they kept com­ing back to me and calm­ing me, all through the crazi­ness in these last six or so weeks: ultra­sounds, CTs, angiograms, arte­ri­ograms, stents, ampu­ta­tions, debride­ments, EKGs, echoes, more ampu­ta­tions and debride­ments, mild heart attack, par­a­lyzed vocal cords, men­tal con­fu­sion and per­haps a ‘lit­tle can­cer’ i.e., a spot on the lung, etc, etc. But my lit­tle prayer has kept me going, despite it all. Thanks so much Father Michael,my help­ful friend!  Thanks too, to my sis­ter and broth­er, who have shared in the med­ical excite­ment. And our hos­pi­tal saga with my moth­er con­tin­ues…

And the crazi­ness spilled over ! My niece with the MS  fell down the stairs, neces­si­tat­ing stitch­es in her chin, three inside, three out­side! My husband’s car was stolen , involved in a hit and run, and totaled.

On the bright side, we now have a ‘new’ used car. And, I may have expe­ri­enced a healing-I’ve had very painful Achilles’ injury for sev­er­al months, but in these last few days, it seems to be gone!! Being cau­tious­ly hope­ful on that.  And then last week­end, my youngest son got engaged to a love­ly young woman! God is so good!

You’ve prob­a­bly heard the say­ing “It’s not the moun­tain ahead that wears you out -it’s the grain of sand in your shoe”. I’ve always known that I was more of the ‘grain of sand in your shoe’ ilk. The lit­tle things! They bug me! It’s been a sandy jour­ney late­ly. But of course, I try to keep aware of oth­ers’ great  pain. So much unbe­liev­able suf­fer­ing is hap­pen­ing all over the world. Peo­ple are dying and cul­tures are being sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly  destroyed . Their suf­fer­ing puts my com­plaint in per­spec­tive and dwarfs it. Besides, I know I need to stop com­plain­ing if I ever expect to become a saint (per St Cather­ine of Siena, accord­ing to my pas­tor).

Amer­i­can com­pos­er Stephen Fos­ter express­es our sense of com­pas­sion for our broth­ers every­where in this song. It is almost a prayer. I place it here to remem­ber the suf­fer­ing:

Some of the Little Things

Drying the sheetsJust a short note to focus the spot­light  on the ‘lit­tle things’ on this blog. Father Michael often used those two words. I remem­ber most­ly hear­ing them in his beau­ti­ful hom­i­lies. Father Michael spoke so often of the impor­tant ideals, lifestyles,choices, that we select­ed for our lives- how we accom­mo­dat­ed our faith to those choic­es . He always empha­sized the lit­tle things  that made the dif­fer­ence in our deal­ingswith each oth­er. Father M saw the real­i­ty of our Faith and the Lord’s pres­ence in the every­day, in the ordi­nary.

One day Father Michael was mar­veling about a ven­dor he passed dai­ly near St Pius in Pilsen.  Father Michael said he greet­ed the man each day with an “¡Hola!” and the man always smiled and returned the greet­ing. The ven­dor kept busy through the day sell­ing Mex­i­can bev­er­ages and snacks from a cart. Father Michael told me, “He works so hap­pi­ly, I’m sure he is a holy man.”  Well, on this par­tic­u­lar day, when Father first glimpsed him, the man appeared to be relax­ing. But as he came clos­er , Father M saw that the ven­dor was engrossed in a book — and it just hap­pened to be a Bible!! This gave Father Michael such joy. It was like an affir­ma­tion of the good­ness he had always assumed. This was just a lit­tle thing, but to Father M, it spoke vol­umes.

Once Father Michael shared some love­ly mem­o­ries of grow­ing up, watch­ing his moth­er laun­der, mend, air dry and iron the family’s sheets. A big job for a fam­i­ly that large, but def­i­nite­ly one of those ‘lit­tle things’. Father spoke ten­der­ly about how she dili­gent­ly patched the worn sheets. I wrote him an email thank­ing him for the sto­ry-which I thought said much about his own char­ac­ter. He gra­cious­ly answered:

I did love my birth moth­er. She was very play­ful (also extra­or­di­nar­i­ly orga­nized- a trait I missed.)
I love old things. I love restored hous­es and patched sheets and patched shirts and mend­ed socks and shoes that have been renewed at the shoe mak­er. Some­how they give me a great sense of peo­ple car­ing for peo­ple. ”

I think Father Michael stayed con­tin­u­al­ly aware of so many of these lit­tle things-through­out his life. He eas­i­ly saw the love in all of them, the ‘peo­ple car­ing for peo­ple’.