This cold and snowy weather is reminiscent of last year in Chicago. I do think we had a lot more snow last year though. I visited Father Michael and I got to be pretty good at parallel parking in Pilsen, taking my chances and crossing my fingers as I maneuvered into the snow-banked spaces. I almost always parked two to three blocks away from St. Pius. There was always carpool traffic for schools and many parking spaces being held by chairs or other objects.
I’d call Father M (he wanted to know when I’d arrived) and he’d say “Are you here? Where are you parked? I don’t see your car”. Often he’d say”I’m looking out on Ashland and there is an open spot right across from me.Why don’t you just drive over and grab it”. Now I knew by the time I got over there, the space would be taken and I’d be out of luck. Father Michael didn’t understand my reluctance to try; he was a man of faith, after all. The Lord takes care of His specially beloved-His priests -and available parking just might be a given for them. But the rest of us….no.
Father Michael liked to take short walks when he was feeling more energized. I was privileged a few times to have him walk me to my car after my visits. Then I would drive him back to St Pius and he would be so pleased that he had ‘exercised’. Such a simple thing to do to make his day!
I remember one icy ,windy day when Father and I decided to walk to my car. When we reached it, Father waited on the sidewalk as I pulled the car away from the piled snow to allow the passenger door to open. It took a minute or two; some rocking, it was so slippery. I almost panicked as I looked over at the curb. Poor Father M stood there shaking so visibly as the wind whipped around his slight frame. He looked like he was going to cry. When he was finally able to get in the car, he went from not being able to talk because of his shivering-to yelling at me for me being so slow. I felt so bad. I had underestimated the wind chill and the sun was going down, too. It was my bad judgment that Father Michael would be ok for the walk.
Father Michael was always cold. Even when he was well and temperatures mild, Father M always wore a sweater! He used to joke about it. So often in his last year, he spoke of the cold. He dreaded going out in it. In fighting his cancer, his body’s cold sensitivity was heightened. Yet he was always keenly aware of the plight of the poor and the homeless. In one email he talked of being so chilled to the bone and anxious to get to the warmth of his bed, yet he told me-
“I’m going to pray tonight for all the homeless out in this cold. There is so much suffering.”
I was certainly aware of the suffering that extreme weather caused everyone. Effortlessly Father Michael could always put a face on that suffering and elicit a deeper response. Father Michael’s simple words were so powerful,so transparently true, they went straight to the heart. How I miss him and his great heart.
“The tragedy of the world is that so many are unloved. Roses always look beautiful and smell sweet, and hence they are a prize to be possessed. Sweetbriar, however, has fragrant leaves, and they are never so fragrant as when it rains. The common people of the world are like these leaves; they have something fragrant about them, particularly when the days are dark and clouded and rain falls in their lives. Anyone can love a rose; but it takes a great heart to love a leaf.” – Archbishop Fulton Sheen