And the Prayer Goes On

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 Father Michael was always more than happy to pray. In fact, in one of the first emails I wrote to him, I asked for prayers for my niece. Emily had been newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis -just three weeks after her wedding. Always kind and reassuring, Father Michael wrote this back to me:

“I promise to say Mass for your niece. Again, I can’t imagine what it is like to be so happy at one’s wedding and to have this diagnosis so soon afterwards. Did you see the lady with the cane giving out Communion yesterday? She found out she had MS just a few weeks before her wedding. And that was 40 years ago. She is very happily married to a great and kind man.”

Father Michael continued to pray for Emily and often inquired about her MS treatments and general health. Once I visited him in the sacristy and we just chatted and joked casually. Father M then got very serious and said he wanted to ask a favor of me. I listened attentively. He told me again about Mrs. M (the lady in the quote above) and explained that he had asked her, a while back, to pray for my niece. “No names were mentioned” he said. I gratefully expressed my thanks for the prayer.  Father Michael , smiling sweetly, said ” So I would really love it , if you would start to pray for Mrs M. She’s recently had some labs done and the numbers were not good. She needs the prayer. And I thought it would be nice that you, being members of separate families handling the same illness,  would pray for each other.”  Well, what could I say? “Of course I will Father M. I ‘d be happy to do that”.  Father Michael was so pleased.

So after that , when I’d visit, I’d often ask Father Michael how Mrs. M was doing. And he would be cautiously optimistic for the most part. He  would always thank me for my prayer. Eventually, Mrs. M improved quite a bit and Father Michael was very encouraged and pleased. I then said to him a bit tentatively “You know, I’m still praying for her every day.” Father Michael said “Oh yes, I know you are! Thank you!” He said this to me with the biggest grin. I looked at him, thought about it and said ” I guess I will be praying for Mrs. M …..always”. Father Michael said nothing in response,but gave me that huge grin again. I should have known I wouldn’t get off the hook! I’m thinking Mrs M. is still praying for Emily, too.

Father Michael is taking care of all kinds of heavenly business in his new life. He wouldn’t be idle. Here on earth,still, Father’s thoughtfulness, kindness  and grace live on in the prayers he requested of two families.

Out of the Depths…

De ProfundisIt was easy to see Father Michael’s great empathy for people. He was very open, very responsive , very vulnerable. All his emotions were right there on his face, an open book.

I was introduced to Father Michael’s manner of handling things long before I ever spoke to him. I had been back at St. Vincent’s for a month or two. I didn’t know Father Michael’s name, nor had I attended any of his Masses. But I had seen him greeting people after Mass -and I’d noticed how there were always lines to talk to him or he’d be surrounded by people.

So one day I was going to visit my mother, driving past a local school. There are two stop signs about a block apart by this school. I stopped at the first sign and glanced in my rear view mirror. I saw a familiar face. It was Father Michael, dressed in a black suit with the Roman collar . I thought “Oh , it’s that popular priest from St Vincent’s”. In the few seconds I watched, Father Michael began to grimace, and shake his head from side to side, he grasped the steering wheel and then pounded it. He looked completely exasperated, almost about to cry, moving sharply, literally ‘beside himself’. I’d never seen anything like it. It was obvious that Father Michael was extraordinarily upset and completely oblivious of my attention. I thought I’d better stop staring at him and get moving. I drove to the next stop sign and Father quickly came up right behind me. I looked again in the mirror and Father Michael continued all the agitated movements and anguished faces. My gut feeling was that Father M had heard bad news about his health or that of a loved one. I felt so shaken seeing him like that. What on earth was wrong? Something had to be wrong. I had to turn off that street to head to my mother’s and as I drove on I prayed for Father Michael. I looked for him that following Sunday and he wasn’t at church. I feared the worst (this was two years before his cancer diagnosis). The following Sunday, Father Michael was back, holding court after Mass. All was well, it seemed. I was so relieved.

Later, when I got to know Father Michael, I wrote him about what I had seen a few years before. I didn’t ask him to explain it, but in this email, he did:

Isn’t it funny that we see people in cars and wonder what is happening. I have a tendency to really ponder the suffering of others. One brother says that I have to ‘filter’ all the pain I encounter from God’s people. You certainly are intuitive.

Keep me in your prayers that I can be more faithful to the quiet and prayer. There is always so much to do that seems ‘urgent’. But one African American lady used to say to me ‘God is able’. So I have to trust that all will be well.

Blessings
Fr. Michael

After I understood how he processed people’s troubles in true pain of his own, I saw Father Michael’s sensitivity as his way of seeking to suffer with others. Another of his graces.

Last November Father Michael ,very ill, wrote me:

“It is now 12:30 am and I can’t sleep. I have had significant anxiety today. I think it was brought on by feeling rotten all day and being worried that the pain level doesn’t seem to go away nor is my appetite good. I think some days are just difficult and filled with fear. I try to recite the Apostles Creed to calm me down. It is the one prayer that I was able to say since this journey began last December 8th when those three medical people came into my room and changed the direction of my life……..I thank you for your prayer ‘complete cure’. Again it may be the day and the fact that I am not so well that I really needed that positive energy today.Hopefully ,tomorrow will be better. Surrendering to the will of God is so much more difficult than words or saying we will do so. I think you may know that I have always loved the Agony in the Garden because that is where Jesus says an absolute yes and experiences a marvelous surrender to what God the Father wants of Him.”

We all prayed so much for Father Michael. Reading his account of his own suffering above, I could only hope that our prayers had helped. I remember Father Michael calling me, talking about being fearful in the night and mentioning again the Apostles’ Creed-how he said it over and over. And then he prayed it with me on the phone- with so much emotion and strength in his voice….out of the depths.