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.

A Piece of Work

10659323_792403544131940_8024746960880772086_n“In 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!”

St. Dominic’s Feast

St Dominic by BotticelliToday is the Feast of St Dominic, so the Order of Preachers is praying, preaching and….partying. They have much to celebrate in the gift of St Dominic and his vision of a unique way for a life to  serve the Lord. There is quite a legacy of Dominican saints- St Thomas Aquinas, St Albert the Great, St Catherine of Siena, St Martin de Porres, St Rose of Lima ,to name just a few.

And of course we fortunate ones have experienced the real, grace-filled influences of many Dominican sisters and priests in our own lives.That brings me, of course,to Father Michael Kyte…..what a wonderful Dominican he was. So often he spoke with great tenderness of his Dominican brothers, the community. Father Michael told me often things like “Father Louie is so kind and always good to me”. Or “Oh Father Rick is so holy and so learned, a scholar; he reminds me of St Dominic”. Or (talking to me on the phone) “I ‘m here in the laundry room,watching one of the senior Fathers ironing his habit. I am humbled watching him as I realize he has been ironing his habit with such care and love every day for over sixty years.” Father Michael saw all the goodness and blessings in his Dominican community life….and truly loved his brothers.

Preaching and praying were a given for Father Michael. He always claimed he was ‘no academic’ yet I know he studied and read all the time. And all of us benefited from how he shared his learning-“the fruits of contemplation”, if you will. Father Michael was a true son of St Dominic.

I read Alden Solovy’s newest poem on http://tobendlight.com  this morning. It’s beautiful-about miracles- all kinds, large and small. We’ve all experienced them-gifts from our Heavenly Father. Sometimes the miracles are the special people in our lives. On this St. Dominic’s Day, I’m sharing this simple, yet exquisite poem:

About Miracles
Majestic Sovereign,
Source of awe and wonder,
When did You decide
To make daily miracles so simple,
So gentle, so quiet and so small?
Did our fear of Your Voice
Echoing from the mountain top
Push You away?
Or was this Your plan all along?
To show us Your Glory
In fire and smoke,
In the parted sea,
In the darkness and in the light,
And then to draw away
So that we would
Yearn for You to be near,
So that we would yearn
For your power and might,
For Your holiness
And for Your salvation?
Or are You waiting, patiently,
To return, again, with signs
And with wonders?

 

                     © 2014 Alden Solovy and http://tobendlight.com. All rights reserved

A Priest Forever

This will be an odd post. It’s about my imagination and my dreams. So, no one’s reality but mine. I will note: I visited Father Michael most recently at St Pius. Each time I came by, he was dressed casually in jeans and sweater or khakis and flannel shirt and on his weaker days , pajama bottoms  or sweats. Since Father Michael died, I have often recalled several of our last conversations. And I picture the scene, mostly at the St Pius Priory parlor, just exactly as it was. And I recall Father Michael just as he was-sitting or standing- as we talked. But I  had the sense that something was different in the memories; I struggled to put my finger on it. Finally I realized what it was. In every memory, I see Father Michael dressed in his habit, most times even wearing the Dominican black cappa! There is one memory where Father is standing in front of me, vehemently lecturing me, and he is garbed in a beautiful gold chasuble. It shimmers and sparkles in spots- stunning. In another, I clearly see him sitting in the recliner with his cappa all about him, a la Darth Vader, looking pleased as punch-and so elegant and serene….and healthy.  And Father is saying “1981, Ah, I was just at the beginning of my Dominican life”. It had been my son’s birthday and Father asked me the year he was born.

When I finally realized what I was seeing, I tried to make sense of it. It had never happened previously. I have always thought of Father Michael as first and foremost a holy priest. His priestly character was so visible. So I feel like God blessed my memories in this way to recall every minute with Father as being in the presence of an extraordinary priest . It is a little thing -but so significant. I cherish this grace of seeing Father Michael robed as a ‘priest forever’.

On a lighter note, after I wrote my “Solsbury Hill” entry, I had a dream. I saw Father Michael in his habit-there he was, a vision in black and white -Irish step-dancing to “Solsbury Hill”. He cut quite a rug.

When Father  Michael was alive, part of my prayer routine was to say a personalized version of the Divine Mercy chaplet, naming Father Michael in each prayer. After he died, I went back to the regular chaplet. It certainly went a lot faster! Then lately, I’ve had a few recitations where I ‘slipped’ into my old habit, saying Father Michael’s name in the prayer.  It amused me because I couldn’t imagine Father Michael needing my prayers anymore. I was sure he’d gone right to Heaven…. until I had this dream…….

I saw Father Michael and he gave me a hug. I remember nothing at all about the setting, just him. I thanked him for helping me and others who had prayed to him for this or that . (I think so many of us feel we now truly know a saint in heaven who pays attention to us.) Anyway, Father Michael was so happy to have helped. He said he was very busy. I said “It sounds like you’re working up there!” And he said “Well, the Lord has graciously allowed me to be halftime in Heaven and halftime in Purgatory”. I said “you’re still in Purgatory????!!!!” Father said “Yes, but there were just so many prayers and requests to me,that they wanted to let me loose to start taking care of them- so I ‘m doing it halftime”. I said “maybe the Lord will let you do many things at one time”. He laughed and said “Well , just keep praying that Divine Mercy chaplet for me, I need it”.  That was it.

Ironic about the halftime-at least he doesn’t have to commute on the Ike!

Yep, I know,crazy.  I am doing the special chaplet though, at least for a while.

Reverend and Dear Father

Father Michael

Father Michael was just so MUCH person and he always made sure there was enough of him to go around. He took the time for us. Yes, he did all those lovely, kind, funny, holy, silly, human things with and for us. Father Michael was so much a reflection of the Lord in all ways. John the Baptist’s words “He must increase so I must decrease” bespeak our Father Michael’s life. He squeezed every iota of the Lord into his persona: His kindness, His love, His generosity, His humility, His suffering, His attention, His presence. These were all facets of Father Michael which were so completely good, so guilelessly presented, so achingly beautiful.

What a special man! How he could preach! It was always quite simple- about our everyday,ordinary lives- but punctuated with joy and laughter, with sadness and sometimes tears , always with beauty, understanding and eloquence. Father Michael’s gift to us there was only enhanced by his love for his prayer life- plain and simple- it was the focal point of his day. He once joyously told me “Guess what! Today I had three hours of contemplative prayer before Mass!” Another time, he spoke of people visiting religious websites on the net. Father Michael said “I don’t know why they’d do that! I ‘d rather spend the time in church!”

Father Michael was a man of great compassion. Once he was talking about a family he knew, and said, eyes welling up with tears  “Oh — People have such suffering in their lives!” He truly suffered with people;it was very moving to observe. Another time he listened to a family story of mine: I relayed how, as a small boy in the 30’s, my dad had used his newsboy money to buy his older sister some ice skates. I glanced at Father Michael and saw the tears form and fall. He loved seeing the goodness in people. “God is so good” he ‘d say again and again.

For me, it was the “being with” Father Michael that made such a difference in my life. The circumstances didn’t matter; the truth of our Faith was simply always there with him. It was a joy to be with him no matter what. That was the Kingdom of God- right there in Father Michael, plain as day–in that winsome yet wise presence, in that loving heart, in that smiling countenance of peace. If you were with him, you felt it, you saw it, you believed it and knew it – the truth…… the goodness of God.