A Fathom Unknown

shutterstock_380150137Today is the sec­ond anniver­sary of Father Michael’s death. And it is East­er Sun­day- a great day to reflect on the real­i­ty of ever­last­ing life and love.

This past week , I have revis­it­ed all the sad and poignant moments of the last few weeks of Father’s life. Fun­ny how those things nev­er get old.…and real­ly nev­er will. For some rea­son, I’ve recalled how very often in the last few months of his life, Father M would tell me he didn’t take some of his meds. At first, I assumed that he’d just for­got­ten. (He’d men­tioned a few times that he’d wak­ened at night in ter­ri­ble pain- and would real­ize he’d for­got­ten to apply his pain patch.) So I thought he was absent- mind­ed about it. So duti­ful­ly, I’d tell him to go over the phar­ma­cy instruc­tions and that maybe he could make up the dos­es on some pills.

But lat­er on, I noticed that he’d tell me that he didn’t take the pills and then kind of look at me in a chal­leng­ing way. I start­ed to respond with “Well, that is your choice Father” or “It’s your life,Father M”.I nev­er asked him for any expla­na­tion. I tried to respect his feel­ings and pri­va­cy. I think it was Father’s way of accept­ing his com­ing death and also to be tru­ly present to those who loved him.Very often when I vis­it­ed, he’d drift off to sleep in his chair. I ‘d think “At least he’s relaxed.… he must need the sleep”. But Father M would wake up and be so apolo­getic; he clear­ly felt he should be awake and alert. So I could see his rea­son­ing -some of the pills knocked him out.

There was one time, when he’d told me that he hadn’t tak­en the meds. I respond­ed in the usu­al way. Sur­pris­ing me, he got angry and said “But I want to live! I need the pills to live!” I think he want­ed a pep talk about com­plete heal­ing and hope–and I didn’t come through for him. It was hard to know then how to be the best friend that I could.

But Father Michael was sac­ri­fic­ing his com­fort and per­haps some of his remain­ing life-to “be with” me and so many oth­ers who came to spend time with him.… to have the plea­sure of his com­pa­ny.

I pestered Father Michael for a long while with many ques­tions I had about his life, his voca­tion, his faith. I received very few answers. Father would say, rather non­cha­lant­ly, “It is hard for me to talk about myself because I tru­ly am ‘oth­er-cen­tered’ “. Well, I didn’t com­plete­ly buy it because I observed many sides to Father Michael; he could be self­ish -was not per­fect. But this ‘no med­ica­tion’ thing was again one of the ‘lit­tle things’ Father did-a small way which proved  that he was more con­cerned about oth­ers than him­self.

At one point, again in those last few months of Father Michael’s life, I start­ed to notice a bit of dis­tanc­ing. He start­ed to speak and make obser­va­tions in a more hard­ened way. It was kind of chill­ing to see this behav­ior in such a kind, sen­si­tive and holy per­son. I remem­ber writ­ing to him about it. I felt that he was show­ing the cold­er influ­ence of his coun­selors and per­haps oth­er con­fi­dants. I told him out­right “Father M, who­ev­er you are lis­ten­ing to, they DO NOT LOVE  the way you do, they are not you. Please be your­self.”

Pri­or to those last months, though, Father Michael was the very best exam­ple of care, con­cern and love for others.The finest I’ve ever known. The man of the bot­tom­less heart.

Life’s for the liv­ing and death’s for the dead–and the depth of a heart is a fath­om unknown”.—————Buffy Sainte-Marie

Lasting Faithfulness

4th

I think this syn­od is mak­ing me think too much about mar­riage and the fam­i­ly! But I’ve want­ed to write this stuff for a while and the syn­od has giv­en me a  con­text for my ram­bling thoughts about this sub­ject. It’s also been a good kick to get me restart­ed on the blog!

Father Michael once wrote me an email say­ing that he’d love to talk to me about mar­riage some­time. Well, we had talked about it in our appointments…several times. I’d been sur­prised by what he said and even more by what he didn’t say. I think, from his lack of response to many of my state­ments, that I sur­prised him with my being some­what con­ser­v­a­tive. At that point, he def­i­nite­ly want­ed to avoid any dis­agree­ments with me. One thing that stood out for me from those talks was Father M’s stat­ing “Well, you know they’re all liv­ing togeth­er”. Of course that was old news . But Father talked about how some of the engaged were grand­chil­dren of ‘long-time’ parish­ioners, or devout par­ents, and talked about not want­i­ng to their hurt the relative’s feel­ings, etc.In oth­er words Father treat­ed them with care  and cour­tesy, no mat­ter what their liv­ing arrange­ment. I asked “Do you say any­thing about cohab­it­ing to them? I know they are with you to do the ‘right thing’, but do you say any­thing ?”  Father Michael said ” Because they have already ‘shared inti­ma­cy’, I tell them that after they are mar­ried, God will now bless what they have.” I looked at him and said “That’s it?”  And he nod­ded.

I’m not stu­pid. I know that scold­ing is not the way to go and that these engaged peo­ple are aware of their actions. But I have to say, even now, that I was so dis­ap­point­ed in what Father M said.It real­ly kind of shut me up and our appoint­ment end­ed. I was dis­turbed by our talk and after­ward kept think­ing about it. A few days lat­er I sent Father an email. Here’s part of it:

Off and on I have been think­ing about our talk the oth­er day. Remem­ber­ing what you said about engaged cou­ples, almost all liv­ing togeth­er , com­ing to you to pre­pare for mar­riage made me kind of sad.I know no one wants to alien­ate them, since they are at last doing “what they should do”. I’m sure that nei­ther you, nor their par­ents, nor any­one involved with them wants to rock the boat by say­ing some­thing to make them feel uncom­fort­able or chas­tised in any way. But what struck me was how say­ing “God will now bless what you are already doing” or ” already have” (I’m sure I’m mis­quot­ing you crude­ly, sor­ry) though absolute­ly true, seems so want­i­ng.

I guess I think of the sit­u­a­tion as a par­ent would, hop­ing that some­how all I hoped I’d taught my child and all the tra­di­tions and beliefs I’d tried to con­vey in rear­ing them Catholic would still be sup­port­ed by the church. Almost like anoth­er type of seam­less gar­ment? Kind of like the trust you have in your spouse that he/she will project the same val­ues to your child that you your­self do. It just seems to me that there should be reminders of these things even if the par­tic­u­lar cou­ple doesn’t reflect the ide­al. Some­thing should be said. Of course it should nev­er be done in a nasty way and I don’t know how I would even attempt it. Eas­i­er said than done, for sure. But I feel like our tra­di­tion­al beliefs should still be held up as worth­while and as what is real­ly pleas­ing to God. And then, I think it seems in real­i­ty all we are offend­ed about is pre­mar­i­tal sex. But sex can be such a pro­found expe­ri­ence of God; it shouldn’t ever be min­i­mized or over­looked. Glad YOU  are the priest , Father Michael. I’d be freak­ing out.”

Father Michael’s email response was “You wouldn’t believe some of the things the engaged tell me”. I  didn’t answer him, but thought ‘Oh yes I would’. He nev­er elab­o­rat­ed or dis­cussed this fur­ther with me. I have an added under­stand­ing now since Father’s can­cer fight.I learned that he real­ly abhorred and feared crit­i­cism — and I’m sure he saw crit­i­cism in my email. So he ignored it. I do wish he would have been will­ing to dis­cuss it.

  Father Michael often men­tioned how he helped peo­ple with their annul­ments. He always had paper­work to do for them. Lat­er in the two years I knew him, he would men­tion going out to a cel­e­bra­to­ry din­ner with cou­ples who had been wait­ing for an annul­ment to mar­ry. It was very clear that he felt peo­ple should explore the annul­ment process -if they were divorced or sep­a­rat­ed. I think it was a great joy for him to deliv­er the news that the annul­ment had been grant­ed. I remem­ber that in the lat­er months of his ill­ness he always made the time to meet with these peo­ple. He admired their courage and their desire to make things right with the Church-and their love for each oth­er.

Father Michael  had dif­fi­cul­ty in see­ing the com­mit­ment of engaged cou­ples. He also said that many peo­ple real­ly just want­ed the church build­ing for their wed­ding, but not the Church, not the sacra­ment. He had a hard time offi­ci­at­ing at most mar­riages for this rea­son. He often spoke in won­der of the sac­ri­fice and evi­dent love shown by old­er cou­ples, par­tic­u­lar­ly if one part­ner was ill and the oth­er was a care­tak­er. He would always say he was awed by this. Father Michael felt that most of the cou­ples he saw had no clue as to what ‘for bet­ter or worse, in sick­ness or in health’ might mean for them down the line.

On the oth­er hand, I recall Father Michael talk­ing about the sto­ries of how some cou­ples met and how God’s hand was so evi­dent. He was very excit­ed one time about a cou­ple who both had chil­dren from pre­vi­ous mar­riages-and they had found each oth­er. He said they had a won­der­ful story—and Father Michael loved those sto­ries.  He said “so they will be a blend­ed fam­i­ly”. I said ” Oh like that old movie ‘Yours, Mine and Ours’.” Father Michael  laughed and said “No ‘Ours’ yet!”  He paused and thought a sec­ond and then said “well .…MAYBE!”

I did get a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on Father M’s beliefs on mar­riage from oth­er expe­ri­ences and things he’d say. Once we were on Ash­land Avenue by St Pius, wait­ing to cross. Father was well into his can­cer treat­ment and was very weak. I was about to dri­ve him to St Vincent’s. We were talk­ing about Thomas Peters’ recov­ery (see ‘The Won­der­ment of God’).  I men­tioned that there was still so much online vit­ri­ol toward Thomas regard­ing his uphold­ing the church’s teach­ings on mar­riage. Father Michael said “You mean the tra­di­tion­al church teach­ing on mar­riage?” I said “Yes, of course”.  Father Michael got vis­i­bly agi­tat­ed and said “Hey, he has it easy. Any­one who upholds the estab­lished posi­tion has it much eas­i­er than those who ques­tion it.”  The light changed and Father rushed ahead into the street. I caught up with him. I said I dis­agreed– that it real­ly depend­ed on the cir­cum­stances and con­di­tions— that ALL  sides would find it dif­fi­cult in some cir­cum­stances. He didn’t answer me. I decid­ed that I would not pur­sue it as I sel­dom had an unin­ter­rupt­ed time with Father. I didn’t want to waste the nice ride in the car on an argu­ment .

Once, short­ly after Pope Fran­cis was elect­ed, Father Michael called me. Unusu­al for us, we had a real con­ver­sa­tion as opposed to the typ­i­cal talk about chemo, the weath­er and the lot­tery. Father was agog at the “Who am I to judge?” Fran­cis quote.  I remem­ber being com­fort­able enough to dis­agree and expound on dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions where I felt ‘who am I to judge’ was not applic­a­ble. I had no sense that I was both­er­ing Father Michael. I remem­ber talk­ing about some peo­ple expect­ing this would pave the way to same-sex mar­riage. At that point Father inter­rupt­ed me and said force­ful­ly ” I know some­thing has to change.…..I’ve known too many peo­ple who suf­fer”. I start­ed to respond,then he said “Oh, I’m here at the clin­ic, talk to you lat­er”.  That was kind of a pat­tern: Father would say some­thing con­tro­ver­sial, then cut off the conversation.….at least with me.

So my gut tells me that, despite Father Michael’s rev­er­ent and awe-filled view of the sacra­ment of Mat­ri­mo­ny, he might have been open to oth­er non-tra­di­tion­al views of it. I have so many mov­ing impres­sions of how a tru­ly holy priest per­ceived and admired the voca­tion of marriage.Yet I have addi­tion­al mem­o­ries of things that he said hint­ing at a very lib­er­al and non-tra­di­tion­al per­spec­tive, at odds with church teach­ing.  What was the truth ?  I’ll always won­der.

All this from that darn syn­od !

Spring’s Subtle Memento

IMG_0045It’s the first of May and a sun­ny day here in the Chica­go area. Spring is slow­ly com­ing around. New life and all that.…always a great reminder of ever­last­ing life. I was hop­ing to be inspired to write hope­ful, encour­ag­ing words today. Maybe that will come lat­er.

I was look­ing back through old emails and came across some cor­re­spon­dence between my sis­ter and me. It’s from Novem­ber, 2013. I hadn’t heard from Father Michael, was get­ting wor­ried and final­ly decid­ed to call him. This was the point when he was receiv­ing mag­ne­sium infu­sions all the time. It’s sad to read about and remem­ber those days. Here is the email I found :

Me:

Father Michael answered!! He was just leav­ing for the clin­ic. He said he has gone every day this week. He has not need­ed the infu­sion each day, yet has to wait 3 hours until the test comes back. I asked him if he gets to lie down while wait­ing. He said he did yes­ter­day in the wait­ing room.

He has been pray­ing to that Fr. Maz­zuchel­li , said he asked him for a break last night. “And he gave it to me”, he said. He was able to get some sleep. He said all he did was throw up yes­ter­day. Last night was real­ly bad. He says he just gets real­ly dehy­drat­ed and weak.

His voice sound­ed crack­ly today again. He said he has been sleep­ing on the bath­room floor and Fr. Louie told him  “that’s okay, sleep in the tub if you want”.

I said to him “Father Michael, you have been fight­ing so hard, you do what­ev­er you want. I’ll be pray­ing”. And I said “I know that this is so hard for you and that you might real­ly be full of doubts and that is so dif­fi­cult”. So he repeat­ed “Yes, I have been fight­ing so hard, so very hard”. And “Yes, I am full of doubts”. He kind of sound­ed like a lit­tle boy, eas­i­ly influ­enced.

Then he told me “I promise we will talk” and said Louie was wait­ing for him and then again he repeat­ed that we’d talk.

I’m glad I called him even though it was dis­rup­tive.

Last evening I had such a bad feel­ing about things, then calmed down. I swear I am attuned to him some­how.

My sis­ter:

You have some sort of bond. He sounds so sick.

Me:

He does — and he sounds drugged and grog­gy, but was still chuck­ling a few times. It is so touch­ing. Around 3, I sent a text say­ing I hoped that he didn’t need the infu­sion. Noth­ing back yet, but I feel com­pli­ment­ed that he even picked up the phone to talk this morn­ing.

So it was noth­ing out of the ordi­nary for those times. I was wit­ness to an excep­tion­al person’s suf­fer­ing. Father Michael had a very accept­ing atti­tude toward his suffering.During a par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult time he wrote me:

I have been quite sick all week. I feel a bit weary from all the vom­it­ing and nau­sea. Hope­ful­ly, tomor­row they will be able to arrange bet­ter nau­sea med­i­cine. But I always real­ize there are so many oth­ers at the clin­ic who are much worse off than I am and their jour­ney is pre­car­i­ous at best.”

What an exam­ple! Unfor­get­table.

My life is sim­pler these days, though there have been oth­er tri­als this past year. In ret­ro­spect I real­ize I was so priv­i­leged to even accom­pa­ny Father Michael how­ev­er dis­tant­ly on his jour­ney. I’ll always be grate­ful.

As I have men­tioned before, toward the end of Father’s life, there was no news or updates or com­mu­ni­ca­tion.  It was so painful to be kept in the dark, after shar­ing so much. If it helped him to be away from us at the end (and we’ll nev­er real­ly know), I am glad. But Father wrote me once “You know, I nev­er want to be estranged from any­one.” So it is hard to believe that it was his choice to dis­tance him­self.

We are free now- all who suf­fered with Father Michael -and of course Father Michael him­self. Beau­ti­ful days like today remind me of the days before Father M got so ill. Those were the days when he’d speak before begin­ning Mass, just beam­ing, and say  “What a glo­ri­ous, glo­ri­ous day! Isn’t God good?”

Dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences in life’s spec­trum-per­haps that’s why I need­ed to go back and reread about the sad­ness and suf­fer­ing. Grand, grand lessons.….… how well Father Michael taught them, all of 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: