With her children tugged safely in bed, mom now has some quiet time to recollect and reflect on the day ending and plan for what tomorrow brings. Fr. Richard’s day ends, and he thinks about the troubling dad he met after morning Mass, the afternoon visit to the hospital and in the evening the young couple planning a spring wedding. Those are Fr. Richard’s recollections and reflection as his day ends.
But there’s one remembrance that he just can’t seem to shake off. It’s still milling around in his head. It bothers him, and he wonders what’s to do about it – it’s that compliment he was forced to hear about himself. Now what? He tries to dismiss it, but she was so sincere when she told him what he meant to her and her family. “Damn that compliment,” Father might (or might not) have said. Perhaps in similar words.
It’s the simplicity that I think we all quickly spotted about Father Richard. The Irish would say that he had, “No airs about him.” Here he was. And he was all over the place during his over forty years of Salvatorian priestly ministry.
Father was older than his novitiate classmates because he responded to what St. Paul calls a “groaning” in his life. We soften that word these days by calling it a “calling, ” but I prefer St. Paul’s more meaty description. Being older, Father was able to help the younger men in their discovery of solving “creation’s groans” in ministerial ways. How can we bring God’s mercy to those groaning for how many different reasons trying; those trying to make sense of a circumstance or life itself or how to make it through life?
“Simplicity” and “humility” are words often thrown around during occasions like this but I really believe that those two words found a home within Father Richard’s life.
I love the Isaiah reading because it is so true, “The rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful.” Nothing returns to God until it does what it needs to do. And folks, we’re that “it.”
Ministry is the water of hope to thirsty mouths who feel they’ve lost the meaning of that word. Ministry is a compassionate river offered to a mother to continue traveling down after burying her young son. Ministry is an ocean of silence between two people when words fall apart.
Over all those years, Father might have said to those folks, “If you have time, why don’t we get together,” or “Please, sit, I’d like to hear your whole story,” or “Why don’t we stop now and meet when you’re feeling stronger.”
A true Salvatorian, Father was open to wherever the need arouse. Born in Philadelphia in 1933, Father dreamed of learning Spanish. Hardly! Yet late in life, Father found a renewal of his ministry through the Hispanic community. Because you see, learning a new language is not just syllables and words, but it means recognizing the nuances and intonations that connects you to a different culture. He did it. He was proud of it – in spite of disliking those “darn” compliments. Is “darn” better than “damn?”
In a religious context, simple doesn’t mean simple. Father didn’t sleep on the floor with the heat turned off. Father didn’t have a b/w TV instead of a ’72 flatscreen. Simple for us religious people means sincerity, being as authentic as possible in any situation. Preparation for priesthood, sisterhood or brotherhood means learning as much about yourself as you can in order to put yourself out of the way and stand behind the person in front of you. That’s a lot of movements! Does that sound simple to you?
Let’s try that again. Preparation for religious life means learning as much about yourself as you can in order to put yourself out of the way and stand behind the person in front of you:
those hurting, those who are angry or confused those share their doubts with you after Mass those who have either a silly or serious question after Mass or how about that guy who sits all alone every Sunday in the back pew.
Who are those people? What do they want? What do they need? Can I stand behind them in their continuing faith journey?
That’s ministry. What ought to be the mantra for us all, religious and laity alike is “Get out of the way and let God do what God does,” but most importantly it’s doing God’s work through and with us.
“Simple and humble.” I think Father Richard and I had a lot in common!
There’s nothing simple about it. Emptying yourself in order to be filled with God’s grace and then sharing that grace with everyone you meet. That’s Salvatorian ministry and Father Richard lived it with us Salvatorians and brought that ministry to all those he touched.
A widow who’s lost a coin is the recovery of who she is in God’s eyes. It’s the connecting of the purpose of our lives with our Creator. The happy widow says, “Oh my gosh, all the time, the coin was under the cushion seat!” (There’s always money under the cushions. Try it the next time you’re at a friend’s house!)
She’s a widow because someone important is missing from her life and she now feels empty. The coin was never lost (faith can never be lost) – it was only misplaced, considered insignificant, or forgotten about. But she sweeps and dusts until she rescues what was never lost. “Misplaced, insignificant, forgotten?” None of those words apply in quenching our groaning for God.
The coin is the currency that beckons us to God every day. We keep coming to Mass and keep praying because we are always looking for that extra coin – the worth and wealth of our lives. Father Richard found the lost coin and was enriched during each decade of his life because of it.
Like any funeral, what can we take away and apply to our own faith journeys? Where is a good shower of rain needed in our faith life, what can we afford to let go of and let God fill our purses with lasting coins of fortitude, strength, and most importantly wisdom?
“Good and faithful servant” is often said at a priest’s funeral. I think Father and I would agree that it doesn’t apply only to this holy office but to all who continue to question and search for their “lost coins.”
(I’m telling you, the coin is under the cushion. If you invite me to supper, don’t leave me alone in your living room. “It’s gotta be here, somewhere!”)
Talk about simple. Father’s breakfast was the same thing every morning here at Alexian. The Cafe staff got to know him because of his repetitious order. Peanut butter on toast with a bowl of Cream of Wheat. I ate the same meal with him one morning, and I was hungry an hour later. But for Father, it was simply sufficient.
But simply simple? No way. Father was intelligent, quiet (and with a quick wit when necessary) and had very caring and attentive eyes.
A simple, small man with a tall stature.
Today we together thank you, Father Richard for your commitment, service, and dedication to the people of God in the name of the Salvatorians. We thank you for unraveling that “groaning” in your gut with the gift of your response to priestly life. We thank you for the“groanings” you were able to soften to all those in need.
Now there’s only remaining question for Father Richard to resolve while waiting at Heaven’s gate for entry, “What about those darn compliments?”
“Soulful Muse,” inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
“Living Faith’s Mysteries,” inspirational reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Newest books include:
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up