Near the front door of the church, there is a simple tribute titled “In Memoriam”. Our pastor’s picture is centered there followed by his date of birth and then date of death, just days ago. The modest simplicity and humble way he wanted it. The backgound is gray, and that too seemed oddly appropriate. He was a person who grasped and then articulated that ours is a time of change with the seemingly black and white certainties of earlier eras finding the reality of gray in every day life. For me, he was a person who evinced real comfort with the conflagrations in community and the church because of a profound faith and a contentment with the sense of being caught in the channels of time. He celebrated the signs of vitality and hope in the current moment, and he subtly invited me to do the same.
I learned from him to notice that in the midst of crisis, there are sprouting seeds of hope and renewal. He could sense the power of losses due to the plague of scandal, and understood the crush of that for both individuals and institutions. Without judgment, he was able to embrace both and determinedly work towards making a difference. He celebrated the creativity and energy of the laity in his parish, and he recognized his own limitations and boundaries. His humility fostered the strength of resilience, of hope, for the parish and for people in general. There is change in the life of the church in the 21st century and he was able to inspire people to trust in the journey that is faith. Catholicism, he taught me, is alive and visible if we choose to notice. And we each bring something unique to the moment; the narrative will be what we make it. In every age, human personalities, cultural practices and economic realities have played a role in generating the narrative. Ours is no different.
Amid discouraging conversations about the collapse of Catholic culture and school systems, the loss of vocations and the gambling, financial, exploitative practices and sexual scandals that have characterized the history of the recent church, his voice was one of simplicity and courage. Catholicism is about faith in a God whose love for each human being is endless. It is about being part of something greater than self and acknowledging the limits of who we are in gracious kindness to one another. It recognizes the uniqueness of each one’s call and our unlimited capacity for fault and failure. It is about knowing that we are stronger together than we are alone and trusting that God’s existence, presence, is the constant in our being. Catholicism invites each of us to carefully consider who we are and what we are about, why we do what we do and how we can become better for our own sake and the sake of others. Faith can open doors.
He knew all that, and he shared it in each of his encounters. He knew and understood that he could not control the reactions or interpretations of others, but he could be faithful in every moment, every encounter and every choice. He knew that his was a temporary presence and one that impacted and affected others. He was humbled by that. In so many ways, he reminded me of the medieval craftsmen who chose not to sign their creations as it was “all for the glory of God”. One life. Well lived. Ended on August 29, the feast of the Passion of John the Baptist. Like John the Baptist, a messenger for our time.