Friday, September 26, 2008

dead, not forgotten

We buried Fr. Dave a week ago today. Just a few family members, two other priests, a deacon and his wife and I walked through the crisp sunshine in the cemetery. All in all, he got a very dignified and honorable send off to eternity. At the wake on Thursday many people who knew or knew of this admirable and friendly priest passed through the cathedral to say a quick prayer or sit in the welcome silence and meditate with pause. The parish Mass followed the wake, for Dave’s childhood parish was also the city cathedral of St. Joseph. I was asked to preach and tried to keep it simple, from the heart.

The Archbishop celebrated the funeral Mass on Friday morning. About 80 priests concelebrated, the gospel choir of St. Michael parish sang and there were easily 400 or more people in attendance. A childhood friend and classmate in the seminary preached, recalling highlights of Dave’s journey as a priest of 53 years and their friendship. It was all very family-like, very much the heartfelt tribute to a fine and holy man who had definitely run the good race.

I was distracted, however, at one point in the funeral Mass when a verse was cited from a psalm that Fr. Maciel was fond of quoting to us: “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” (Psalm 37)

The memory and sadness of Fr. Maciel’s death that went without the recognition, the thanks and the heartfelt farewells came back to me. He received no acknowledgement from the Church he served, there was no celebration of his work or achievements, his funeral was hastily and perfunctorily carried out in the backwater of Cotija, attended only by those fortunate enough to be called in by the higher powers. The entire affair was shrouded by a furtive and clandestine fog.

Other Founders of our time (J.M.Escribá!, Mother Theresa!, Chiara Lubic!) were celebrated by their Church and the obvious affection of the many people whose lives they touched. Fr. Maciel himself never imagined the final chapter of his life being written in such ignominious shorthand. There was to be a crypt in Rome, a pilgrimage of LC and RC members, unabashed signs of gratitude and admiration...

It has been a hard pill for us to swallow. It was an event we should have been allowed to experience as a congregation and a movement and it was callously taken off the agenda at the last minute. And the leadership of the LC has opted to leave each of us with our own doubts, questions and frustrations as it has all gone down.

When Fr. JME died – has it been three years already? – I could not attend the funeral, much to my deep regret. He was a friend and a mentor, a sage and a humble brother. He was kind to a fault, had a razor sharp wit and could be piercingly critical. I quote him frequently to this day. He was an LC that gave hope to many other LCs and RCs because he would go beyond the packaged advice and tired clichĂ©s that, unfortunately, often pass for spiritual direction in our system and he would speak from the heart, with real compassion for others, with depth and thoughtfulness...

Anyway, I missed the funeral because in Chile there is no practice of embalming, no routine of funeral homes that give family and friends a few days to arrive. Folks are normally buried within 24 hours of their passing. That’s no one’s fault. I simply couldn’t get there on time.

In retrospect, it was probably better for me that I be absent. There was no sincere tribute paid him at his funeral and again the LC was incapable of truly celebrating the life and legacy of one of its great men. The local superior at the time - a self-absorbed, politically astute homunculus who had little use or admiration for Fr. JME in his lifetime – was hopelessly off the mark when he delivered a generic homily that only served to reconfirm his blatant detachment from all that is real or important to the rank-and-file of the LC and RC. It was the same homily that he rattled off at two other funerals of deceased LCs.

And they think we don’t notice.
Good grief.

Fr. Dave’s passing has left that same void that Fr. Maciel and Fr. JME left with their departures. I walk around in a haze for a few weeks, go through the motions and wait for the internal elements to straighten themselves out again.

But this time at least, I felt that the good-byes were well said, heartfelt and worthy of the life they celebrated.