Thursday, December 22, 2005

One Year On....

Well, it seems the Whispers have been going on for a year -- the first anniversary was Tuesday. It completely eluded me. And I'm still here!


OK, self-congratulation is now closed.

I went back into the archives as, during a discussion about Eucharistic Prayer III -- at 8.30 in the morning, no less -- I was reminded that yesterday (21 December) marked the first anniversary of the untimely death of Fr. Chuck Pfeffer, my Newman Chaplain at Penn and an inspiration to a generation of Catholic youth here in Philadelphia and beyond.

I'm far from alone in believing that, in Chuck, God sent a saint to those of us who knew him. In many years of watching and participating in the life of this church, I've never known a harder worker, a more serene spirit than he -- and, for all that work, he never sought one iota of credit for its good fruit; he didn't need to seek it, because the proof was in the pudding and his investment spoke for itself.

The piece below was one of the first I had ever written for this blog, back when it had a readership of five. Now that the audience is a bit bigger, I hope you don't mind my pulling it out as a way of letting all of you know about this incredible, magnetic soul, and as a way of thanking him again for being the man, the Christian, the priest he was for so many.

How we miss him. How we miss him.....


For the vanguard of the church in Philadelphia and elsewhere, a pall will cover this Christmas. On Tuesday, Fr. Chuck Pfeffer, Penn's beloved Newman Chaplain, friend, fan and counselor to innumerable organizations and young Catholics everywhere, was found dead in bed of a heart attack at 53.

God the Great Scheduler, it seems, needed some A-list talent in the 10PM Sunday slot, and there could be no better choice, even at our great loss.

Too soon, Lord, too soon. But how he suffered!

I first met Chuck as a young freshman just back from Rome who believed -- as good Philadelphia pueri ecclesiae do -- that the Eternal City is the center of the universe and source of all light in the world. In his own inimitable way, Fr. Chuck -- who had just returned from an exhilarating trip to the Holy Land -- reminded me that it was Jerusalem where Jesus walked. And, with his then-new crutches, the Chaplain's walk with Him down the Via Dolorosa was just beginning.

And the walk continued, through operations where much was hoped for but not realized, through the loss of his mother, through health problems and limitations (like the barstool at the altar and the "Chuckmobile" cart to get him through campus) which, though pressing and dangerous, never took the smile off his face, praise of his Lord off his lips or led him to turn down a commitment where he could engage and inspire the young people he loved so much. Even though he never complained once, there were whispers that Chuck would be relieved of the Newman job and put on a health leave. I don't know how the man got out of bed and out the rectory door every morning, but I do know that he did so with one firm determination -- that whatever happened, it would be God alone, not the bosses on 17th Street, who would bring his ministry to its end. Anything less would've killed his spirit.

The beauty of Fr. Chuck above all lay in a most rare and desirable charism -- to see each person as unique, and their own talents as a special gift of God, not holding one to the standard of the others. In his decade as Director of the archdiocese's Office for Youth and Young Adults (a job which, youth ministers say, "will drive even the most serene to insanity") and then at Penn Newman, Fr. Chuck used this talent to perfection, building up strong communities of faith which used that faith as an impetus for great good in the world around them. His successor has impossible shoes to fill -- ones of intellectual curiosity, immense depth of spirituality, and heroic witness to that spirituality even to the last.

In recent weeks, I'm told, his homilies had focused unusually on death and the last things, and would say in private "I can't wait to meet Jesus!" A couple weeks ago, he posted a quote from Merton on a Newman Bible study blog. It makes you wonder if he knew what was immediately ahead. With thanks and much love, knowing that we'll miss him much but that he's no longer alone and his cross has vindicated him, this is the quote. Thank you, and well done, exemplary shepherd of souls, ever good, loving and faithful servant!
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and that fact that I think that I am following
your will does not mean that I am
actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire
in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything
apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
for you are ever with me
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.