Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More for the Prayerline

Forgive the deviation from the norm, but a couple more things have come up from, well, where it counts.

Late word from the Capital reports that Fr Milt Jordan -- pillar and institution of this church, great and beloved friend to half the universe (or so it seems) -- has been scheduled for an emergency heart-bypass surgery later this morning. This comes as no small shock; he sounded fine just the other day, and was gearing up for his customary star turn (cassock, black zucchetto, ferraiolo and all) at this weekend's annual investiture for the Mid-Atlantic Lieutenancy of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, which he serves as spiritual director.

Currently pastor -- and blogging pastor at that -- of Our Lady of Victory in the Palisades section of Northwest Washington, Fr Milt is one of those intrepid, self-effacing, good-hearted souls (and, lest anyone hasn't noticed, we've got a lot of 'em) who, truly, to know is to love. Always involved in everything, remembered dearly by thousands ranging from the students he taught four decades back, to the folks in Rome, to the many he got to know as executive director of the Papal Foundation here in Pharaohville or his ministerial assignments in New York, Pittsburgh and Jacksonville (among many others), he's one of our living legends.

Grazie Dio
that this speed bump was caught in sufficient time... even though said timing will cause him to miss one of his favorite events of the year.

I'm not alone in owing much to Fr Milt and his friendship -- without the gifts of his constant encouragement, advice and support, these pages probably would've been gone long ago. So if you could please join me and the many Friends of Milty out there in sending up a good word for a successful surgery, for his comfort and, most of all, his quick recovery, it'd mean a great deal and I couldn't thank you enough.

Gratefully, we won't be alone in this. From the other side, the same words that would bring priests in need a big sigh of relief in decades past are still ringing true for Milt: "Jim McGrath is on the case."

The two shared a wonderful friendship. And even now, as some of you know well, none could dream of a better advocate.

* * *

On a tougher note -- and as if it hasn't already been brutal enough these last months -- it's come in that the Good Lord has called home another of the precious ones who've kept me company and taught me much behind the scenes.

Only 57, Fr Tim Delaney slipped away in his sleep last Thursday night in a rectory in his beloved Scranton. At an age when most of his confreres are still at the top of their game, the Lord had marked out a different path for Timmy -- the path of suffering. And did Tim ever walk it with Him: faithfully, lovingly, devotedly, desiring each day just to do it a bit better than he did the day before, as if every last bit of agony were the most precious gift.

For most of his 28 years of priesthood, Fr Tim suffered from Lupus. While he never wanted to leave ministry -- and, more than his condition would normally permit, got his wish, even to the end -- a massive heart attack seven years ago forced his recusal from full-time parish work.

Even weeks ago, however, Tim was still mustering all his effort to say the one public Mass he had for the week: a Sunday Eucharist for the inmates of a local prison. (Over his short time there, it must be noted, his good heart and steadfast faith increased the size of his weekly congregation by multiples -- he had 20 or so at the start, and the number became something like 200. Ever humbly, he did get a good bit of joy out of that. Suffice it to say, it kept him going.)

Even when his breathing was labored -- and, more often than not, it was -- Tim would call, or take my calls. He loved the stories -- loved hearing 'em, loved telling 'em... and, now, among his many gifts, I feel like I know Carroll McCormick, who from his deathbed asked Tim to send along one message (one the Scranton crowd already knew full well): "Tell them I loved Philadelphia."

About a month back, though, the protege of the late great bishop -- who compared his first encounter with McCormick to "meeting the Infant of Prague" -- sent a message that caused me a bit of panic.

It was already a customarily hectic afternoon, but a note came in from Timmy with a simple request: "I can't breathe, but I'm trying. Please pray for me."

He asked me to keep the prayers up for three hours, and I did, with an added hope that he'd go to the hospital (which, gratefully, he did, but only after getting over his initial intent not to bother anyone).

Tim's heart was failing, but all he wanted, all he cared about, was the prayers. And even then, he was at peace -- worried only that he wasn't giving enough acceptance to what was being asked of him.

Tim was another of the folks I never would've known by sight. But in allowing me to walk with him, becoming a part of his journey, however small, to know his great heart and be touched by it, and to know that, even on the worst days, he was always close by with a lot of prayers and an open ear is another of the priceless gifts that have changed my life and filled me with pain at his loss, but also with just as many thanks for the gift of his friendship, his witness and, truly, his brotherly love.

Much as I wished to, I didn't need to meet him in the flesh to know, to feel, to be blessed and enriched by any of this.

Gang, much as these remembrances of our own barely scratch the surface of their just due, and the experiences of knowing them are blessing upon blessing, I hate writing them. It drives me up a wall because... well, two things really.

First, in human terms, it means we've lost another one too soon, another selfless soul whose moment might've come but who gave everything, literally to the last, that the rest of us would have something, that we might have life.

Yet even so -- and, secondly -- these are the ones who've given that final "yes" in peace only in the hope that each of us who they've touched won't let everything they've given us, everything they've lived and died for, languish. Just as, all through their lives, they died ever more to themselves that ever more we might live, so their loss ups our responsibility in owing them nothing less than to keep that faith and love going stronger, better, realizing ever more intensely, as they did, that the task is accomplished not in the great strides, but day by day, breath by breath, soul by soul.

As if it all wasn't difficult enough already....

They're OK now, they've gotten their reward -- one that, in his purity of heart, Tim sought, but never would've expected, nor ever thought he had earned. But for us who remain, to give that "yes" again, to make it stronger again, to let it live with a new energy: that's what we can and must do for them now. It's how we keep them alive.

There is a tie-in, of course. All Saints' Day is upon us, and in not a few places the kids might dress up like Francis, Therese or Kateri, as classes and messages highlight Gianna, John Paul or John Vianney.

That's beautiful, sure... but it misses the point.

The famous ones already have their tributes and tapestries, the pilgrimages, the shrines, feast days, church-namings, the statues, hymns and novenas. But the point of 1 November is that, for each one of the formally canonized, there are a thousand and more of the same rank, known only to God and to the people they touched in life, day by day, breath by breath, soul by soul.

It might be hard to comprehend sometimes, but the point is that each of us have known the saints not in books, but literally in flesh and blood, and that they remain with us still. The point is that saints are made not in death, but in life, and that they live among us even now -- whether on the phone, over e.mail, the occasional catch-up, the daily kitchen table; or, for those who have gone, they live still in memory, in example, in the things they've taught us, even face-to-face.

Truly, we've all known them... truly, I know I've known them in spades.

And I don't know about you, but that frightens me to no end.

It's far too easy and all too human to look up to them, to praise their names... and leave the hard part of continuing their work, of imitating their lives' lessons, to others. But faith is in the work, friends, and God knows it's no easy task at all, but He's given each of us our own saints not for the easy work of canonizing them, but the very uneasy part that is our common vocation -- that is, to be like them... and, in being like them, to be like the One who placed them in our midst.

Having known them, having been loved by them, is a gift and a responsibility, a blessing and a challenge. May each of us always do our best in living up to both, and may their help and protection surround us always.

Parrillo, you've got another dinner-guest. Timmy, I kiss your heart.

Both of you, pray for us.

God love them and grant them rest. And God love all of you who, day by day, breath by breath, soul by soul, keep their witness alive... and so continue to make the magic happen.