Posted by: mmreflections | June 12, 2010

This Mystery Called Death: June, 2010

“You will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.  I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.”  (Confer John 16:20-22)

These last few days my attention has been drawn once again to this awesome mystery called death.  Even as I sit here at my desk writing another lesson learned on my journey, the oldest of my nieces is being buried.  Her funeral is being held today in Levittown, Pennsylvania.  Mary Magdalene was the oldest daughter of my sister, Mary.  I was only six years old when she was born.  It’s hard to imagine being an uncle to a little girl who was more like a younger sister.  Upon receiving word of her death, my thoughts were filled with memories going back seventy years.  Often when we spoke on the telephone or had an opportunity to be together we recalled the many joys, delights,  humorous moments and struggles we shared over the years. 

As I was reading her Obituary on the internet, I learned more about her accomplishments than I had ever known.  She rarely spoke of the good work she was doing as a mother, church member, nurse, anesthetist, hospital worker, volunteer and friend.  More often she would speak to me of her children and grandchildren in whom she took such delight.  Their successes and joys were her successes and joys.  In more recent years health issues challenged her to make significant changes in her life.  She became an inspiration to me as she confronted diabetes and the related complications of heart problems, blindness and kidney failure.  In discussing some of these issues with me, it was always in an upbeat, hopeful way because she loved life and was determined to embrace every challenge she encountered with hope and trust in God.  When faced with serious personal medical issues of my own, she was on the phone encouraging me, motivating me and reminding me of the work that still remained for me to do.  In her obituary she is said to have embraced all her medical challenges with grace and dignity.

This morning I am 2500 miles away from her family and friends as they offer final tributes to their mother, grandmother, sister, co-workers and friend.  However, I am with them in spirit as my thoughts carry me back to the little girl with whom I played, the teen-ager with whom I shared many delights, the young woman with whom I shared goals and dreams for the future.  She has now entered into the mysterious rest which awaits all of us when our journey here on earth is ended.  She has now passed from the visible to the invisible.  She has now entered into the mysterious prelude to the resurrection and her new life.       

Even as I confront the passing of my niece, Mary Magdalene, our church anticipates the pending funeral of our Metropolitan, Archbishop Basil Schott, who died in Pittsburgh just as all of our priests were enjoying a first time reunion planned by our archbishop to gather and honor all us who serve or who have served in the Byzantine Catholic Church in the United States.  I most vividly recall the retreat for priests which he gave years ago.  He spoke to us with great compassion, understanding, sensitivity and love as he encouraged us in the work we were doing in the service of the Byzantine Catholic Church.  On the last day of the Retreat, I approached Archbishop Basil, thanking him for his inspiring words and telling him how much I appreciated all he was doing for priests.  He gently and humbly replied, “It is I who  am deeply grateful for you and for all the priests; it is I who appreciate you.  Thank you for the work you do.”  I came home from  that Retreat feeling truly blessed.  It was the first time I had ever heard a bishop speak in this compassionate and caring way.  He has now also entered into this mysterious rest awaiting all of us.

In reading his Obituary I am touched by the tributes made to him which confirm my own:  “….a very spiritual man, whose prayer life affected the whole church in the United States; ….he really united us; ….his personality drew people to himself, very much a people person; ….he wanted unity in the church, for everyone to get along;  ….he challenged us to allow the Holy Spirit to set us afire; ….his greatest gift was his compassion; ….he was tireless in visiting the sick; ….a faithful leader, a good friend.”  He faced his death from cancer with great courage.  Though his passing is a great loss, his inspiration remains with us.  As I reflect on these and others who have recently died, I find myself encouraged to let the examples of their lives touch my own life.

We live at a time when many do not want to reflect upon or even discuss this mystery of death.  Some look upon death as an enemy to be resisted and held off as long as possible.  Others look upon death with great fear and trembling.  Strangely enough, I have perceived over the years that those who feared death the most were those who also feared life.  As a result there are many who have not experienced the fullness of life God intended for us.  Jesus tells us, “I came so that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” (Confer John 10:10)  The many people who touched my life most profoundly were those who did not fear death but prepared for it by living their lives as fully as possible.  These were, indeed, the happiest people I ever had the joy of meeting.  They were also the very ones who reached out most generously to all the people they met with kindness, goodness, generosity and love.  These were the brothers and sisters who most beautifully reflected the love of God.  We can say they were a blessing to all  those who had the great fortune to meet them.

If we choose, we can behold the world around us and all that is unfolding with dark colored glasses.  Some emails reaching me each day are filled with criticism, hatred, judgments, prejudice, lies and negative opinions about all  that is happening in the  world today.  Many of these consider themselves people of faith.  They do not realize they are adding to the darkness and suffering in our society.  Their words and actions are like ripples on a lake spreading far and wide, reflecting their lack of trust in God who holds the whole world in his hands and who draws good out of all things for those who love and serve God rather than themselves.  At the same time there is little they contribute to making our world a better place.  It is hard to imagine these are enjoying the fullness of  life God offers us.

On the other hand, there are emails that are filled with hope and inspiring words and blessings coming from people who are actually doing many things great and small to make our world a better place.  They may not be known  by many people; their names do not flash on the news.  Unknown by the world, but close to the heart of God, they are continuously doing small things that are also like ripples on a lake spreading far and wide, reflecting their deep and abiding faith and trust in God.  All too soon, this mystery of death will embrace each one of us.  What will be said of us when we pass on into this mysterious rest?  Will the world be a better place for our having been here?  Will we have manifested in some way the kindness, goodness, beauty and love of God?

Jesus tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You have faith in God; have faith also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”   (John:14:1-3)

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Responses

  1. Thank You Father Mike for the inspirational words–then they are followed by the punch line. They give so many quiet moments; for so many days to follow. Sorry for your loss Father. Indeed a loss for all of us. Charlie K.

  2. This is truly inspiring and a beautiful tribute to not only these two remarkable people, but to all those you have loved and lost. I am sure they are all reading your posting-and smiling proudly on the author of these words-as I am!
    Love you always
    Diana

  3. Fr. Mike, you have my sympathy, and those two will enjoy their rewards. I am sure you were just as great an inspiration to your niece as she was to you. I am glad you ended with the John 14:1-3, it has always been one of my favorites. You have always been one of my favorites too. Keep up the good work, we depend on your wisdom.

  4. Fr. Mike,
    You have our deepest and heartfelt sympathy over the loss of your beloved niece, as well as the Metropolitan Archbishop. This is such a beautiful tribute to life….and loss. YOU taught me long ago not to fear death. It’s the natural progression of our soul’s journey to be reunited with our Creator. Thank you for your words of wisdom. Know that thoughts and prayers are with you always.

    • Dear Amy,
      Thank you for your kind words and thoughts. Am leaving on Wednesday for Pittsburgh to attend the Archbishop’s funeral. All is well here; Jan and I just returned from a long walk at the ocean. Hope all is well with you and your family.
      Love from Fr. Mike!

  5. Dear Father Mike,
    Thank you for expressing such kind thoughts about my mother. She was very proud of your accomplishments as well and shared many fond memories of your time growing up. She indeed was a woman who walked by faith and led by example. We will greatly miss her but have peace she has returned Home and is back with Dad.
    Love, Steve and family.

  6. Dear Fr. Mike,
    As I sat reading your post, my neighbor’s nephew knocked on the door, to tell me his aunt was in the hospital, and the doctors don’t expect her to make it. I was able to sit and talk with him about the Lord, all the while being amazed at God’s wisdom sending me to click on the very topic I was to face with someone in just minutes. Glory to God! As always, you know how to hit us right between the eyes. May the memory of your beloved niece be eternal! As well as our Metropolitan Basil! He often said he was like a wise old loving grandfather, that had the right words at the right moment. Something you told Stan years ago, was that all that was happening in our lives was about our Baptism. When he was ordained, Metropolitan Basil asked if he was OK, as he was weeping a bit at the Altar. Then the Metropolitan leaned over and whispered to him,”you know this is all about your Baptism.” God is good!

  7. I finally made it to your site! I am leaving this coming Friday, July 30 for Uzhorod, Khust and beyond. Journey brings us to two pilgrimages… in Boronyavo in the Ukraine (Aug 2) and to Litmanova, Slovakia (Aug 8). Be assured my prayers will include special intentions for +Mary Magdalene, our beloved +Archbishop Basil and for Jan and for you, Fr. Mike! I pray we continue in the footsteps of our many great teachers and loved ones that have passed on before us. May the Holy Spirit be our guide, enlightening our minds and elevating us closer to God… reponding always to His call!
    Continued Prayers and Much love, Diane


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