It’s the rare friend who can make scripture come alive, right before your eyes.
I thought about that, as we said farewell to one such friend today. In recent years, Mike was one of the ‘regulars’ at 6:30 Mass each day, and he often joined the coffee klatch of graybeards that gathers afterwards at a local eatery. He was, in short, a part of my daily bread – both liturgically and literally.
I actually knew Mike long before he became a cherished part of our band of brothers, though. He was my ‘down-the-street neighbor’ 10 or 12 years ago – and frankly, was a little intimidating back then. Not because he was unfriendly…but because he did such a great job of tending to his yard. It was—by far—the most beautiful lawn on the block, and I always felt a little like he was disappointed in the rest of us because we couldn’t keep up.
I lost track of Mike when he and his wife moved away in the mid-‘00s…but in 2008, he reappeared in my life – as one of the catechumens participating in the RCIA process at our parish. I learned then that Mike had grown up in the Jewish faith tradition, and therefore had perspectives on scripture and tradition that those of us on the RCIA team had never really encountered before.
In addition, Mike was by his nature the kind of guy who didn’t take anything for granted. He asked LOTS of questions and often pressed for answers when the original response didn’t satisfy. The more time we spent together in that RCIA setting, the more I began to realize how I was being blessed by his presence among us: How he challenged us to think deeply about what we profess as Catholic Christians; how he evoked from us a profound and reflective appreciation for the central mysteries of our faith.
But maybe the greatest gift Mike ever gave me was when he stepped into the baptismal font at the Easter Vigil on April 11, 2009. As a team member, I had a front-row seat for his baptism – which became something very much like a piece of heaven-on-earth. It was a true ‘hosanna’ moment, watching the waters of rebirth rush over him…seeing his face light up…hearing him exclaim with joy!
And in the years since that blessed moment, I’ve also been privileged to walk alongside Mike as he continued his journey in faith. We served on ACTS retreat teams together, and spent many a Saturday morning together breaking open the Word in our weekly faith-sharing group. We’ve even gone into prison together, as members of a couple of Kairos teams.
So it was quite a shock to learn a couple of months ago that Mike had lung cancer. He seemed an unlikely candidate for the disease – a non-smoker, legendary for his commitment to his bicycling and walking routines. I was pretty confident, in fact, that he’d lick the disease…and would soon rejoin us at the morning coffee klatch.
God had other plans, though – and took Mike to his reward a few days ago. Some of us in his ‘band of brothers’ were asked to say a few words at his memorial Mass today about what Mike had meant to us. And in my reflections, I was drawn to the last prayer I’d ever had the chance to share with Mike, the Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1: 68-79).
The canticle glorifies God for being a faithful God – One whose faithfulness is made manifest in the saints who are sent among us. Each time I pray the canticle, I’m moved by the words Zechariah says of his son, John the Baptist:
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.
God’s faithfulness didn’t stop with the Baptist, of course. The Most High continues to provide prophets for us…and saints like our dear friend Mike.
He was a ‘canticle character’ if there ever was one. He knew, personally, the joy that came with the forgiveness of sins. And through his living witness – on his baptismal day and beyond – Mike never tired of giving God’s people knowledge of salvation.
May the angels lead him to paradise!
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.