I got some hard news today. A friend e-mailed me today to let me know that she couldn’t make it to a special Mass for my institution to the Ministry of Reader coming up here at the Seminary because she was going to the funeral of a woman I may have known from St. Monica’s. What she wasn’t sure about was whether or not I had known about this or if I was that close to her. The fact was, this woman, Nancy, did mean a lot to me because she was always there sitting behind me and my parents when I was home for Mass and she was always asking about me when I wasn’t there or sending love to my mom when she wasn’t there. Really, she was kind of like a grandmother for me, and she also was a little bit like my own grandma who passed away years ago. I thought she kind of looked like her and even shared her name.
So this news was not easy, especially to get it this way, and clearly not by any fault of my dear friend. For me it’s just that there was no goodbye to a woman who was always encouraging me, one who I took for granted that she would be there for my ordination, should I make it that far, God-willing. I mean, she was already calling me “Father Tim.” And as kind of awkward as I felt about that, the thought hit me today that, knowing she was probably not going to live very long any way, though not telling anyone else about her illness, she may have known she would never get to see me as a priest and get to call me that to my face. And so with her faith and trust in the way God is working in my life, she was happy enough to get a little ahead of me and bless me with that title before I had even felt I earned it.
It all has me thinking about a reflection we had in one of our classes about the friends of the paralytic in Mark 2:1-12. Especially in v. 5 when Jesus looks at the faith of the friends and so says to the paralytic that his sins are forgiven, and then goes on to heal him of all his physical pain and shame as well as free his soul from sin. Not just by his faith, but the faith of his friends! And so it is that perhaps we are saved ourselves because of the faith of those nearest to us. Because of the prayers and tears of St. Monica, St. Augustine became one of the greatest minds our Church has known, reminding us that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. As we seminarians look around at each other here at the seminary, we know some of each others’ stories, but I don’t think any of us know the full extent of the way other people’s prayers have moved us ourselves. Whether it be our mothers, our fathers, our brothers, sisters, best friends, or people like Nancy, who we may smile at because of their simple but profound faith. But we may not know in this life just what their faith is doing for our own.
And that’s what makes this a joyful day for me. Not a happy day, but a joyful day. I’m not too worried about where Nancy is now. I think we can say that a lot of the people we’ve lost, we just plain wish they were still with us. But we’ve got to wonder too, maybe it is like Jesus when he was telling the disciples at the Last Supper, “It’s better for you if I go, because then I can send the Spirit” (John 16:7) Maybe a little bit like the paralytic who couldn’t move on his own, I’ve needed a little push from the “audacity” of Nancy to call me “Father.” When our own faith is too weak, it’s such a comfort to know that others will dig through the roof and lower us down before our Savior and Healer.