Thursday, May 31, 2012


Sounds morbid, no?   But it isn’t, really:  we must all face the inevitability, and sometimes things bring that fact home to us more clearly than at other times.
Sunday Deacon Joe McGonagle (who was at St Ignatius when I was first assigned there after my ordination) died this past Sunday of complications from dementia (and, I think, Parkinson’s).  Wednesday (yesterday) Bobby Rimes, SJ (my spiritual director for 21 years) died from malignant lesions on the brain.  And as I walked the Mississippi River levee here at Manresa Retreat Center today, I wondered:  how will I die?

One pope had a marble skull carved by Bernini on his writing desk; another pope had his coffin in his bedroom.  No, this is not morbidity:  it is consciousness of a reality we most of us would sooner pretend doesn’t exist.  But it does—and it does, for you and for me.

How will I die?  It’s not an academic question, obviously.  Will it be cancer or a car wreck, dementia or diabetes, stroke or something else?  Will I have friends around me, like the Venerable Bede, or will I die alone, like Francis Xavier?  More importantly, will I be able and willing to live out Colossians 1:24 and offer any suffering for the sake of His Body, the Church?  I hope so:  my two models for this are Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Bernardin.  I can only pray for courage similar to theirs.
Even more important for the Lord’s disciples, I think, is the question how will I die to self today?  What indulgences am I willing to surrender, what sorrows and pains of others am I willing to embrace, what hardships am I willing to undergo, for the sake of the Name?  Am I really a servant in the parish where I am assigned?  What is the quality of my ministry, and is it self-giving or self-serving?

Hard questions, these:  but we need to ask them, especially priests.  Our retreat master this week emphasized that if priests are ordained to stand in persona Christi during the celebration of the sacraments, we must also do so away from altar/font/reconciliation room, in our daily lives:  we are given the task of being in persona Christi as He was the Self-Sacrificing Servant:  “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for the many” (Mark 10:45, from Wednesday’s Gospel at Mass).

Let's ALL be servants...

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