Saturday, October 1, 2016

Remembering Bro. Charlie

I am quickly learning a lesson.  The longer I am a Marianist, the more difficult funerals become.  My first few years, we would receive news of the death of a Brother, and he was someone I only knew in name, if even that.  Now, after some 10 years, the names are well-known, and in many cases I knew the Brother personally.

So, this morning, as we prepare for the funeral mass of Bro. Charlie Wanda, there is a pit in my stomach.  Sure, we knew it was coming.  I had visited him at hospice the evening before he passed into his eternal reward.  But, all the same, it's never easy.

Bro. Charlie (right) with Bro. Mark and Bro. Jean

Life can be funny.  Just last weekend, after hearing of the passing of Bro. Charlie, I was sitting on a plane going to St. Louis for the profession of perpetual vows of two of our brothers.  It's the big event.  The culmination of years of formation and the celebration of their decision to make a life-long commitment.  They are great guys, and the party was grand!  And I think it was even more poignant than normal.  As we celebrated their saying "Yes!" we also remember another "yes" that was made to the very end.  

Sitting here this morning, thinking about Bro. Charlie, two stories come to mind.  I think both remind us about saying yes and about our commitment to live Stability as Marianists.  

In early January, I traveled to Dayton to assist with a vocation retreat.  I got in the night before, and arranged to stay in a guestroom of the Novitiate Community where Charlie lived.  I didn't get there until about 11:00 that night.  I knew that the priest in the community was going to be out of town and I had meant to call ahead to see if the community wanted me to say mass the next morning.  Of course, in typical Bob fashion, I never called or emailed.  When I got to the house, I saw that the community message board said there would be mass in the morning.  Charlie heard me and came out to say hi.  I asked, "Oh, is someone coming in the morning for mass?"  Charlie looked at me, and as deadpan as he always was, drolly replied, "You're here.  Isn't that why we ordained you?"  Of course, a smile then broke out on his face, followed by, "No, seriously, you're saying mass.  After all you are a priest now."  

I smile now as I remember that night.  Bro. Charlie lived his life as the person he was.  I think I saw that vividly in these past several weeks as he accepted his illness with grace and peace.  He put his chemo-ridden bald head on Facebook as if to tell us all, "This is who God made me, this is who I am.  I'm going to live who I am until the end."  On that January evening, he called me to live who I was.  And he will always remind us all to be who God has made us to be, to continue to say "yes" to God in all moments of our lives.

Then, a few weeks ago, I stopped by the hospital on my way home from work to visit Charlie.  At that time, he was in a lot of pain, and the cancer was really taking its toll on him. While he was still waiting the results of tests, I think he somehow knew what the outcome would be and that it was coming faster than expected.  At the same time, there were two mutual friends of ours going through an excruciatingly painful family situation, having just lost a child.  In the midst of his weakness and pain, he asked about them.  He was so concerned about them, and was somewhat upset that he couldn't be present to them.

As I reflected on that visit with Charlie, it struck me that there he was, dying, and yet all he could do was think of others, wanting to "brother" this young couple in their hour of need - just as he had done his whole life.  At the time of perpetual profession, Marianists take a special vow of Stability.  I often struggle to explain it in words.  But it's one of those things you know when you see it.   For me, that moment with Charlie in the hospital room gives us a glimpse of what Stability means.  Charlie showed us what it means to be a Brother and love others to the very end, quite literally.  

Charlie was an artist, and one of my favorite pieces of his is the crucifixion, painted from the point of view of Jesus gazing from the cross upon his Mother and the Beloved Disciple.  "Woman, behold your son.  Behold your mother."  The phrase so dear to Blessed Chaminade, and the core of Marianist Stability.  As Jesus loved his own to the very end, and made sure that they would be taken care of, so did Charlie. 

In his life, in his dying, and still now, Bro. Charlie teaches us about living as a Marianist. For that, we should give thanks to our God.  

Brother Charlie, may the saints and angels lead you into Paradise.  May the holy martyrs welcome you into the New Jerusalem.  May Mary accompany you to your eternal reward.  May you rest in peace. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Holy Thursday: Sharing Life

 Tonight we begin the Paschal Triduum, the great big liturgy that really begins tonight and only ends on the evening of Easter Sunday.  In it, we remember the greatest mysteries of our Christian faith.  And each liturgy is filled with rich symbolism and ritual that helps us enter into the mystery of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection.

We begin, of course, with the Mass of the Lord's Supper.  We remember when Christ gave us his body and blood.  We recall (and re-enact) Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as an act of humble service.  And then we "travel" with Jesus to Gethsemane where he asks us to watch and pray with him.  We are invited to spend time in the quiet church with the Lord, watching and praying.  This is one of my favorite parts.  Maybe it's because I like the dimmed lights and the last remnants of incense that still linger in the air.  Maybe it's because the liturgy gives me so much to ponder and contemplate.  Maybe it's because I just really need some more quiet in my life, and I let myself find it tonight.

Whatever the reason, that's what I did tonight.  I sat in the quiet of the church, watching and praying.  As I was doing this, a group of women came in together to do just the same.  In many places, it is a tradition to travel around to different churches and pray at their altar of repose.  I was first introduced to this when I was in Rome, and as I sat in the church tonight, my thoughts turned to two years ago.

Two years ago, myself and two Marianist seminarians decided to partake in the practice.  After going to mass at our parish, we began walking through our neighborhood, visiting several churches, stopping to say a few prayers at each one.  While the walking and the praying were good, what I remember most is just the fellowship we shared.  As we made our way from church to church, we talked, we laughed, and knowing us we probably yelled a little too (venting frustrations and disappointments.)  And I'm pretty sure we ended up going to the Roman equivalent of a dive - where the pizza was greasy (but oh so good) and the beer was cheap (and actually cold.)  But in doing all of this, we just shared life with each other.

And as I sat in the church tonight and recalled that evening two years ago, I realized that maybe this is one of the messages that Jesus tried to leave us at that last supper he shared with his friends.  At the Eucharist, we gather together around the altar, and we hear Jesus say, "This is my body and blood given to you."  It's as if he's saying, "Look, I am giving myself to you, I am sharing myself with you tonight."  In the Eucharist Jesus shares his life with us.  And then he tells us to do the same.  "Do this in memory of me."  It's as if Jesus is telling us, "Share your life with each other, just as I have done for you."  In the Eucharist we are called to share a apart of ourselves with each other. 

What I experienced two years ago with friends as we traveled on a Holy Thursday night, helped me glimpse what Eucharist is about.  Just as Jesus shares his life with us, we are called to share our lives with others.  We are called to walk with each other and just share life - maybe it involves laughing and talking, maybe even pizza and beer.  Maybe it just means that we understand that we are brothers and sisters, and we treat each other that way, or that we stoop and wash another's foot.  (As we look around the world today, it seems that we could use a little bit more of this, right?)  However we do it, though, we are invited to the table of life, and then we are invited to share this life, our life, with each other.  This is what it means to be Eucharist.