Sunday, June 16, 2019
I have to admit that when I was a “younger” priest I always felt kind of funny on days like today when people would wish me a “Happy Father’s Day.” I thought, at first, it was kind of weird and corny that people would be expressing such a sentiment to me as a celibate priest with no children. Admittedly I sometimes felt a bit angry or slighted because these “people of good will” were trying to be nice and inclusive, yet the raw human emotion of being “childless” could sometimes sting.
Thankfully, I don’t feel that way today. I actually enjoy and I am tremendously grateful when people wish me a Happy Father’s Day. As a “veteran” member of the priesthood, I have come to both appreciate and revere my role as a Father to a lot of people. I am grateful to God for my call to be a Father and to do my best to offer care, compassion, understanding, and love to those who are entrusted to me. I have come to realize both the importance and the significance of what that title means and how it comes with a tremendous amount of responsibilities, which I do not take lightly. And I also realize that such a title is so sacred that it should NEVER be taken for granted or seen as a privileged position associated with clericalism.
I felt it most deeply last Monday night when I was called to be with a family from my home parish who found themselves in the second most vulnerable and devastating situation of their lives. As I was sitting at the kitchen table with my own parents (as I normally do on Monday nights) a text message came onto my phone asking if I was anywhere in the area. “She is getting closer” was the message and I quickly responded and said that I was at my parent’s house, only a few short blocks away from the home where a young woman was passing from this life to the next. They are neighbors and friends and former parishioners who I’ve known for a long time. Molly was only 38 years old. She was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer back in November. She is a single mother with twin boys who are only nine years old. Seventeen years ago this September 22, her own mother died suddenly at the age of 49. This family has suffered greatly and they are carrying a cross of tremendous sadness.
Being a free day from Old St. Pat’s, I was dressed in shorts and a golf shirt and knowing that apparel didn’t matter in that situation, I quickly went over to their home to be with the family. Molly passed at 11:53 p.m. on Monday night and while it was sobering and overwhelming to witness a young person’s death, I felt so privileged to have been with her and her four siblings and her dad in this time of passage. To have watched and heard the tender words of “love” and “it’s okay to let go” was nothing but God’s Grace at work in the hearts of her young adult siblings. Watching someone take their last breath is as sacred as parents who watch their babies take their first one. It’s birth into Eternal Life! Unfortunately, a birthing room and a deathbed don’t bring about the same reaction. We don’t always make the same connection.
Though it’s never easy and every situation is different and unique, shortly after her passage I could feel the tearful eyes and broken hearts of family looking to me. It’s time to step up and be a Father once again. Putting my trust in God and asking God to give me whatever words or sentiments that might bring comfort and hope to a grieving family, it’s time to do our best.
Today, on this Father’s Day, I give thanks to all those who have taught me to be a good Father. I think about all those great priests whose life witness of compassion and stepping into really awful, difficult situations have inspired me. I will always be grateful to two men in particular who walked with me and my family when we lost a sister and brother, tragically and suddenly. Today, I think about the countless women, most of whom are hospital and hospice nurses whose embodiment of tenderness and care have truly been the incarnation of God’s love. I think about my own parents who, despite their own losses of children, continue to live and give witness to unconditional love. I think about the countless families who have allowed me to walk with them and be with them in the worst moments of their lives… for trusting me and for giving me permission to witness their vulnerability.
On this Father’s Day, we give thanks for all those who teach us how to be good fathers and mothers in this world. It’s not just about having biological children of our own. But rather it’s about learning how to care for one another and how we encircle the most vulnerable with hope and love. Mothers and Fathers are bearers of life. With God’s help, may we always see ourselves as being bearers of the Mystery of life, encouragement, hope, generosity, forgiveness, and courage for all those entrusted to our care.
Father Tom Hurley