Saturday, December 5, 2015
A Gift of Life in Death
Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, in his recent book, Sacred Fire, discusses the challenges of developing a mature spirituality during the middle years of life. At the end of this wonderful work he presents the notion of making your death a gift. He promises to write his next book on that topic, and being ready to turn 71 this week I am eager to read that book when it is published.
Last night (Friday) and this morning I experienced just what it means to make one's death a gift. I arrived at St. Luke's parish in HoHoKus, NJ on Thursday in anticipation of preaching a parish mission here beginning with the evening Mass tonight at 5. Unlike most of the parishes I visit I am no stranger to St.Luke's. My very good friends Joe and Pat Eitner live here and I have been here often for weddings and baptisms for their family. I also preached a mission here 26 years ago in 1989. Each time I visited here I was warmly received by Fr. Paschal Tsiquaye, a priest who hails from Ghana in West Africa. He has served as a full and later part time assistant here for many years. Fr. Paschal was close to Joe and Pat especially because he reached out to Pat's mother in her final years. I can't say that I got to know him well, but the more I saw of him the more I was impressed that he was a truly holy man, not just someone with a lot of external piety, but a true saint. Shortly after arriving at St. Luke's I was informed that Fr. Paschal had died.
I attended the wake service for him last night and concelebrated at his funeral Mass this morning. What an outpouring of love for a man who loved so much. Fr. Paschal's family and friends who have now settled in the US and Canada were there, many parishioners and about 20 priests. The presider at the Mass was Bishop John Flesey, an auxiliary bishop of Newark and regional bishop for this part of the Archdiocese.
The various testimonies and homilies that were given confirmed my impression that this was a holy man. He was a man who suffered kidney problems and had to undergo dialysis regularly, yet he gave of himself both tirelessly and cheerfully to everyone he met. Among the many things said of him that impressed me were first of all words from his pastor of many years. Besides the many accolades that he bestowed on him he said that he had never received a complaint about him. Not many of us priests can havew that said about us. When bishop Flesey began the words of final commendation at the end of the Mass he said that like all priests Fr.Paschal frequently said the words of consecration, "This is My Body, This is My Blood, etc." The bishop said that Fr. Paschal lived those words with his own life. He gave his body and blood to the Lord and his people.
As I participated in this beautiful funeral rite I began to realize that I was being given a gift in Fr. Paschal's life and death, a gift that will inspire me to be an even better priest, to give my body and blood, along with the Lord's to God's people. I am sure that in his life and death he is a gift to many others as well. May he rest in peace!
I will live you with one final thought. Fr. Paschal was know to often say during Mass and especially in homilies, "God is good." People always completed that sentence by shouting out "all the time," As we move into the second week of Advent and here the invitation to "prepare the way of the Lord" let us remember that our Lord and God is good, all the time.