Found out tonight that one of my favorite people at my old parish passed away, at an age when you are not supposed to pass away. I knew he'd been in pain for much of his life, but never knew more than that - he passed from complications of his chronic illness just a couple weeks ago and I found out while looking up mass times. Probably I wouldn't have found out because no one would have thought to tell me. He was just someone I knew because he served on the same councils I did. We weren't close, but I really LIKED him. You know? Church councils and commissions are... well if you read this blog when I was doing those things, you know how I felt about them. But he made them better. I suspect he was like me, in that I would get overwhelmed by group dynamics and whether interactions were productive or not, instead of actually participating in the conversation, or even being aware of what the conversation was ABOUT. No, I take that back. He was sensitive to group dynamics AND found ways to participate that were helpful and loving. So, the sort of person I would like to be when I grow up.
I remember a time when he shared a story about his sick nephew in Mexico, something about the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a miracle of healing, and his faith was so visibly on fire in that moment. And his smiling devotion to Our Lady. He shared lots of good stories; that might have been the best thing about serving in the same places he did. He had a giant giant Mexican family and he loved to tell us what God was doing in this family member or that one. We always did this thing to start off our meetings, where someone read some scripture and then we were supposed to think about it (30 seconds) and Share. I hate sharing. I really do. It takes me SO much longer than 30 seconds to figure out "what strikes me" about anything. I was just telling someone lately that I'm not afraid to speak up in class anymore, but I still don't have anything to SAY. Anyway, he always had something that struck him and it was always good.
He was also gay. He had a long term partner and I'm pretty sure they got married a few years ago when it became legal in Washington. They were both devoted members of our parish, both serving in various roles, and widely known in the community. I didn't know his partner at all, but I saw them pretty much every Sunday, doing their thing.
I texted a friend still at the church for more information and she shared a bit about the funeral - who came, how all three priests during our tenure at that parish came back to concelebrate, how beautiful it was. And I just want to throw that out there, that here was a man with a husband who loved his Lord and was deeply loved and respected by his community. I wish I could have introduced him to the handful of struggling gay Christians I knew in college, most of whom left the church. I don't know how he balanced it all or what he thought about it or how hard it was for him. I have no doubt all of that was tremendously soul searching and difficult. But his outward faith was deep and broad and inspiring for me, a straight, white woman with babies at home who hadn't figured out that serving on committees was not her spiritual gift.
I will never forget that meeting where our priest was being obliviously insensitive [to me] about people who don't send their kids to Catholic school. He was sitting across the table from me then and looking at me in such a way that I knew for certain he knew what I was thinking and feeling. It was a dry face, kind and compassionate with just a hint of heavy sigh, and I SO appreciated it!
Years ago at an All Souls Day Mass, the priest spoke about the communion of saints and the not-officially-sainted people we've known who've passed on. He called them "the heroes of our faith" and I haven't forgotten that either. I love that piece of being Catholic. I love explaining it to people who don't quite get this whole saints thing. I have, sadly, gained a few heroes in heaven since that day; I have another tonight.