Last November I wrote a series of reflections about our Holy Cross Cemetery at Notre Dame. You can find them from November 2019 on my blog. Here is a reflection for 2020.
I visited Holy Cross cemetery at Notre Dame during Labor Day weekend.
I did not need a mask to visit my brothers.
However, two of our men from our province died of COVID-19 this year. Fr. Gene served in Bangladesh for many years and is buried among us at Notre Dame. Fr. Bob served in Chile and died of the pandemic.
Archbishop Costa in Chittagong, Bangladesh also died of this world-wide disease. Even a bishop is vulnerable to such illness and the common denominator of death. He is buried in Bangladesh.
I remember Fr. Bob well from the 1970’s. He was tall in stature. His life as a missionary loomed large at the table in the seminary refectory. He would visit family once a year with a stop-off at the seminary for some rest. He is laid to rest among other giants who gave everything to the world-wide Church. A missionary of God has to have strong shoulders.
I stopped and prayed at Fr. Bill’s headstone. He was one of my pastors. He loved Jesus. Bill cracked me up. Thursday was his day off. He always golfed. One Friday, my day off, I asked him if he had ever been to an art museum in Los Angeles. He quipped, “Gosh, Ron, it has never rained that hard on a Thursday.” I loved him. He always desired to preach from his true relationship with Jesus.
Fr. David died at 55 this year. His large family prepared him to live and serve among young people at Notre Dame. He was pastor of Sacred Heart Church. I prayed to the Sacred Heart the day he died, since I know what it means to rely on the mercy, the heart- warmth, of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He loved the color orange. I noticed a pair of orange framed sunglasses on his tombstone. I pray he sees the truth of his life and the bountiful presence of Jesus.
The line of tombstones has grown long since I first entered the community as a freshman in 1974. As I strolled along the line of crosses, I stopped at Fr. John’s. He died in 1980. I cared for him at Holy Cross in 1976-77. I sure have been thinking about him lately.
The first time I entered his room, I was drawn to his body curled up in bed. Silence seemed to be his partner and his prayer. As I raised my eyes and glanced around the room, I was so struck that he did not have a single possession of his own in the room. He was unable to care for himself. Yet, he did not have a token or prayer card or photograph in the room that could remind him of his life and priesthood.
As a young religious, I was taken aback by the starkness of the room. I could not image why no one had surrounded him with a few reminders of who he was and the people he had ministered among in his life. I felt in my heart the poverty of his life. As I left the room, I touched the bareness of the cold walls.
A few months ago, as I was praying about him, something happened. A new insight swept by my heart like an oak leaf carried by the autumn wind in the cemetery. I realized that Fr. John’s prayer had readied him to go home. He had shed his possessions and was open for Jesus’ invitation. I had imposed my youthful notions on a holy man. As I cared for his body, he had already done the work of letting go. I see this now only in my sixties.
Every time I visit this cemetery, the stories become so real again. My teachers never quit reminding me to hold fast to Jesus. I pray to let go of youthful pride and befriend the journey home.
After my September visit to the cemetery, I put on a mask and celebrated our men who were ordained deacons and priests that autumn day at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.