I spent the better part of yesterday at the funeral of my uncle. I have mentioned before that I have a very large family, with many aunts and uncles, and, unfortunately, they are all hitting that age where funerals are happening a little more frequently.
But yesterday's funeral was a little different than most. That's because my uncle was a priest. And not just any priest (are there any of the sort??). He was many things to many people. He did not spend his years just being a parish priest -- he was a rector at the seminary, a librarian, and also a parish priest. Although originally from St. Henry, his ministry was out of the Kansas City Province, so most of his assignments were west of here. That did not allow for many of us to spend a whole lot of time with him, as he would be home for a couple of weeks during the summer and that would be most of what we would see him for the year.
It was interesting to hear the stories told by Fr. Nassal, the Provincial of Kansas City, during his homily, of the Fr. Len that he and his fellow priests knew. Not that they knew a different man, but they definitely knew a different side of him. Anyone who ever received a letter from Fr. Len, or talked with him, knew he was very interested in the ancestry of our family, and he always had a new name of someone for me to figure out how I was related to them. I wish so much I had kept his letters over the years....I didn't always appreciate the knowledge he was trying to shower me with.
He mentioned during his homily that once Father Len was in a parish and noticed the tabernacle was locked. He said, "Unlock that and let Jesus out!" The priest mentioned, and the thought occurred to me as well, that maybe we do that within ourselves sometimes, too. We receive Jesus in the Eucharist, but then forget to let him out and share him with the world!
Fr. Nassal mentioned a poet that Fr. Len liked, but mentioned that he himself enjoyed the poetry of Mary Oliver more and quoted this poem. I remembered her name and googled this poem when I got home because I appreciated the words so much. It definitely describes Fr. Len.
When Death Comes by Mary Oliver
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it's over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
I have bolded the ending of this poem because it describes Fr. Len so well. He left no stone unturned, in his ministry or in his life. He blessed us all abundantly by allowing us to get to know him, to allow him into our lives. And while it was very interesting to hear the stories of his life in the priesthood, and nice to know how much they appreciated and loved "Father Gutty" as they called him, I will be happy with the knowledge that he was my uncle.....my dad's brother. The man who was able to bring our family together for Eucharist each family reunion we had, and dine with us afterwards. The man who made my dad smile.
I have never watched the movie "Great Expectations", but think I just might locate it at the library and watch it one of these weekends with Fr. Len in mind. For he had great expectations of all of us, himself included, and was never afraid to let others see what expectations he had. I hope people can say that about me at the end of my life.
Rest in peace, Fr. Len. Job well done!