Last evening I had one of those experiences that we priests do not enjoy. I had received a call from a local funeral director on Wednesday that they had a young man in his early 50's who had died, and that although "Catholic by birth" had no church affiliation. They wondered if I would be willing to have a blessing service at the funeral home at the end of the viewing. That was last evening at 8:00 pm. I am not going to mention his name here. I'm not sure what this guy did for a living, but by looks and appearance his lifestyle was a little different. He was into the outdoors - hunting, fishing, camping, family, living life to the fullest - and he looked like a mountain man with long hair and beard, etc. He is married and has two grown married children and one grandson, Gavin, who is the love of his life. During the viewing the family played Lynyrd Skynrd music and the mourning and interaction was far from traditional, which is okay.
But into this situation comes the guy in black with a white collar who no one knows and most (my judgement) could do without ... except that it would be good to have some kind of farewell service. I spoke of the gifts of this individual - living life to the fullest, being free and doing what he wanted, and doing whatever it took to be happy. I saw those qualities in the photo collage in the viewing rooms and heard of it by listening to the conversations. I also heard from the funeral director that he was a really nice guy. I pointed out that this nation of ours recognizes the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that we recognize them as being given by the Creator. They are God given rights that we are entrusted with to pursue and use wisely. I tried to bring the presence of God into the midst of this grieving family. I am not sure that I succeeded, but maybe the seed was planted. It was an awkward and disheartening moment, for I cannot image living life apart from a faith community and away from a living awareness of the presence of God. And yet so many do. May this young man rest in peace, and may his wife and children and grandchild find comfort.
On the other side of the coin is the deaths of three good priests who celebrated the community of Faith and whose lives of service were filled with blessing. Last Monday was the funeral of a priest from Pittsburgh whose niece belongs to our parish - Father Raymond McColligan. Father Ray was 95 and had been a priest for 69 years! I am thirty-nine years out, and it seems a lifetime ... add another thirty ... Wow! He had been retired since 1986, but remained active in helping out long into retirement. He was an avid Steelers fan.
Tomorrow will be the funeral for Franciscan Father Richard Portasik who was 85. Father Richard and his brother, the late Father Joe Portasik, were from Ford City in our Diocese, and were very involved in many aspects of ministry. Both served many, many years at Saint Anthony Friary in Uniontown and helped out in the neighboring parishes, including my home parish of Saint Joseph. I remember Father Richard as a gentle man, kind and reassuring, a gifted preacher, and committed to his Slovak heritage. I was inspired by him, worked with him, and enjoyed his friendship. I will have to miss his funeral because of one here in the parish tomorrow.
And I received word yesterday of the death of one of my former seminary professors, Father Aiden Mullany, T.O.R., who died after a long illness. I'm afraid that we did not always give Father Aiden the respect that he deserved in class, and I hope he forgives us.
May these three priests and servants of God rest in peace and share in the eternal happiness that they brought to so many.