My elderly priest friend appears to be reaching the final days of his life. I learned this early this morning before I left for work. There is a little bit of a story leading up to how I found out.
I was invited to go to a "reunion" of sorts with the group I traveled to Italy with just a month ago. I was hesitant but I knew it meant a lot to my friend, so I said yes, and then with all the running we did this week with the TLM's and the photography, etc. I was just worn out by the time last night rolled around, so I made my apologies and didn't go. Part of me thought I really should because it was something that would put me out of my comfort zone and I could offer it up, but I got home so late I decided to just hit the couch. I could tell by my friend's response that she was sad I would not be joining the group and I thought, "well, they'll get along just as well without me."
I was surprised to see that it was well after midnight when my friend emailed me with the sad news. She was still cleaning up from the little gathering and wanted me to know that Father's family had contacted her and thought that he was fading quickly. She wanted me to know that she and another priest friend would be driving out to see him. The last words of her email were like a sword going through me:
"Pray for Father. He always asked for you and thought of you fondly. Divine Mercy"
Here, I had just disappointed her by begging out of her little gathering, and she still made the effort to temper the news she was delivering by telling me something she knew would help ease some of the sadness I would be feeling upon learning that our friend might be leaving us soon. Not a petty bone in her body.
It had been a few years since I had driven out to see Father in the Monastery. I always worried that my visits wore him out. He always looked ready for a nap and he would yawn frequently. He was in his 80's and had multiple health issues so it wasn't like it would be unusual for someone that age to be tired by a visit, but if Father didn't want to see me, he would not have invited me. Still, I wrote to him all the time and relished his letters back, even as his handwriting became nearly impossible to decipher. I had sent him a photo of Rebecca, wearing a shawl as she followed the visiting Cardinal down the aisle after Mass, and Father wrote back to me: "Rebecca looks like a nun already. Just beautiful. I'm praying for her."
But the last few cards I sent him went unanswered. A thousand times I thought of calling him, but I knew he took an afternoon nap and that he also celebrated Mass once a day in the afternoon, and I worried about disturbing him. So once again, I let my fear of rejection keep me from doing what I should have.
When I got home today, my friend emailed me to tell me that Father was still awake and while clearly exhausted, he was still mentating normally and talking with visitors. It was always our custom when visiting him to ask for his blessing.
As my friend knelt by his bedside to receive his blessing, probably for the last time, he began to weep and they cried together with the realization that he was transitioning to life in the world to come.
Father has a great devotion to the Divine Mercy and he passed that devotion along to every soul he encountered in the confessional. He also said that there were two crutches we all needed: Frequent confession and Adoration.
All day today, I wondered, as human weakness would entice us to do, about whether or not Father had passed. He didn't, but before I knew this, I felt a sheer thrill of joy to think that he was that much closer to falling into the arms of the Lord.
I decided the best thing I could for Father, that which would make him most happy, would be to go to Adoration tonight and sit with Jesus. As it was, I was the only one in the chapel and I know how much Father hated to think of Our Lord sitting all alone and neglected.
I will wait to hear how he is tomorrow and then if his family and circumstances permit it, I will kneel by his bedside and beg his blessing one more time. And should the Lord call him home before then, I will have another saint to whom to pray in Heaven.