The Back Story:
A good friend’s mother died and I joined others in grieving her loss. Services were held in a modern Catholic church, the altar framed by plate glass windows on both sides revealing a panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains across the valley.
Father Bill presided. Once a tall, stout man Father Bill bent over at the shoulders and walked with some difficulty. Age and the cancer in his lungs had taken its toll on his frame, forcing him to lift his head to make eye contact with the congregation. His voice was low and gravelly showing the effects of radiation and chemotherapy attacking the cancer that started in his throat and moved into his lungs where it metastasized.
I didn’t learn of Father Bill’s condition until the reception that followed the service.
by Ben Echeverria
I am conducting what may be my final burial mass for one of my own. I feel HIS presence as I enter the sanctuary, the altar framed by plate glass windows and snow-capped mountains across the valley.
I am bent over at the shoulders like an old dead tree taking its last breath of fresh air; I no longer walk, I shuffle. The cancer in my lungs has taken its toll on me and I am forced to lift my head from these bent shoulders to make eye contact with the congregation. My voice is no longer my voice it belongs to someone else. The cancer that started in my throat is now in my lungs and has metastasized.
When I speak through the mike attached to my albs it sounds like gravel being shaken in a bucket. The ladies of the vestry have done their usual superb job cleaning and ironing these albs. I must thank them again for their service. Every time I dress and put on the albs I no longer feel like a normal man; I feel blessed. A presence enters my mind and flows into this broken body. It is a spiritual power that has taken over my very being; I believe, I believe, I understand, it IS the Holy Spirit.
Hearing our choir begin to sing softly is my cue to move to the back of the altar and prepare the Gifts of communion for all Catholics in the sanctuary. It has always been my practice to invite everyone to come forward to receive communion or a blessing, as appropriate to their faith.
“The body of Christ, the bread of heaven….”
Here I am in the final stages of my life presiding over this funeral service for one of my flock while facing my own death.
“The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation…”
Communion always rejuvenates me.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
Am I worthy of his salvation?
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”
When will my Lord call me?
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”
Note: Father Bill died within days of this service and mass was held for him in the same sanctuary.
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