Saint Goes Marching In
Appreciating the wholeness of life through one life
A not-so-funny thing is happening as I age in (minimal) wisdom and (gratuitous) grace. I noticed it reading the Catholic Worker, as I’ve done since high school. The obituaries started to be the best part of the paper. How so? Because they tell a good part of the truth about whole lives. The not-so-funny thing is that I’m learning that yesterday, today, and tomorrow become part of a whole life lived on this earth.
Today, at a funeral, I learned more about the whole life of my friend Steve. I knew that it had been a long life. He lived to see his 97th birthday. There were lots of particulars about it that were remembered. Steve was a prolific artist who gave many of his works to a nearby monastery and to parishes in the area. He was a catechist and door-to-door evangelist. And long decades ago, as an Air Force pilot, he won a bronze medal in World War II. That I did not know.
Because of COVID, we didn’t have a reception. If only we had! I have memories of Steve that didn’t make it to his eulogy but family and friends would relish sharing at a reception. Three of the memories record big chunks of who Steve was, and they deserve celebrating. Inspired by Cesar Chavez, Steve was an early activist championing the United Farm Workers of America. He recognized the UFWA as putting into practice the solidarity central to Catholic social teaching.
Steve was a different sort of warrior as well, a pro-life prayer warrior. Many an hour—and it was a privilege to join him—Steve stood vigil in front of a busy abortion clinic located just a few blocks away from a high school. With grim irony, the clinic put up Christmas decorations. One of the abortionists parked his powder blue Rolls just in front of it.
A man of many charisms, Steve had a special ecumenical mission: He regularly engaged Jehovah’s Witnesses, many of whom rang his doorbell in hopes of rescuing him from Romanism. Steve’s method was Socratic, lots of questions and all of them drawing the listener not away from, but closer to, Rome. One of his favorites was to ask a Witness for his Bible and turn to its table of contents. Then he’d ask his visitor whether the table of contents was itself part of the Bible and if so what book. His question, a bit sly, aimed to teach his visitor that it was the Church that gave us the Bible. There’s no sola Scriptura if Scripture itself comes from the Church.
Saints, we know, are far from sad. Steve had an antic side to prove it. He was the proud possessor of a costume-store nose bone. The device could be opened for easy placement! Mostly he just kept it in his pocket, but sometimes he wore it for fun—except at the airport, where his wife forbade it. (Maybe sometimes he felt like a nut even though most times he didn’t.)
My sketch of Steve is, I guess, an obituary of sorts. And you will gather, gentle reader, that he was one of a kind. And so are we all. Indeed, Steve still is one of a kind, and all of us always will be one of a kind. We immortals! Our whole life only begins here and, whether we stay here for 97 years or not, this whole life of ours runs on into eternity.
It makes you think, does it not?
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