On Saturday, October 24, I drove from Cheyenne to Gillette for the Parish Mission. I was the homilist for the four weekend Masses. I always enjoy preaching the weekend liturgies. When I do this as a guest in another parish it gives me an opportunity to see the faith journey of people from a different perspective. That is a tremendous blessing to me.
Monday morning got off to an early start. I had been invited to be a guest on the Don Carpenter radio show on News Talk 1270 KIML. We arrived at the Basin Radio Network studios at 6:40 A.M. to prepare for the 7:00 A.M. time slot. It was a wonderful opportunity to talk about the Parish Mission at St. Matthew's Parish but also to discuss marriage and family life overall. Don Carpenter was a wonderful host and gracious individual. I was blessed to be part of this experience in Gillette.
On Monday afternoon I sat on a panel discussion with five other individuals to discuss some of the challenges of family life in contemporary society. We had the clergy represented, Marriage Encounter, licensed marriage and family therapists, as well as the director from the Women's Resource Center (a pro-life pregnancy resource clinic). I was amazed at the talent and the resources sitting at that table.
Monday evening's main presentation was given by Mary Adams, a licensed marriage and family therapist. I invited Mary to address the parishioners because of her expertise in looking at the practical components of living out our lives in a healthy manner in the context of our religious convictions. She provided concrete ideas about how to honor God and one another in our homes each and every day.
On Tuesday morning I had the pleasure of preaching at the daily Mass in which the students from St. John Paul II School attended. This is always an experience to engage elementary age students. You just never quite know what is going to happen. The students were energetic and participated very well in the Eucharistic liturgy.
On Tuesday afternoon I moderated the lunchtime panel discussion. Once again, the talent and expertise sitting at the table was phenomenal. The pastor was one of the panelists and this discussion provided him a fantastic opportunity to expand upon the vision of where the parish is heading in regard to intentional discipleship. There is excitement and enthusiasm in the parish and it shows.
As I have tried to do every evening for most of the last 21 years since my dad died, I called my mom to be sure she was doing okay. The frustration in her voice was evident. In addition to the infection in her leg which she had been addressing for quite some time, she now had a slight case of pneumonia as well. "If it's not one thing it's another," mom said. We had a brief conversation and I headed off to get ready for the evening presentation of the Parish Mission. I discussed our spiritual journey during the one hour presentation. Where are we currently in our pilgrimage? Where do we want to go? How do we get there? It was a wonderful evening with the parishioners.
My day on Wednesday began earlier than anticipated. My brother received a phone call from the nursing home where my mom had been staying after rehab from breaking her hip last February. He was informed that she had taken a quick turn for the worse overnight. It had only been twelve hours since I had talked to her, but now she was unresponsive. Later in the day the family was notified that we should probably come in if we wanted to arrive before she died. I grappled with the decision of what to do. I decided not to leave immediately because of my own doctor appointment already scheduled on Friday. One of the last things mom had told me was to make sure I took care of my own health. Several weeks ago when I got out of the hospital she said, "You can't die before I do." I told her I would do my best to honor her command. Thus, I made the decision to stay in Gillette and complete the Parish Mission.
I spent wednesday morning at St. John Paul II School. This was a chance for me to put on my Superintendent of Catholic Schools hat while being there for the Parish Mission under my Director of Pastoral Ministries hat. Keeping up-to-date on school happenings is always helpful.
At lunchtime I once again moderated the panel discussion. It was another powerful discussion. On Wednesday evening I closed out the Parish Mission by looking at the ways we can more effectively allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. After the evening was over I stayed and prayed with any parishioner who wanted to lift up their needs to the Lord. This is always a powerful way to see the Holy Spirit move in our lives. The priests also made themselves available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This was a wonderful night of healing on many different levels as many people sought prayer and confession.
On Thursday I drove back to Cheyenne from Gillette and cleaned up some things at the office that had accumulated during my five days of absence. I stayed in touch with my family and knew that I would probably not make it back to Missouri in time to see my mom, but I was okay with that. I had been back each of the three last months to see her and had been in daily contact. I had no unfinished business to attend to with her.
My mom died early Friday morning. I kept my doctor's appointment, had some prescriptions filled, and packed to leave for Missouri. We had a 10:00 A.M. appointment at the funeral home on Saturday morning. My family drove all night and arrived at the funeral home shortly after 9:00 A.M. (We had almost an hour to spare.) Mom had made fairly thorough plans and that took a pretty good burden off of us as we finalized arrangements.
Visitation was on Sunday from 4:00 to 8:00 P.M. I saw cousins I had not seen in 25 years or more. I saw people I went to grade school and high school with and had not seen since. Growing up in a small town creates bonds that hold a community together in some profound ways. I was touched by the outpouring of compassion.
The funeral Mass took place on Monday morning at my childhood parish of Immaculate Conception in Old Monroe, Missouri. I had the privilege of preaching the homily at the Mass. It was probably the most difficult homily I have ever given from an emotional perspective. It was hard to say good-bye to mom.
I was surprised and blessed by many of the people who attended the funeral or vigil service. Former co-workers from a neighboring parish where I served truly touched my heart by their presence. Nursing home staff members who cared for my mom came and shed tears with us as well. They took the time out of their lives to say good-bye to someone they had only known for about eight months. The bond of friendship and love that mom had with them was something I had not expected or anticipated. This let me know that the ones caring for mom weren't just doing a job. They were fulfilling a ministry of love and compassion. They have my eternal gratitude.
The drive back to Cheyenne was long and tiring. I will take some time to rest and recuperate and then get back it. My doctor visit went well and I want to be sure to stay on the right track in regard to improving my health. Thus, a little rest seems like a good prescription today.
Thank you to all who have sent sentiments of compassion and support. Your thoughts and prayers have touched my whole family. Thanks also to all those who touched my mom's life on a regular basis. You know who you are. Please know of my eternal gratitude. You made it easier for me to be 850 miles away from mom, because I knew you were there for her. May God bless you abundantly for your kindness and faithfulness!