Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Circle Game - Fr. Tom's Funeral

"And the season's they go round and round and the painted ponies go up and down. We're captive on a carousel of time. We can't go back we can only look behind from where we came, and go round and round and round in a circle game" - The Circle Game by Joni Mitchell

This week my husband and I went to the funeral of a truly amazing man, Fr. Tom Kraft a member of the Dominican community that serves our parish. Last week he lost his battle to throat cancer and passed joyfully into the next life.

The little bit of time that I was able to spend with him and the times that I saw him saying mass or just being present in a room were a blessing to me an anyone else gathered. I don't think I have ever before witnessed such a true example of the light of God shining through a person. I am often frustrated by the limitations of the English language and I writing about Fr. Tom brings on that frustration but I will see what I can do. Up until the very end of his life this man's eyes sparkled, his skin paled by the effects of his cancer glowed with an other worldly radiance, his back always straight and his posture always open.

It may sound strange that I said he passed joyfully but that is truly what happened. In the final months it was very clear that he saw death as the next step in his journey. It was an opportunity to embrace and experience that which he had devoted his life to proclaiming. The Communion of Saints, Lift Everlasting, that Jesus conquered death so that we may have eternal life. These are fundamental to our Catholic faith. The way he spoke was with joy, excitement and anticipation. I believe that because he was a humble man he may have struggled with the chance that he hadn't done enough, prayed enough or been enough to get a straight shot in to heaven but that never came across in his speech or demeanor. There was no what if. I am so grateful that while we believe that wonderful saintly people like Fr. Tom will be taken up into heaven to be with God until the last day, the rest of us still have a chance to redeem ourselves after death through prayer and penances in purgatory. He is not there though, he was a saint endowed by God to walk among us for a short time that our lives would be made just that much brighter for his presence.

The church was packed with people. I have never been to a service like that and really very few funerals in general. The was an entire section of con celebrating priests in their stoles and vestments. I also saw a few other white collars and habited nuns peppered throughout the congregation. Among the laity gathered there I saw two former priests as well. It made me think about time and how these men set out on a path to serve God in the best way that they could but somehow it just wasn't right. Time reveals everything but once things are revealed we can not go back and change anything. Time is always going forward and we must choose to glide along with it or be dragged violently behind it. It really is a choice.

As time goes on people die, our bodies only last so long before our expiration date comes up. But new life is always beginning fresh and so it goes. At the funeral mass we were surrounded by young children and babies there must have been 5 or 6 just in our immediate vicinity. They never stopped moving, babbling or crying throughout the entire service. Many began the service alert and happy, transitioned to tired and fussy, fell asleep and snuffled their sleeping baby snuffles, and finally awoke refreshed and ready to begin again. It was an amazing process to be witnessing while attending a funeral. I could not help thinking (and I must not have been alone) how appropriate it is to have babies present in abundance at a funeral. That clear and wonderful reminder that with death there is new life just as all life must end in death. It isn't deeply profound just the way that we are made.

It was dificult to leave the church after the mass. It seemed to me that we should have done one more thing, said one more thing or heard one more thing but that was all there was. I felt raw emotionally and physically. Going back to work for the afternoon was dificult but it was clear to me that it would have been offensive to Fr. Tom's to blow off my commitment to my co-workers in order to stay cocooned in my emotional bubble for the rest of the day. After all there was no more. What a blessing, what a joy, what a man to strive to emulate.

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