My fellow parishioner Frank G.’s daughter died yesterday. I learned about it this morning, just before processing up the aisle as lector #2 for the 8:15 Mass. I looked toward the front of the nave and saw Frank sitting alone in front of the statue of the Blessed Mother. I walked up and gently put my arm around his bony old shoulders. He kindly acknowledged my condolences, then asked how I was: “And your family? Everything OK with you?” Typical Frank.
Frank G. is about 85, so his daughter must have been about my age. Frank was AWOL at daily Mass this week as his daughter lay dying of cancer in his home. Usually, as I have written before, he’s one of the first arrivals at daily 7 a.m. Mass, taking up his post in the front row by about 6:20. He pulls down his kneeler and doesn’t move a muscle until five minutes of the hour. I miss Frank when he isn’t there.
I returned to the back of the nave, organist Fred MacArthur struck up the melody from the loft above, and we walked up the aisle singing “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” I took my seat at the side of the sanctuary across from Father Barnes and alongside Bill, lector #1. I started thinking of Warren Jewell. Warren wrote one of his many good comments in response to a post about the role of the laity, describing his experience as a lector:
Before a given Mass, I would of course read [my selection] through over and over, including reading it aloud to my beloved Sharon. Sometimes, the words would so sink into me that they would get beyond my mind and heart, and past my spirit all the way down into my emotions. And, I could not read it again aloud without my voice cracking, my being flooding with humility that I am so privileged to read this part of God’s love letter for His children aloud at His Mass in His Church.
I realized, thinking of Warren’s comment, that I had rushed out of the house this morning and had not even read through my selection once. I knew what it was though, and before I rose to read, I told myself that I would dedicate the reading to Frank and his daughter. I have two daughters and cannot imagine losing one of them. Parents are not designed to outlive their children. I climbed into the pulpit and began:
Brothers and sisters: Strive for the greatest spiritual gifts. But I shall show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
As I said the word love I glanced at Frank below me to the right. He was still alone before the Blessed Mother, and he was looking down at the missal open on his lap. He looked as though he was studying the words from Corinthians.
And if I have the gift of prophecy, and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
I glanced at Frank again on the second and third mentions of love. He was still looking down, still studying, and I was stung by a thought. Frank has forgotten more about the meaning of love than I will ever learn, and there he is, acting as though he needs to understand it better!
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrong-doing but rejoices with the turth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Frank is a regular at our Saturday-morning men’s group, although he was not there yesterday, for a reason I now understand. He seldom says much at the group, but no matter how tired he looks, he always seems to listen intently to the speaker, again as though he were the one with things to learn. Then at the end of every meeting, he leads the group in a prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.
Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
One Saturday, I talked about this blog. Frank had nothing to offer, since I doubt he has a computer or even understood what a blog is. I talked for an hour, he listened, and after the prayer to St. Michael, he thanked me and asked after my family.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
Usually, my voice does not get emotional when I read at Mass. I do my best to give each word its full value, to proclaim the Word as it deserves, but usually I am not moved beyond a certain rudimentary enthusiasm. Never have I felt the upswelling that I felt today with the final words of the reading. If I had looked over at Frank at this moment, I would have lost it completely.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
As Frank teaches me every time I see him—and as our Pope taught today in his homily—love is indeed the greatest gift.