Recently I lost a friend to the pandemic. I had known him since we were in the seminary in 1964. We were both high school freshman with all the hopes and fears that everyone has when beginning in a new school, especially when all your friends from the neighborhood went to other high schools.
Augie and I both came from similar backgrounds: working class, Italian American households. During our 12 years of preparation for the Priesthood, we were aware of each other, but traveled in different circles of friends.
We were joined in a special way by our love of the Priesthood. This was the guiding motivation of our lives. Our seminary training ended with Ordination to the Holy Priesthood, and consequentially we saw little of each other thereafter. While I was working in the parish ministry and the needs for staffing it (my years as Vocation Director), Augie felt a call to help people who had mental illness. So, he went for another degree and began work at Catholic Charities and eventually a long stint as a counselor at Creedmoor. He helped numberless people there who were society’s throwaways, even to the point of being attacked by some of the more dangerous ones. His ill health continued and eventually he had to retire earlier than usual. Multiple health problems, including a weak heart, led him to the Coronavirus and death.
As I stood with his family at the graveside, along with his Priest-friends, I realized what a hidden treasure he was. He was a gentle reminder of the quiet and stable love that God shows each of us. As we live we are called to embody something about God’s love and care for us. In his quiet and daily commitment, Fr. Augie showed to me and all who knew him the continual, unchangeable love of God.
But it takes a whole life to show us this.
Patience is not a virtue we admire in the modern world. We want everything yesterday. But some really important things take time and even then, we can miss them if we are not attuned to the working of God in the quiet of lives like Fr. Augie.
This Pandemic needs to be seen in this wide sense of time. Beyond the momentary and temporary distractions and privations that it causes, it must teach us the things of eternity and of the Divine workings in our daily lives.
We are vulnerable creatures whose time on earth is very limited. We believe in God’s love and in His providence. He cares for us and leads us. The point of it all is not the holding on to this or that in this life. We are destined to be His for all eternity. Then what is the purpose of this time on earth?
As we live each moment of our lives (which seems to take so long when we are young and moves too quickly when we are old), we are called not to see our ultimate purpose as happiness here on earth. We are in training for the freedom of heaven, the gates of which let in only those who have freely chosen to be obedient to God’s will while on earth, thereby contributing to the healing of the original sin of our first parents (called Adam and Eve in the Scriptures).
But we tend to hold onto things.
I remember a great insight of a the saintly prior of the Charterhouse of La Grande Chartreuse named Guigo. He wrote that creation was a song that God was singing. Sin is when we try to hold onto one of the notes. When an organ is being repaired and the repairer plays one note endlessly to tune it, you could go crazy! Any note in a song is beautiful. To want only one note is to contribute to the end of the song.
We do this all the time. But God asks us to stay with the song and let other beauties be formed, played and echoed in the vastness of the song of creation.
Fr. Augie’s life was a symphony of obedience and ordinary daily love. Every day something new is sung and when seen in its totality, it becomes more than a life, it becomes a masterpiece. A song only God could sing.