Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Greatest in the Kingdom

I woke this morning to the news that one of our elder parishioners, Jim Finney, had had a heart attack last night and passed away. This is another loss for us in two weeks, the first being Monsignor Donoghue, a priest of the Diocese of Boise for some 54 years. He's been in declining health for some years, so his passing was expected. However, he was highly esteemed in the diocese, a hero to many of the younger priests, and all around an inspirational figure in our community.

Jim was a much less public figure in the Church. I knew him primarily from his involvement as an usher and greeter. However, he was also active in Knights of Columbus and in the St. John's Social Justice committee. I also used to run him frequently at the YMCA, where I'd see he him lifting weights or on the rowing machine, and no short time later, see him riding his bike past my house some three miles from the Y. He apparently rode to and from his workouts. I hope I'm that fit when I'm in my mid-80s. (Once a marine, always a marine... or at least I think I recall hearing he was one.)

Jim had a very distinctive way of greeting people. He would take a person's right hand in his right hand. Then as that person was walking away, he would reach out to the next person with his left hand. That's how he'd progress: hand over hand until everyone passed through the doors. I will miss his greetings on Sundays.

As I was considering Jim and his passing, I began to think about many of the other elder members who add a certain character to the lives of Catholics in our parish. What stands out most for me is their willingness to serve in whatever capacity was needed. This usually meant doing the less popular tasks such as helping during coffee hours, serving at morning Mass when no regular altar servers were available, amd ushering. I can think of several people at the parish who serve very humbly in various ways, and I think of what will happen when they leave us and how they will be missed. And that struck me as part of what Christ meant in Matthew 23:11–12 when He said, "He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." Here I am, studying to be a theologian and a deacon (or at least in aspirancy for the diaconate), and I seem so wrapped up in my thing that I'm not out there doing the more mundane tasks at Mass or at other community gatherings. Doesn't seem very humble.

Of course, the immediate meaning applies to eternal life, but in a sense, we see this heavenly reality played out here on earth all the time. When a humble servant of God like Jim is remembered with love by his fellow parishioners, or when a great priest like Msgr. Donoghue leaves such an indelible impression on three generations of priests and laity.

And then I turn and look at myself and wonder, how can I possibly step into those shoes? How can I be a Jim (or Bob or Cecil) for the coming generations? I don't know if I have that capacity, although I certainly pray that I will aquire it.

Anyway, eternal rest grant unto Jim, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine on him.
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