by Father Robert Czok
It was an ordinary day, but it was smack in the middle of an extraordinary time of the year, Wednesday of Holy Week. For many years during this time, as a parish priest, I had always been deeply into preparations and the actual celebrations for the various Holy Week ceremonies. This year, my retirement from parish responsibilities gave me an accessible window of opportunity to take a day to visit Brother Richard, who has been in a nursing home upstate for a couple of years or so. He had served as pastoral associate for about nine years of my pastorate at St. Anthony-St. Alphonsus. He had retired about five years before me. He demonstrated a real affection to that parish community in Greenpoint.
This nursing home was located in Valatie, about a three-hour drive upstate. It was located in the general vicinity of the home of a former Greenpointer, Peter, who is retired in an adjacent area, Ancram. His wife had passed away not too long ago.
The exit from the Taconic Parkway onto Route 82 was the same exit I would use to go to Ancram, but the GPS indicated that I would have to go in the opposite direction from my final destination. I found myself at a crossroads between the two places, several miles in each direction. I decided I would go on to Valatie and on the way back, I would go to see Peter.
But first, I was overdue for a rest stop. After refueling, I proceeded to the diner for coffee and a clean rest room. Upon entering the diner, I saw my friend from Ancram, as though he had been waiting for me.
I think we shared a mutual feeling of relief, at least for the moment, from deep feelings of loneliness and search for meaning at this point in both our lives. We had a lively conversation and shared many thoughts about such things as our new Pope Francis, abortion, gun control, same-sex marriage, Hurricane Sandy and more. With the expectation of coming reform in the Church, we finished on a note of joyful optimism.
I continued on my way to see Brother Richard. It took about another 20 minutes to arrive at the nursing home in Valatie. There was Brother Richard sitting on his bed, his formerly wavy hair more closely cropped than before, somewhat unshaven and without his trademark large framed glasses. His face was a bit more filled in. It was indeed Brother Richard, the same Brother Richard with whom I had lived and worked for about nine years, with whom I shared countless conversations almost daily.
Looking at me calmly and with eyes opened wide, he said, “You look familiar.”
From that point on it was mostly downhill. He remembered nothing and no one from the parish where he had served for 18 years. Only a couple of names brought a bit of a spark of recognition. The memory bank of his life seemed to have been completely wiped out. He could only recall his earlier years as a teacher in high school.
So, my jaunt upstate produced mixed emotions: joy at seeing my friend from Ancram, joined with feelings of both joy and sorrow as a result of my visit with Brother Richard. Still, the overwhelming emotion was joy.
It became instantly obvious to me that God had been planning this two-fold scenario right along. And that realization is what made for an overwhelming sense of joy. This was an ordinary life experience, but there was far more to it than met the eye. It was an experience of both cross and resurrection in the most ordinary of circumstances of life.
Further reflection can give some more insight. In reading over some homily resources that I had stored in my computer, I hit upon a segment that spells it out pretty clearly (Celebration, Father James Smith, April 8, 2012). It is relevant and says it beautifully: “We innately yearn for eternal life, but that is no more than a wish until it has been verified by Christ. On the other hand, the resurrection of Jesus is just raw data until it is processed through our own experience. A Christian is not one who merely believes in the resurrection of Christ; a Christian is not one who merely believes in his or her own resurrection after death. A Christian is one who believes that death and resurrection are a way of life – that joy really does bloom in the soil of sadness, that hope really does rise from the ashes of despair, that a spirit of life really does spring from the dust of deadly things. A Christian is one who believes that daily dying and rising are practice for the final event.”
If we want the ultimate source of inspiration in this regard, we need look no further than the sacred action we celebrate each Sunday. The Holy Eucharist says it all, because Jesus himself speaks to us and actually draws us into the mystery of His own dying and rising. After the consecration we acclaim: “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection until you come again.”[hr] Father Czok, a retired priest of the diocese, resides at St. Rose of Lima rectory, Rockaway Beach.