Priests have many different experiences of fathers. They are the pack mules carrying both the scooter and the exhausted tyke who is too tired to foot-propel that birthday present any farther along the sidewalk. They are the frenetic photographers taking countless pictures of their progeny who are reaching milestones from First Communion to graduation. They are the astute wisdom figures advising kids who are looking for a soft touch to go ask their mother for that unusual permission.
Each Father’s Day they gratefully accept the recurring gifts of socks, hankies and aftershave, humbly content to take second chair to those Mother’s Day flowers, chocolates and perfumes. They are often silent, overly generous and expertly able to display winning sports moves for their sons and caress away hurtful blues for their daughters. They are all-too-often taken for granted until their funeral rites. Only then do their grieving loved ones truly realize how much they will be missed once they are gone.
Here are three examples of emotionally charged liturgies from priests who buried fathers. Interestingly, their strong feelings were associated with entities located outside rather than inside the church building.
The first was a robust father of three who had served as a firefighter on Staten Island. Since his early retirement he had spent little time with comrades, which probably accounted for the reduced presence of uniformed NYC bravest on that cold Saturday morning. Nevertheless, as the pall bearers were returning his coffin to the hearse, a hook-and-ladder fire engine idling in the street began blaring its siren and flashing its revolving red lights to honor his courageous service for quelling flames and saving lives.
The second was a tireless father of six who worked multiple jobs from sunup to sundown well into his 85th year of life. A sudden coronary swept him away from the many grandchildren who cherished him. To help his parents raise his own brothers and sisters he had been forced to leave high school without receiving a diploma, which is why he rarely earned above minimum wage. His last employer was the owner of a construction company who hired him to deliver heaps of fine gravel and white sand to repair the erosion that was devastating the beaches along the Coney Island shoreline. During the eulogy one of his adult grandchildren recalled seeing him labor in the sweltering heat while they enjoyed whizzing along in the Cyclone roller coaster and dashing off to the Steeplechase Park. As a memorial for his toil, the boss arranged for an empty dump truck to be parked near the entrance of the cemetery. The bed portion of the truck was lifted high in the air and a giant placard with his name was attached to the very top for all to see.
The third deceased was a man who bred pedigree dogs for a living. His only daughter and her adolescent son sat alone in the front bench. During his homily, the priest referred to St. Francis of Assisi in connection with this father’s love for animals. Unfamiliar with religious etiquette the grandson boldly stood up and interrupted the talk. He pleaded, “We have two of his favorite dogs in the car outside and we can bring them into church right now if that’s okay.” Maintaining his composure, the preacher politely indicated that only service dogs were permitted in the sanctuary, but he was sure the funeral director would permit the tail-waggers to be present during the graveside prayers after Mass.
For Holy Homework: As a tribute to these men, living or deceased, especially on the third Sunday of this month, let’s recall and share with another person one virtue that stands out most when we think of dad. And to all our dependably brave, hard-working, care-giving protectors, Happy Father’s Day!
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