Sentiment and Substance
My friend, Monsignor Tom Leonard, is pastor of Holy Trinity church on Manhattan’s West Side. His energy, creativity, and enthusiasm are infectious. He carefully crafts his homilies with Irish wit, tenderness, and insight. He recently preached at the funeral Mass of his long-time friend, Bishop Patrick Ahern. Here is some of what Tom said:
There was a young woman from a small town in France who, though dead at 24 years of age, some time before his birth, became the woman of his life. I need not tell you that her spirituality was the joyful acceptance and fulfillment of “the small tasks of life,” the simple repetition of the nuanced insignificant moments by which one served God. So smitten with her was the Bishop that he learned French, moved to Lisieux for a year to have time for research and conversation with his “Little Flower.” She was a companion on many a Confirmation visit; some priests might say too many.
His book, “Maurice and Therese” is the study of the 21 letters that a young seminarian – seeking vocational direction – wrote to Therese. She answered with an honest exposition of what was necessary and what the inner costs would be. For many of us, Bishop Ahern – unknowingly – became Maurice and he found in those letters a challenge and an enthusiasm for his own priesthood. He considered her being named a Doctor of the Church in 1997 a personal accomplishment for himself.
In all of this, there was unbounded goodness, laughter, mirth, a “most happy fella” that smile. There was a rumor one time in the Chancery, – a rather unusual occurrence in our Chancery - that Bishop Ahern was to be named the Vicar-General, One of our more astute canonical types disparaged the thought immediately, saying: “What foolishness! We’d need two Vicar-Generals – a second one for the bad news”. Like the rest of us, he understood that Paddy only saw the good in people.
His legacy to us is that of Paul in the reading from Philippians: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, …. pure, …. lovely,…. gracious, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
The last few months and days we have watched the gentle movement into eternity. The Gospel this morning offers the last words of Christ at the Last Supper. “I want those You have given me to be with me where I am, to share my glory.” Isn’t that the hope of us all? To share the “glory of the Lord? Jesus then left the upper room, crossed the brook Kedron and took the half-mile journey to Gethsemane and to glory. The invitation was simple: Follow Me! Patrick Ahern did.