I would like to address two recent losses and how their reality has fueled hope for the new year. Perhaps you will get an idea or two for your own spiritual ‘take’ as one year winds down and a new one begins.
I first met Fr. Don Cozzens late in the early1980’s at a conference where I was speaking on Media and the Church. He was excited about the talk in which I outlined that the diocese of the future would have to subscribe to a volcanic eruption of social media and we would need a theology of media to understand and use that media wisely. I said we will have Masses being streamed, personal conferences with the homebound through televised means, and even meetings in parishes and dioceses extended through these same means (witness Zoom, not to mention the massive streaming of liturgies due to Covid!) After I laid out the vision as I saw it, Don came up to me enthusiastically and blurted out: “I want to help you develop this further!”
That was the beginning of a friendship. Frequently, we met for coffee or dinner but I was laboring for a post-graduate degree and Don was accepting diocesan assignments as rector of the seminary while also teaching there. He shared with me the concerns he had as his first book, The Changing Face of the Catholic Priesthood was nearing completion but I was not prepared for the tidal storm it would cause and I’m not sure he was either. As Father Tom Mahoney, homilist for Don’s funeral said, “Don spoke truth to power.”
What most people do not see in such a challenged public life, is the disappointment and personal toll negative reactions take on the psyche of the person. Don’s passing struck me deeply for this reason and the sudden awareness that a prophetic voice had been silenced.
Then, a few days later I learned of the death of Sister Noreen Marie George, an Adrian Dominican with whom I enjoyed a casual though much cherished friendship. We met when I had to return to a local Catholic high school for added credits to enter college sixty years ago. I was already a professed Sister and self-consciously chose a seat in the back of her
classroom where she taught Latin. When she entered, a look of terror ran across her face. She nodded to my presence. Later she confessed she had not been told I would be there so she immediately thought I was a supervisor! Noreen was an amazingly patient teacher. Not only did I learn Latin from her, but I learned teaching skills as well: the softness in approaching the timid, the gentle strictness in addressing the restless, the humor in confronting the contentious. To help me catch up in first year Latin so I could get to the Gallic Wars of Latin II, Noreen tutored me during my study period. Much later I learned that that was her only free period of the day when she could have corrected papers or prepared for other classes.
She was a quick-moving woman whose 15-decade rosary at her side was always flying behind her like the jet fuel of a speeding plane as she whisked from hallway to classroom. Our tutoring sessions often included some spiritual direction and some encouragement in religious life. But her major influence was awakening in me an unquenchable thirst for learning, a thirst that thrills me to this day. A few years later, I was privileged to attend Siena Heights College (now University), the school started by the Adrian Dominicans and I was told to major in English and minor in Latin! She replied to my news with her laconic humor: “Hmmm. A minor in Latin? You have made it! You have made it!” Nary a word about English! A friend and I planned to visit her in early spring of this coming year in Adrian, Michigan. But, sadly, she died in November. Vade in pace, Noreen. Vade in pace.
I could not understand why these two deaths bothered me so much. I was not an intimate friend with either. But I had a list of questions about publishing for my next visit with Don and plans for the visit with Noreen come spring. Neither will happen now. I imagined peering into one of our universe’s black holes where gravity has pulled in a dying star and light cannot escape. “Not so,” said a good friend. “You feel the absence of these people and the plans you never got to share with them. But their inspiration in you lives on and the cycle of life challenges you to live that inspiration for others. They are not in the black hole; find their spirits in the light.”
Have you experienced any loss that requires you to see a light rather than a black hole? How did you survive it?
What resolutions can you make this new year to find the light of any loss?
(Remember that particular light might be your personal Star of the New Year.)