Sunday, September 2, 2012

In Memory of Father Davern

His homilies were short, but because they were delivered so clearly, unpolluted with pretty language or unnecessary repetition, they stuck with you. We have a family friend who loved when Father Davern was the priest at Mass, because he knew there would be no rambling homily. It would be succinct and sweet, or as Father Davern himself used to say:

"Be brief; be good; be gone."

I'm glad I had the opportunity one time to tell him how much I appreciated his homilies. He passed away on Thursday night. I walked into Mass this morning and a large portrait of him was up in the sanctuary. I hoped he was retiring, but my husband shook his head, "No, I don't think so. I think he passed away."

I knew he was right, and before long it was confirmed. I wish I had known beforehand. Perhaps then I could have saved myself from crying noisily and copiously during Mass. Even reciting the Creed reminded me of how Father used to admonish us to get out our reference cards, telling us that we were almost there, but not quite perfect with the language since the Church adopted the new Roman Missal earlier this year. Father Davern would have thought it was silly of me, no doubt, to be streaming tears down my neck and wiping my face with a coarse paper towel. He was a no-nonsense canon lawyer, and our personalities were disparate. I'm often daydreaming along the primrose path. He could be sometimes irascible and always plainspoken.

The first time I ever spoke with him face to face, I descended on his office with my two hyper children in tow, who went crazy over the presence of a dog in the parish office, and told him that he had sent me a letter inviting me to RCIA classes. I told him that the reason I had not been confirmed before was because I was nursing four children almost constantly for several years, and so the evening classes would have been difficult to make.

He listened patiently and then responded with, "Yes...I sent those letters to everybody who isn't confirmed." And he said it just so and looked at me in just such a way as to state very clearly, "This is not a miracle of God. The angel Gabriel did not put it in your mailbox. It's a simple invitation, lady, to finally do what you need to do."

And one time when I was speaking in that RCIA class of how one had to get to church 20 minutes early on Christmas Eve to get a seat, he guffawed loudly and said, "Sweetheart, if you think that, you're fooling yourself! You have to get there 40 minutes early at least."

You wouldn't have thought he could be so blunt if you had listened to one of his homilies. They were full of compassion. I'd like to share with you one in particular, my favorite, that made me feel that, "Yes, aha! That is truth and well said."

Father Davern was speaking of the Gospel reading, Mark 6:1-6, when those in Jesus' hometown were astonished by him, his words and deeds, and they exclaimed, "Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?" Jesus responded simply, "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house."

In his homily Father Davern asked parishioners just how most of us learn about God? Then he stated a truth, A lot of what we learn about God we learn through each other. He pointed out that we judge people by how we knew them, who they were and how they treated us in the past, and we dismiss what they have to say or what they can share with us now. He gave examples. She was stuck-up in high school. He couldn't get his life together for years. He was mean and used to tease me all the time. She irritated me constantly. So we ignore and brush aside any message that they could convey to us now; we're not listening, because we're prejudiced. In this way we deny ourselves knowledge of God that others can give to us. There is no doubt that God responds to each of us, with our distinct personalities and intellects and circumstances, individually. There are things I have discovered in building my relationship with God that you may not know, and there are concepts that you grasp, ideas with which I struggle consistently. We can help and instruct one another, so we should listen.

I was very taken with this message, and it struck me as humorous, the part about the woman who irritates, because I felt sure that I had sometimes irritated Father Davern in the RCIA classes. Our personalities did not easily understand one another. It is something I felt when I asked him how he was doing after Mass one Sunday, and he responded, "Oh, getting along."

He had just spent several weeks in the hospital for a broken hip and had recovered remarkably well considering that things were complicated by his age and diabetes. Nevertheless, he was back at Mass saying the liturgy, leaning heavily against the altar as he blessed the Eucharist, sitting in his wheelchair as he delivered those wonderful homilies.

I wanted to offer to do something, cook him a meal or something, but I didn't know what he would accept, so I asked, "Is there anything that we can do?"

"No, I'll be fine. Thank you."

I awkwardly let it drop, couldn't think of anything else to say then, but that is partly why I was so sad today. I knew he had gone back in the hospital more than a week ago. I told myself I should send him a note, something to show that we loved and appreciated him. But I didn't do it. I just didn't do it.

Is that not always how we feel when someone passes away? I wish I had done more. I wish I had visited more often. I wish I had not been so selfish. It is how I felt when my husband's grandmother passed away; I should have visited her that last Thanksgiving, taken my newborn to meet her earlier. It is how my dad says he felt when his grandfather died; he wished he had found more time to take his family to see Grandpa. Through God's grace I spoke to my grandmama over the phone before her sudden passing due to an aneurysm. My husband kept urging me for a week to call, and I will be eternally grateful for that last good conversation, but she never got to meet the great-granddaughter who looks like her, with curly hair to make her proud, or her blond, blue-eyed great-grandson. And I remember my sister Vinca calling not long after the sister of a close friend of hers passed away. She called Annie and me just to tell us she loved us, because her friend was devastated by the death of her young sister, and Vinca was reminded of how swiftly loved ones can be taken away.

Father Davern was not a blood relative, and I did not know him well, but he was part of my spiritual family. I learned more about my Heavenly Father through him, his RCIA classes and those short and wise homilies. Do I think Father Davern was a great one for cards and notes or flowers? No, but I wish I had sent one or all of them before he died to show that I cared. And though he probably would have said, No, thank you, I wish I had offered to make him that meal.

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