Touched by a Holy Man

Touched by a Holy Man

I dreaded the day of his burial and yet, I wanted it. It didn’t feel real—his death—until his body was placed in the ground.

Grief sneaks up on you. You may already know this. It plays inside you like a song or piece of music you can’t seem to get out of your mind. You sense it while you go about your day. It lets you function, albeit at half speed. You feel it drain your energy and are helpless to stop it.

Sorting Things Out in Grief

If you don’t slow down and honor it as your body demands, it will allow you to keep going. You won’t get much done though. The heart and the emotions need to sort things out. There’s some rearranging that must go on inside because, like a piece of furniture that’s been removed from a room, your internal balance is off. You continue walking around the missing piece as if it’s still there.

But it’s gone. Changed. The soul we knew is in a new form which we can no longer see. Our spiritual senses can feel it. Sometimes. Some days.

Grief pours out of us like the little teapot, short and stout when it’s tipped. It poured from me as I bent over to hug others in church during visitation before our pastor’s Mass of Resurrection. I’m not sure my motives were totally selfless as I hugged fellow parishioners. My spirit sought to console them while it needed its own consoling. But in that act of compassion and comfort, tears poured from my eyes and mingled with God’s love, the love that moved me toward acts of mercy and kindness.

Preparing for His Departure

Within the Eucharist, the priest pours water to mingle with the wine on the altar. Jesus’s humanity will always be part of His divinity which this mingling of water and wine reminds us. When He told His apostles to “Do this in remembrance of Me,” He knew He was about to die. His last Seder meal weighed heavily as a solitary moment in the midst of His friends. He was preparing His apostles for His departure as much as He was preparing Himself to die.

In the weeks before his own death, our pastor consoled those who visited him, most still struggling to accept what he’d already surrendered. In his church we now stood, priests and people, saying our final goodbyes amid resounding Hail Mary’s. He loved Jesus’ mother deeply.

Absorbed in her grief, a woman in the pew next to us whimpered “they’re taking his flowers away.” Flower arrangements graced the steps of the altar on either side of his casket where two kneelers welcomed a steady stream of people saying their final goodbyes.  The funeral home staff had begun to move them in preparation for the opening procession. The flowers weren’t Fr. Kevin’s. They had been sent to comfort his family, to let them know how much he was loved. He was not here. Or was he? Perhaps his soul was. Who’s to say? We honored his beautiful soul that had occupied his body as he gave witness to the God he loved, always bowing his head at the name of Jesus during his pastoral work on earth.

An hour before Mass, the church had no open seats and crowds filled the overflow room where they’d watch the Mass via video. Priests had been assigned to bring them Holy Communion. Latecomers sat outside.

Dozens upon dozens of white-vested priests solemnly processed into St. Rita Church two-by-two, testifying to

the joy and service Fr. Kevin spread for thirty years throughout northwestern Florida. After a solemn bow before his casket and the altar, they faced us filling five rows behind the altar, ordained men like Father Kevin – dedicated to God, their bishop and the church they serve.

The words for a funeral Mass, especially for a priest, consoled our souls with images from sacred scripture and holy tradition. The names of revered saints touched our ears as incense drifted toward heaven with our prayers and our songs. We listened to the words of the new and eternal covenant Jesus made with fresh, grieving ears.

Midweek at midday, a holy man’s life drew us together. The collective sense of awe and appreciation of being touched by his holiness drew me into a new sense of our union in the Body of Christ: we all stood as His hands and feet, His mouth and mercy. God made each of us a valuable part of His Body.

So Many Priests …

The presence and impact of 67 priests standing behind the altar facing us, each a representative of Christ having surrendered his life and his will to God, made the celebration of this particular holy sacrifice of the Mass most inspiring.  His closest friends and brother concelebrated.

so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:5

A collective sense of being better for having known him pervaded all who were able to attend his funeral. It hangs like mist in the hollers to this day among his parishioners. May each of us live our lives in such a way as to have the same effect with the grace of God.

A Calm Comfort

When God calls a holy person home to Himself, the communion of saints becomes a closer reality, especially if you’ve known the person. At least it did for me. The veil between us is very

thin, some say. I certainly felt Fr. Kevin’s presence in the eight days we waited after his death to celebrate his Mass of Resurrection, and occasionally since his burial. I wasn’t the only one.

A new pastor has yet to be assigned. Like Jesus, Father Kevin is still keeping his eyes on his sheep. My soul feels calmly comforted.

Lord, help us use Your Light that we carry within us. Teach us how to use its power to dispel the darkness of this world. Show us someone walking the path near us right now who needs Your Light and Love.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Psalm 23:6

Father Kevin Johnson, Pastor of St. Rita Catholic Church in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida released his spirit to God on January 8, 2018. His last words were “Abba, Abba, Abba!”
About Chris Manion

The parable of the talents drives Chris Manion to keep sharing what God has offered her. If you heard her honky laugh, you might have a hard time believing a deep well of Christ’s peace resides within her. God’s joy is contagious and easy to join when Chris’ poetic side shows itself in her memoir God’s Patient Pursuit of My Soul, as well as when she speaks of how she learned to trust God. Visit her website for more info.

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