[This is a two-part reflection… the first half focuses on the living – the second concerns the dead.]
A great deal of the work of life goes on behind the scenes and is accomplished by people who are not often seen or always acknowledged for it. These behind-the-scene folks are so often extremely humble and hard-working. Please allow me to introduce you to two such people.
Yesterday was a difficult day for the I-Team at WKBW-Channel 7 as it marked the last day for Jeff “The Wizard” Wick. Jeff has been an integral part of the I-Team investigation into the Diocese of Buffalo as well as the other award-wining investigations they’ve conducted over the past several years. You may never have seen Jeff’s face since he’s always behind the camera – not in front of it, but you’ve certainly seen his work. The stellar graphic design and impeccable production value of the I-Team’s reports are all a credit to Jeff’s skillful talent. As a Catholic and former altar boy, Jeff shared Charlie’s commitment to the Diocesean investigation as well as the sorrow of covering such a dreadful story. Charlie and Jeff have something else in common: humility. Despite being enormously talented, Jeff never made a big deal about it. He and Charlie were always focused on getting the truth out and, in particular, sharing survivors’ stories. It was never about them – collectively or individually.
Although I didn’t work with Jeff as directly or frequently as I have with Charlie, I certainly came to appreciate his talents and his temperament. If you could define an adjective with a person, Jeff would be in the dictionary under “chill.” He remains calm and easy going no matter what time constraints or deadlines he may be facing. “Yeah, sure – yep, I can get that done” would be his relaxed response and then he’d work his magic and make it happen. I so enjoyed watching Jeff and Charlie work together. Theirs was a collaboration marked by congenial, harmonious camaraderie. Jeff was a true teammate to Charlie – keeping up with the Diocesan doings while also covering completely different stories for WKBW. It’s really a wonder that he was able to do it all and do it all so well.
When Jeff mic’d me up yesterday morning for my interview with Charlie, it was a bittersweet moment to know he’d be behind the camera for the last time. I was deeply grateful that I could do one last interview with the two of them, but it saddened me so much to think of Jeff making his departure. Ultimately, gratitude got the upper hand as I considered how fortunate we were to have Jeff on the I-Team especially for these last 18 months. His contributions were extremely significant and made a lasting impact on our diocese and community. It was a privilege and a pleasure to work with Jeff. I know that he will be successful in his next endeavor because talent, skill and humility are always a winning combination. Please join me in thanking Jeff for his amazing work and in wishing him well as he heads off to DC to work for Newsy!
I can’t talk about Charlie’s behind-the-scenes guy without highlighting his behind-the-scenes girl… his wonderful wife, Shannon. In fact, I’ve been waiting for just such an opportunity to express my gratitude and respect for her. During the course of Charlie’s work on the DOB story, Shannon has made truly innumerable sacrifices while her husband has been devoted to this difficult and time-consuming work. Especially last summer and fall, Charlie’s I-Team responsibilities resulted in a lot of late nights and weekend work. I remember thinking of Shannon so much during those tumultuous months. A year ago, I wrote this to her in an email: “It’s almost as if you’re a military wife whose husband is engaged in a very unusual battle that keeps him away for extended periods of time. Charlie has the greatest work ethic I’ve ever witnessed, which is awesome and so crucial for our cause, but a real sacrifice for you. Thank you for making that sacrifice for the greater good. You are one of my heroes!” I certainly feel exactly the same way a year later.
Thank you, Shannon, for sacrificing you and your family’s time with Charlie so that he could complete the investigations and reports that have had such a seismic effect on our diocese. Thank you for your crucial input on the stories especially #3 last fall! Thank you for being selfless when it would have been quite easy (and very understandable) for you to have a different reaction. Thank you for helping your three sweet children to understand why Daddy was working so much even though you couldn’t explain the substance of his work due to its dark nature. Thank you for enduring the frustrations, challenges and even harassment that have come your family’s way over the past 18 months. The Mom is like the flight attendant of the family – if she remains calm and composed, everyone takes comfort in knowing that it’s going to be okay. Thank you, Shannon, for keeping it all together through all of the turbulence of this past year. You are the definition of a behind-the-scenes hero and we all owe you more than we realize!
November is my least favorite month. It is increasingly chilly without much snow to show for it, which to my snow-loving mind is an unfortunate waste of cold air. Plus, the end of daylight saving time steals the light from us at the start of this month each year. However, on a spiritual level, the beginning of November may well be my very favorite time of the year. How can such a paradox exist? The answer lies, quite literally, in Purgatory.
For Catholics, we believe that life begins – not ends – at the time of our death. Yes, our temporal lives will come to an end, but our immortal souls will live forever in the eternal life to come. While we should strive to attain Heaven, we take comfort in the knowledge that God has mercifully prepared a place of purification for those who are not quite ready to enter into eternal union with Him. We call this place Purgatory because it is a place of purgation and purification. The souls who reside there are called holy because they are assured of heaven as soon as they are purified. Today’s reading from the Book of Wisdom speaks of them:
The souls of the just are in the hands of God… they seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead and their passing away was thought an affliction, but they are in peace. For if before men, indeed they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them… and took them to himself. In the time of their visitation, they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble. Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: because grace and mercy are with his holy ones.
These words are both challenging and comforting. Knowing how much I need to be “proved” and purified, this passage is a reminder to challenge and better myself. But I take comfort in the reminder that “grace and mercy are with his holy ones” and therefore they are with my loved ones who have gone before me… and will be with me someday.
Today, November 2nd, is All Souls’ Day – a day when Catholics commemorate the faithful departed and remember them in a special way in our prayers. This is one of my very favorite days of the whole year because I love a lot of dead people… and I love cemeteries.
During this first week of November, Catholics can gain a plenary indulgence for the souls in purgatory by devoutly visiting a cemetery and praying for the faithful departed. This is one of my most longstanding spiritual traditions and one I look forward to every year. Each day until November 8th, I visit a cemetery to pray for specific loved ones who have died and for all of the faithful departed. This tradition brings me immense comfort, hope and joy. It also gives me a chance to visit cemeteries, which is something I truly enjoy doing.
Glendalough Cemetery, County Wicklow, Ireland
Cemeteries were essentially the first public parks in America. Frederick Law Olmsted – the father of American landscape architecture – began his work in the mid 19th century. (His work here in Buffalo resulted in the first and oldest coordinated park system in the US.) Before his landmark work began, there really weren’t public parks or green spaces such as we know today. Hence cemeteries were frequently used as recreational spaces where the living gathered for picnics right alongside the dead. However, society lost that sense of cemetery familiarity a long time ago. Forest Lawn cemetery here in Buffalo is rightly lauded as a regional treasure, but it is one of the only cemeteries in the area where you see people walking or strolling around the grounds. If you tell someone you love cemeteries, they may give you a quizzical look in response. People often associate cemeteries with words like haunted, creepy or sad. For whatever reason, my cemetery word associations have always been along the lines of peaceful, beautiful and fascinating. I enjoy exploring different cemeteries throughout Western New York and try to visit one whenever I’m in a new area. You can learn a great deal from a cemetery in terms of history while also receiving gentle reminders of your own mortality. I love how Keith Eggener, author of Cemeteries, reflects on these sacred grounds:
Cemeteries are places that make us reflect upon not just the mortality of those who are buried there, but on our own mortality. These are not scary, creepy places, but moving, rich, provocative places, with powerful and positive meanings. I think fleeing from the reality of our own mortality, isolating [the dead] in bland memorial parks, is a kind of escapism. I think it is sort of unhealthy, a denial of death as it has been called. You don’t have to dwell upon death. You just have to recognize it.
The month of November is the ideal time to commemorate the dead – at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere. This month marks the definitive transition from the warmth of summer to the chill of winter while the leaves cease their descent and begin to decay. The days become shorter and the darkness of winter is nearly upon us. It is an opportune time to ponder the transition from life to death and to remember (and pray for) those we cannot see.
During my Holy Souls cemetery days, I will pray for your deceased loved ones.
“It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead.” (2 Maccabees 12:46)
“I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one shall take from you.” (John 16:22)
“It cannot be doubted that the prayers of the Church relieve the Holy Souls, and move God to treat them with more clemency than their sins deserve.” St. Augustine
Remember those, O Lord,
Who in your peace have died,
Yet may not gain love’s high reward
Till love is purified.
With you they faced death’s night
Sealed with your victory sign;
Soon may the splendor of your light
On them for ever shine!
Sweet is their pain, yet deep,
Till perfect love is born;
Their lone night-watch they gladly keep
Before your radiant morn!
For them we humbly pray:
Perfect them in your love!
O may we share eternal day
With them in heaven above!
~ James Quinn, SJ