“Grief can bring on death, and heartache can sap one’s strength. When a person is carried away…sorrow is over.”
The Book of Sirach contains a lot of wisdom but these lines above on death seem too callous to me.
It’s true, if we let grief consume us it can interrupt the lives we’re still blessed to live. But the funeral isn’t the end of the grieving process.
In many ways that process never ends, it just changes.
And sometimes part of that process involves a grandson’s story about his grandfather.
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Our last episode was a long one, with Fr. Cirilo Nacorda, or Fr. Loi as people call him.
His incredible story about being held hostage by Jihadist militants, facing martyrdom, organizing defense forces, and now ministering in a hospital was brimming with things to think about and discuss.
The story behind that episode touches on something incredibly personal for me, and sparked this mini-episode.
I often stumble upon interesting characters and stories in my work as a journalist and curious guy.
But finding and telling Fr. Loi’s story is in another category.
He is a chaplain at an Ohio hospital, and celebrated Mass during one of the stays of my Grandfather at that hospital, the Cleveland Clinic.
My Grandfather had dealt with heart issues for years, kept alive by talented doctors and a pacemaker working overtime, so hospital visits were not unusual.
But he said to me during a visit one day, “Tony, my boy, you should talk to this priest from the Philippines…he told me an amazing story.”
If I’m honest, I didn’t believe it.
My skeptic alarm bells went off—a hospital chaplain, terrorists, martyrdom…no way. As you know from the last episode, it was all true, and I found Fr. Loi.
But my finding him came only after my Grandfather died at age 82.
He had survived his wife, and his son–my own father–despite a heart condition that left him many times expecting death.
I cared for my Grandfather deeply, and still do, and the sorrow wasn’t over when he was carried away, as Sirach said.
Before he died, I interviewed him for my children and other family, to talk about his life, and something incredibly important to him: his faith.
Faith As A Factor
“God has created you, and me, and them, with a purpose in mind, that He says in the Scripture through the mouth of St. Paul: we can count on this to be worthy of complete acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to forgive sinners. That’s us. That’s all of us, everybody who’s ever lived, except the Virgin Mary, who was kept from sin by God’s grace,” he says. “God loves you with a vibrancy, with a dedication, with a commitment that will never end. And he wants you and all of us to respond to Him with that same love, to the best of our ability.”
My Grandfather was a tall man who walked straight and powerfully. He always wore a big wooden cross around his neck.
He delivered talks to groups in the Catholic Diocese, and spoke in schools on occasion.
Even though we lived on the West Coast, and he in Ohio, he taught me chess, and ordered a subscription to a Catholic magazine for me as a teenager.
He was by far one of the strongest Catholic influences in my life, and a resource to talk about many of the things this podcast is about, and topics these stories involve.
Take for instance a story in Mark chapter 5:
“There’s one great verse in Scripture, where the man says to Jesus, ‘my daughter is dying, I’m so frightened.’ And Jesus says fear is useless, what is required is trust.”
Yet, we still get afraid.
And we struggle to trust.
In Mark chapter 9 a father brings his son to Jesus, and the boy is struggling with possession of a spirit which has tried to kill him. The father says to Jesus, “if You can do anything, have compassion and help us.”
Jesus is incredulous…if you can, he says. “Everything is possible to one who has faith.”
“And the man says, and this is a very important quote, I’ve used it a lot, that I believe Lord, help me in my unbelief. Which is true, none of us believe as thoroughly or as completely as we should or can. We don’t love God with the same fervor that we should. Our love, all of us, is too—it’s superficial, easily distracted, constantly inadequate, but I love you Lord, please help me in my lack of love, or insufficiency of love.”
And in our faith, we believe He will do just that, despite ourselves, despite our failings.
Even if our grief and heartache have sapped our strength, as Sirach said, the Catholic faith teaches that God provides love and support and grace, that we desperately need.
My Grandfather was a special person to me, is a special person to me, and to many. I’m thankful to have had so much time with him.
And in finding Fr. Loi in the last episode, and sharing his story, and this one, it’s another connection to my Grandfather, and our faith.