Sunday, August 21, 2016

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Earlier this week, I found out that a friend of mine is dying. I met Father Gregory Coiro in 2002. It was my first full year of teaching high school religion and he was returning home from a parish assignment to be the campus chaplain. I invited him to speak to my classes about his life as a priest, but instead he opened our eyes to a good news that is both wildly messy and intensely beautiful.

Greg's spirituality is delightfully complex. He has an earthy sense of humor and a gift for storytelling, which made him a perfect fit for an all-boys school. His annual talk on appropriate behavior at school dances was everything you might imagine it to be. No question was off-limits. And despite students' best efforts, nothing seemed to embarrass him. Yet when Congressman David Drier visited one year to talk to the senior class, Greg boycotted the assembly because he considered Drier's voting record to be insufficiently pro-life. Similarly, he recounted without apology his refusal to attend weddings that did not take place in the Catholic Church. He believed that a priest was always a representative of the Church, and he did not want his presence to convey a false sense of approval of things he knew to be contrary to Catholic teaching; that outcome would have been too scandalous.

Needless to say, Greg is too contradictory for some people. But I always saw a logic to the madness: he actually believes everything the Church teaches. He embraces "the discipline of the Lord" and the truth of "the narrow gate." But he also heeds our Parent's call to bring everyone, "all you nations … all you peoples," through that very same gate. With the use of clowning and crudeness, Greg teaches us that even when we feel damaged and dirty, God continues to move within us. Because if God is love, then our Parent will never leave our side. And Greg truly believes that God is love.

I have so many fond memories of my friend, but I will end with the end. I phoned Greg in the hospital after learning of his present condition. I asked him how he was doing, and with an amused tone in his voice he simply said, "Dying." He then went on to say that the hardest thing was knowing the pain his decision to stop dialysis was creating for those who loved him. Yes, the last are truly first in the eyes of grace. I am going to miss Greg terribly, but I also know that he is going home. Soon he will join the communion of saints, and their prayers on our behalf will get a lot more interesting. (I can almost hear God's chuckling already.) So farewell, dear friend … until we meet again.