I met Joe Merchant on 4 East of the Ames hospital some 15 years ago. 4 East is the oncology floor. Most people I met there were terminally ill and had a short life expectancy.
Joe walked into the room as I was saying “Commendation of the Dying” prayers with a far-too-young woman with cancer, her husband and teenage children. As my usual practice I stopped and told the doctor that I would return in a few minutes after he completed his visit with the patient.
Dr. Joe Merchant thanked me but told me to finish and asked if it was ok to stay. He stayed and joined with us in praying for his terminally ill patient. The next day he contacted me at the parish. “I’m curious about those prayers you were saying. They were new to me, but beautiful and comforting to both the patient and her family.”
I told Joe about the Church’s prayer book Pastoral Care of the Sick. He inquired, “Could I get one of those? I like to pray for my patients and those were such nice prayers.” I ordered a copy for Joe and gave it as a gift to him. Thus began a long relationship of mutual support in our shared ministry to the seriously sick and dying. Joe and Mary joined our parish and Mary received certification as a Spiritual Director through Creighton’s Spirituality program.
Saturday was the feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas. My former parish in Ames celebrated the day in grand style including a banquet and auction. I donated a calligraphy of NUNC DIMITTIS a prayer from the Gospel of Luke (2:29-ff). I have prayed it most nights before bed, but it has taken on new meaning as I face the immediacy of my own death. “Now Master, you may let your servant go in peace…for my eyes have seen your salvation which you prepared… light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel.”
Proceeds of the STA auction go entirely to assist the many service/mission/immersion experiences Saint Thomas provides for ISU students and resident parishioners. I was hoping this beautiful calligraphy might bring $200, maybe even $250 for a very worthwhile cause. When the bidding reached $2500 (yes, you read that right!) it was between two parties. One was Joe Merchant whose final bid was over $3000. He did not get the prayer! I teased him & Mary about how I gave them a free prayer book years ago and now my prayers were going for a much higher price!!
Some have inquired how my journey towards death has affected my prayer life. Initially very little. My prayer remained steadfast and focused primarily on thanksgiving and praise of God’s goodness to me and to all of us and intercession for the needs of others. As I enter the final leg of this journey I find it more difficult to pray (it is more difficult to do everything!). But remembering what Cardinal Joseph Bernadine, dying of pancreatic cancer, wrote about difficulty in praying during his final weeks, I consider myself in good company.
Many years ago as a young priest I realized there are dry periods in my prayer life. Times when neither prayers in books nor personal prayer was satisfying. At that time in my life I began to compose my own prayers. They rose from the events of my personal life and frequently used the structures of the psalms or other scripture for expression. They became my personal prayer book. When I have found it difficult to pray, sometimes my prayer book helped me express myself. I have found myself using it more and more these past several weeks.
I invite you to consider writing your prayer book. Perhaps like me you might find the motivation to do so in the dry times of your normal prayer life. To encourage you I humbly offer two prayers I wrote.
The first was on the 25th anniversary of ordination. I used the 6th & 8th chapter of Mark’s gospel as a starting point.
But Lord, I have only 2 small loaves of bread!
How do you expect me to feed all the people of STA?
Lord Jesus. You have sent many hungry people into my life.
Now you have ordained, sending me, with 2 small loaves to a people whose hunger is insatiable.
I am afraid. I am not sure I know my own hunger.
How can I begin to identify their many hungers?
I deeply care, desire to do a good job, to fulfill your calling.
But I am easily distracted and can quickly become preoccupied with my hungers.
Thus, busy gulping down my own loaf I fail to feed others.
O Divine Wisdom, it has taken me 25 years, but now I know.
If you can get me to share my 2 small loaves, then parishioners,
some with more, some with less bread than I, will share what they have.
And we will have found enough to feed us all….
and some left over to give to those who are without.
You call me to lead by example and by invitation.
I have been given some….more than I need for this day.
But do I trust enough to share, or do I horde for tomorrow, not knowing what daybreak will bring?
Jesus, pour out your Spirit of trust and of generosity that filled with the compassion you have given me, I might feed the 5,000.
(and may I always include the women & children !)
Thank you Lord, for what you have revealed to a mere infant.
Nourished on the Bread of Life, may I become strong, filled with wisdom.
May the favor of God rest upon me.
May God, who has begun the good work in me, bring it to completion.
May 21, 1996
On retreat 10 years ago, I reflected on Psalm 139 and wrote the following.
Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord.
Praise & exalt the almighty now and forever.
All creation, bless the Lord.
Sun and moon, bless the Lord.
Stars of the night, bless the Lord.
All astronomers, bless the Lord.
Every storm and shower, bless the Lord.
Snow and rain, bless the Lord.
Hurricanes and tornadoes, bless the Lord.
All meteorologists, bless the Lord.
Corn and oats, bless the Lord.
Beans and wheat, bless the Lord.
Alfalfa and clover, bless the Lord.
All farmers, bless the Lord.
All created things, bless the Lord.
Things made by human hands, bless the Lord.
Toys and tools, bless the Lord.
All designers, bless the Lord.
Cars, trains and planes, bless the Lord.
Go-carts, bikes and unicycles, bless the Lord.
Boats, subs and ships, bless the Lord.
All mechanics, bless the Lord.
Computers and laptops, bless the Lord.
Labs, research parks and virtual reality caves, bless the Lord.
I pads, kindles and GPS, bless the Lord.
All engineers, bless the Lord.
Homes and offices, bless the Lord.
Plants and showrooms, bless the Lord.
Churches and centers, bless the Lord.
All you architects, bless the Lord.
Laity, men & women of gentle heart, bless the Lord.
Priests of the Lord, bless the Lord.
All you peoples, great and small, bless the Lord.
Praise and exalt God above all forever.
Let us bless the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Praise and exalt God above all forever.
Blessed is the one from whom all good things come.
Praiseworthy and glorious and exalted above all forever.
P.S. Kevin Nennig has added some pictures to the PowerPoint on this site if you want to check it out. “Celebration of LIfe Jan2012”