Last evening, my father, died a good and peaceful death. Dad had been suffering from severe respiratory distress and other complications due to the acute myelogenous leukemia that was slowly but firmly diminishing his physical strength. He courageously made the decision to stop medical care and begin palliative care at the hospice center located at the Mayflower in Winter Park, Florida. We moved him into hospice just last Wednesday.
In spite of the aching sadness of reaching the finality of his death, the days I spent with him last week were among the greatest gifts a son could receive from his father. I have always believed that it is the dying who are the true bearers of wisdom to the living and Dad certainly met that conviction over this past year and in his final days. Rob and I were able to have wonderful conversations about the journey of faith with Dad as he continued to open up for us the power of John’s Gospel quoting by memory numerous passages and explaining the significance of the words “eternal life.” I’ve written about an earlier conversation I had with Dad about John’s Gospel here. He has given me much to think about (and more than likely, preach about) in the days and months to come.
The other night, as Rob and I were praying the office of Compline with Dad, he paused at the Song of Simeon,
“Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised; for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior whom you have prepared for all the world to see.”
He told us that this Benedictine office hymn from Luke’s Gospel, was meant to help the monks (and now the faithful) keep death always before them (memento mori ) and to give thanks for the wholeness God has granted them to know in their own lives by placing their trust in Jesus Christ. In this hymn, Simeon reflects over the course of his human journey, and in his meeting with the child Jesus, he knows he has encountered everything that matters. As he holds Jesus in his arms, Simeon is ready to die–ready to leave this human journey in promised peace. Clearly, Dad found eloquence in that hymn as he anticipated his own departing.
In Jesus Christ, we have encountered all that matters. That is not something I believe. It is what I know. I know it because the transforming life and vision of Jesus were visible in my Dad’s life–through his joys and in his sorrows, through his gifts and in his disappointments, through the thousands of lives he touched in the course of his priestly ministry, and in his gentle care and compassion for his wife and two sons. My father gave me so much in this life but the greatest treasure is surely the gift of his enduring faith.
The office of Compline now takes on fresh relevance and comfort for me. I will forever hear the echo of Dad’s voice the last time we prayed these words together:
“The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end.”
Dad, God answered your prayer. I will love you always.