Friends, those of you who have seen my recent Facebook postings know that Robert and I attended the funeral of Jim Fitzpatrick this past week. Jim, a priest in the diocese of Winona, served actively in that capacity for 10 years after his ordination in the early ‘60’s and ‘70’s.
He left active ministry, or as his wife, of 45 years, Karen, said at the funeral luncheon, “he was shown the door!” after he went to the then bishop, Loras Watters to report his knowledge of priests sexually abusing children and the bishop refused to do anything about it except to persecute the prophet.
Throughout the next 45 years of their life together, (she was a Rochester Franciscan Sister for a time) Jim and Karen kept up the advocacy for those downtrodden, in the footsteps of our brother, Jesus. Someone said at the memorial Mass, to get one of them, was to get them both, and they advocated together for the rest of their married life.
Jim and Karen were very supportive of women being ordained and Robert and I shared friendship with them as a result since the time of my first seeking to be ordained, as both were fixtures at many women’s ordinations that I attended.
But my personal relationship with Jim Fitzpatrick goes back to my freshman year at Cotter High School in Winona when Fr. Fitzpatrick taught our freshman class, Old Testament. I loved him for his “fire”—the way he grabbed onto life and attempted to fire-up his students as well. One of my classmates joined my reminiscing on Facebook quoting Jim’s frequent comment to us in class, “Come on, catch fire!” when we were less than enthused in class.
Jim also had a great sense of humor and love for life. He always had a free question on our exams, “What should be done with minor seminaries?” The answer was: “Bomb them!”—which in itself should tell you a good bit about the character of this man!
The homilist at Jim’s funeral liturgy, Sr. Catherine Bertrand, School Sister of Notre Dame, also a former high school student of his, shared why the gospel for the Mass was that of the Transfiguration of Jesus. You will recall that after Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John; Peter, always the impulsive one, wanted to set up tents to house Moses and Elijah, present there with Jesus. Sister Catherine, thinking that Jim wanted to have her say something about “transfiguration” in our lives, asked him in one of their meetings as they prepared for his funeral, why he chose this gospel and was told, because it is the only place in Scripture where it says, “It is good for us to be here.” This again tells us a great deal about Jim.
Jim began all his prayers with, “Good and Generous God, Sr. Catherine shared. She said that the Delta Airline logo was one that described Jim very well—“The ones who truly change the world are the ones who can’t wait to get out into it!”
Someone who would pace back and forth in class, urging his students to “catch fire,” was one who truly believed and acted upon the idea that, “it is good for us to be here,” and to do all that we can to make our world better, for ourselves, but for all, because when all are included, have a share, life truly is better for us as well.
The readings for today’s liturgy call us to that constant theme of the Sundays in [Extra] Ordinary Time, a not “ordinary” time at all, that is, to be our best selves. Malachi, David in Psalm 98, Paul and Jesus call us to justice in our lives—for ourselves and for others—that is truly being our best selves!
I spent the greater part of this homily sharing about a friend and mentor, Jim Fitzpatrick, because he, in so many ways depicted in his adult life attributes that reflect the life of Jesus—what, in fact, today’s readings, call us to. And as with so much of Jesus’ message to us in his earthly life; I believe that we can all agree—it’s all about love, that’s it, plain and simple—LOVE!
But in effect, we realize that it isn’t simple, but very profound to make, “love” be the beginning and end of all that we are about in our lives. And if, at the end of our time here, we can be “ convicted” of having walked faithfully, while maybe not perfectly, as I believe Jim Fitzpatrick did, in Jesus’ footsteps, that would be great for us and for everyone.
Sr. Catherine capitalized on this point as she concluded her remarks about Jim Fitzpatrick and his affect and effect on his world quoting the words of Teilhard de Chardin: “Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. Then, for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered, fire.”
My friends, I am grateful for this good man, Jim Fitzpatrick who showed me and so many others what love is truly all about—“catching fire,” getting out into the world” and being anxious to do that, sharing Jesus’ best gift—love! Amen? Amen!