Heart on Sleeve
It’s starting to look its age – a little yellowed. I don’t worry about that. The fact that it shows the passage of time is actually a big part of its beauty. And a big part of its value for me is that it wasn’t made for me. It was made for my older brother, Tom.
Tom lived and love large. Always with a ready smile and a bear hug he drew people in. He was someone that you immediately wanted to know better. He was the definition of an extrovert. As someone who is the definition of an introvert, I was always in awe of his ease with people.
When Tom began his formation for the permanent diaconate he and I had a number of long talks on the phone because I lived in northeast Wisconsin and Tom and his family lived in the little town of Murphysboro in the very southern tip of Illinois. Our parish didn’t have a deacon at the time and I really had no idea of what a deacon even was. Although he made it sound intriguing, in my mind if a deacon was like my brother Tom, then it wasn’t anything I would be good at.
For Tom’s ordination, his wife Patti made him several vestments including a special dalmatic. What made it special was that it was decorated with the handprint of everyone in the family. Each of us dipped our hand in paint and then pressed our handprint onto the vestment. The dalmatic was a powerful symbol of the love, prayers and support of family for Tom’s ministry. As new in-laws were added through marriages and new babies were born into the family, Patti always found a way to get their handprint on the dalmatic. My handprint is there, along with my wife Michelle. Our four children were also added. They are some of the little handprints, even though now they are all very grown with families of their own.
God called Tom home in his perfect timing, but way too soon for us. No doubt God knew the timing and that is why Tom was ordained at 35. It gifted him with 13 years of active ministry. Based on the number of people that filled and then spilled out the main doors and onto the front lawn of St. Andrew’s church at his funeral, Tom’s ministry had touched hundreds of lives. It was both wonderful and strange to hear their stories because to me, Tom was my brother, not someone who helped bring the love of God to others.
I vividly recall standing in the cemetery with my three surviving brothers by Tom’s casket – all sharing our favorite Tom stories. Patti came up to us and asked, “Which one of you is going to take Tom’s place as a deacon?” I do believe that, not only did no one step forward, we even took a step or two backward. “I don’t know about these guys, but I know it isn’t going to be me.” I stated with so much certainty, and so little insight.
And yet, in 2009 I laid prone with four other men on the sanctuary floor of St Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay, feeling overwhelmed and at the same time also feeling the love, prayers and support of family and the whole Church as I listened to the chanting of the Litany of the Saints. He wasn’t included officially so that everyone could hear, but I was certain that my brother was there.
After the ordination Mass, Patti, who had driven up from Illinois with two of their daughters presented me with several of Tom’s vestments, including the family handprints dalmatic. It grows more precious over time as there are handprints from family members now deceased. My dad’s handprint is there. My two sisters and their husbands are there. Their love is alive and tangible every time I wear it.
14 years later I know in my heart that I did not replace my brother Tom as a deacon. No one could do that, least of all me. But I am confident in my own calling, and that God continues to find ways to use me that I would never have imagined. God and Tom I am sure are taking joy in that. Me, I am grateful.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21
His Peace <><