Fr. Paul A. Messer, S.J. 16 January 1936-18 October 20
I have spent many hours in the Chapel at the Campion Center. It was here that my relationship with Saint Ignatius and the Jesuits was formed. Woven into this fabric is also my love and friendship with Jesus. Receiving the blessing to participate in the Spiritual Exercises has opened my eyes to many beautiful experiences, but nothing can compare to what I witnessed at Fr. Paul’s funeral mass.
Upon reading the road map of Paul’s history with the Jesuits, I could clearly see what Ignatius means when he refers to the Jesuit order as “Contemplitives In Actions”. Starting in 1954, as a Novitiate in Lenox Ma, Paul traveled to 5 States, spent some time in Europe and finally ended up at Boston College .
Paul’s funeral was a gift to me. Through my deeper love of God, his Liturgy Of Christian Burial allowed me to witness the compassion these men in the Society of Jesus have for one another. Up until yesterday, I was sure I made the right decision to follow Jesus as Ignatius has taught me. After the burial, I’m convinced God guided me to the right place.
I felt the presence of God at Campion yesterday on what began as a cloudy, humid and rainy day. During the reading of Hebrews, I was brought to the third week of the Spiritual Exercises. It is during this period that we reflect on the Passion of Christ and the suffering servant. It is through the suffering of Jesus that we begin to get closer to Him, we live in his humanity and share his pain. Paul suffered as well, and through this suffering God held him gently while he silently became a teacher to all of us. Through suffering, Paul’s relationship with God only became stronger.
It brought me joy to see Paul had chosen Psalm 139, one of the Psalms I tend to lean on when reassurance of God’s love is needed. “Search me , O God and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.”
The Gospel reading, Mark 10: 46-52 was also requested to be read by Fr. Paul at his funeral mass. This particular place in Mark’s Gospel comes after Jesus and his twelve were walking the road to Jerusalem and Jesus sufferings to come are foretold. In Ignatian Spirituality you are exposed to imaginative prayer while reading scripture. Ignatius asks the reader to place him or herself in the passage using all your senses. I was puzzled by Paul’s choice at first. It actually consumed my thoughts on the ride home, during night prayers and also during my morning reflection. I read Mark 10:46-56 again and again. Placing myself in this reading, I imagined Paul as Bartimaeus, the blind man in the passage. My imaginative pray went like this: Paul was sitting on a street curb in Dorchester. Paul was blind, but he could see. He could see the comfort of his family and surroundings, but he could not see the calling God was placing in front of him, hence his blindness. Through Paul’s developing faith, Paul finally heard the words from Jesus ” What do you want Me to do for you?” I envision it was at that moment Paul answered God’s calling with a clear vision and began to follow Jesus as the once blind man did. Was it while Paul read these passages in Mark that he could place himself in that passage with the blind man? I can see a bit more clearly now why Paul may have chosen Mark.
God was present with us on this gray, humid and cloudy day. While the gifts were being presented for the Liturgy Of The Eucharist, I gently nudged my wife Mary to make her aware of the rays of sun light that started to come through the stained glass windows. With laser precision, the rays landed on Paul’s casket only. They slowly faded moments later. Was this “The Lantern out of Doors” Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. refers to in his poem that Gary read at the end of mass?
The gift that Paul gave me in his death was a clear answer to some recent moments of spiritual desolation I have been working through lately. Paul’s death brought me home, back to Campion. The place I asked God for my sight, my sight to grasp His hand, a hand I will always hold.
Take a moment and listen to Brad Paisley’s song ” When I Get Where I’m Going”, it help takes away the fear of death. Although not ready, I look forward to ” riding a drop rain” while being surrounded by only happy tears.