June 24, 2011

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Lessons of faith and love found in the midst of suffering

Sean GallagherI was 3 when my grandfather Victor Gallagher, had a stroke in 1973. Because of that, I have no memory of him before that life-changing event.

As I grew up, my parents, uncles and aunts, and my Gallagher cousins often told me that it was too bad that I didn’t remember him before he had his stroke.

Nonetheless, I never experienced any feelings of regret because Grandpa was simply Grandpa to me, and I loved being around him just as he was.

I would walk with him to get the mail at the end of the quarter-mile lane on his farm. I kept score for him as he pitched horseshoes. I loved to read the daily diary that he kept in which he recorded the simple life he and my Grandma shared together.

And then there was his beautiful smile that I can recall with great clarity. And his deep faith in God and his love for his Catholic faith—a faith and love that I believe is very much at the root of what I pray is my ever-deepening relationship with our Lord and the Church.

Yes, he had physical disabilities that kept him from driving and even buttoning his shirt. And his personality no longer had the zest and vitality that everyone told me he used to have. But none of that mattered to me. He was just Grandpa and I loved him—and still love him—dearly. Grandpa died in 1989 when I was 19.

The life he lived after his stroke came at a formative time in my life. Grandpa didn’t teach me lessons in any formal sense. But I’m still taking in the wisdom he passed on simply by the dignified and quietly joyful way that he lived his life before my eyes.

I reflected anew on Grandpa because of the recent example set by Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein. Born just a few months after my father, he suffered a minor stroke three months ago. And that is only the most recent in a series of serious health challenges that he has had in the past few years.

For the past three months, he had not ministered in public as he dedicated himself to rehabilitating from his stroke. But on June 4, he came to a Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis during which transitional Deacon Dustin Boehm was ordained a priest.

Archbishop Buechlein did not lead the congregation in prayer, but he did preach the homily. Deacon Boehm heard many sage pieces of advice from the archbishop.

Perhaps the most profound lesson that he learned that day, however, was simply in the effort that Archbishop Buechlein made to be present for the ordination Mass, and the love for the priesthood and the Church that fueled his determination.

In the years to come, now-Father Boehm will be called upon at a moment’s notice to minister to people who are suffering much like or more than the archbishop is at present.

After his ordination Mass, Father Boehm said that Archbishop Buechlein’s presence reminded him in a powerful and humbling way that “there’s no room for sitting around in the rectory when people are in need.”

Yet, we live in a culture in which the value of people is determined more and more by their usefulness. It has been deeply ingrained in the hearts and minds of millions of people that they lose their dignity if they are disabled or suffering and, as a result, can’t do what society says is valuable.

For a Christian, nothing could be further from the truth. All of us were created in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:26), and we will stay that way through death to life in eternity.

This belief should lead all believers to be all the more loving of and caring toward those who are suffering, and to do all that we morally can to relieve their pain. For in them, we can see the face of our Lord, who suffered for all of us. †

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