Recently, with the many pressures of fatherhood, I have come to the awareness and appreciation of how extremely fortunate I have been to have so many superior role models of Catholic fathers in my life.
There was a very great man, Tom, that I had a good amount of exposure to in my youth because was he heavily involved in the local parish's CYO group and friends with my parents.
What made this man so special was that in 1971 he was shot five times while on duty as a policeman, with one bullet hitting him directly in, and passing through, his neck. It is hard to believe that someone can survive this, or not be a paraplegic. He, through the grace of God, survived this horrible event and began his extremely difficult and painful road back to recovery to try to lead as normal a life as possible. He had three small children, one just born, who needed him.
I remember in early grade school seeing Tom at my sporting events, on the sideline, spinning a football with his fingertips then catching it while standing still. Being so young I did not realize his difficulties, but did realize that it was strange that he was never able to turn his head without his shoulders moving in lockstep as well.
Many years later in 2003, one of the nicest surprises on my wedding day was to see Tom and his wife in a pew next to a side door in our church. He had deteriorated quiet a lot and it was no small task for his wife to assist him in moving from his parked car to the pew. I sat down in the pew in front of him and reached for his hand, giving him a soft handshake. I could not make out anything that he said to me, but gave him a smile and pat on the shoulder to show my appreciation he came. His wife apologized to me for not being able to make the reception because of her husband's condition, and he was not doing well.
This man had daily suffering in his life, suffering that would have turned many against God.
His faith was a core aspect to his life, and I have absolutely no doubt that his suffering was offered up daily to Christ.
Upon his passing, countless friends and family came to pay their respect to this great man. The priest presiding at his funeral Mass made the trip in from Pennsylvania. It was proper that this priest was to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass in Tom's memory, because this priest knew Tom well and witnessed his sacrifices over many, many years.
Tom would not have any other priest say his funeral because this priest was very close his heart. It was his oldest and only son, Thomas Jr. It is moving that his son offered the the same sacrifice that was at Calvary, to memorialize his father's personal sacrifice and his Calvary.
I can't help but believe that his many years of suffering and sacrifice yielded a blessing worthy of the challenges and pain he went through. A son who had the powers of consecration and to save souls. God never gives a cross without a Grace.