Wednesday, January 14, 2009

From Houston . . .

Last weekend I was in Seattle for the Emmaus Road Initiative session at Blessed Sacrament Parish, a Dominican parish near the University of Washington campus.

I stayed in the Dominican Priory next to the church, where six Dominican priests live. A day or so before I arrived, one of the priests, Fr. Tom Kraft, a man in his mid-50s who has been struggling with cancer for almost a year, was told that he had perhaps two weeks to live. At the time of my visit, however, Fr. Tom was not yet entirely bedridden, and to my surprise, he came down to join the small community for dinner my first night at the Priory. He was of course thin and pale, but except for that one would hardly have known that he was facing imminent death. During dinner, he was engaging and curious and showed real interest in the various topics that were being discussed at the table. It was clear that he had a keen sense of humor along with a deep faith. Needless to say, I was struck by his graciousness.

But it was only later that evening, when 20 or so young people whom Fr. Tom had influenced and befriended at the Newman Center at U. W. came to the priory to say vespers with Fr. Tom that I found myself deeply moved. He chatted with his young friends in the most personal way, asking many of them for details about what they were doing and so on. After a while, he took out his breviary and led them in vespers. Even though he was obviously in pain, which occasionally halted his speech, he prayed beautifully, as one who has grown familiar with Christ.

After prayers, he chatted a while longer before bidding each of his young visitors farewell for the last time. These parting embraces were filled with emotion for Fr. Tom and for his friends.

I am not a total stranger to death, and Fr. Tom's graciousness obviously reminded me of Liz's journey into death. Like Liz, Fr. Tom was fully aware of how few hours he had left and he filled those hours with remarkable faith and tenderness.

As the gathering was coming to a close, Fr. Tom said, almost offhandedly: "I'm not 100% ready." Then after a pause due either to physical pain or emotion, he said: "But I'm in the high 90s." He then said he figured that that was enough to get the job done.

Please keep Fr. Tom Kraft in your prayers. He is a living saint, and nothing that happens in the next couple of weeks will alter that.

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