Grace From a Dying Friend

[Two years ago today, my best friend died. I wrote this after having spent time with him several days before he died. I miss him every day.]

V, one of my closest and dearest friends, is dying. The cancer in his liver has become unmanageable and untreatable. Earlier this week, he was placed in home hospice care, and just this afternoon, he was transferred to a nearby hospice facility. He may not survive the weekend.

V is a convert to Catholicism, and we shared many lunches, phone conversations, and rounds of golf (many rounds) discussing the faith, how to better integrate it into the daily stuff of life: being good husbands and fathers; balancing faith and career; dealing with temptations; understanding suffering.

When the cancer was detected in 2013, he knew the road would be rough. His conversion (his wife was Catholic) occurred many years before then – it was because of his conversion that our friendship developed. I can’t recall how Catholicism came up in a conversation between us, but it was certainly God and His inscrutable way, forming the foundation of our friendship. Faith was the bond between us, and it’s prepared us both for this circumstance in V’s life. Two brothers of the Lord, helping each other along the way. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Prov 27:17)

In January of this year, after a consultation with his specialist, he confided in me that the treatments – which originally showed some promise – were no longer effective. The cancer had metastasized in his liver, and was spreading. Still he was hopeful, yet resigned to God’s will. We spoke again during Holy Week, as he prepared for a family vacation to Florida. He sounded tired, spent – as Tolkien wrote in The Fellowship of the Ring, “…stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread”. He described his condition to me – becoming gaunt in the face, and retaining fluid in his lower torso, legs, and feet. Still, he assured me, once they returned to Michigan, we would get together for lunch.

We got together, just not as we had hoped. The trip proved to be overtaxing, and V’s condition worsened. This past Tuesday, his wife L texted me that he was now in home hospice, and he wanted me to know. He wanted me to come. I said I’d come visit Wednesday afternoon.

As I drove to his house, I thought about the things we would talk about, the memories we would share, the anticipation of meeting Christ soon. He knew he was dying, I knew he was dying – there was no pretense of any false hope. This was a final visit between two best friends.

I arrived, unprepared. V was more than gaunt. He looked 94 rather than 54, his jaundiced skin stretched tightly across his cheek bones and jaw. His trembling hands were splotched with countless liver spots. His swollen fingers could barely manipulate the remote control of his powerlift recliner. Despite his thick bathrobe, Mountain Dew sweatpants, and woolen socks, I noticed his distended belly, bloated legs and feet. He hardly resembled the man I last saw in January.

So I said what any friend would say: “Geez, V, Florida was so not good to you.”

And he smiled – weakly and feebly, but it was that smile I had seen so many times over the years. He sheepishly said ‘sorry’, and we embraced.

Speaking took tremendous effort, and when he did, it was with a barely audible squeaking voice. He had so little strength – this man who could drive a golf ball 300 yards – he was incapable of speaking in full, coherent sentences. He faded in and out of awareness, almost narcoleptic.

L, his mother, and his sister bustled about the house, so he motioned that he wanted to sit on the patio and spend quiet time together. He shuffled there under his own power, managed the steps down to the patio, and we sat at the table. I unfurled the umbrella.

We didn’t say much. There wasn’t much that needed to be said. No pretenses.

He was fading out a bit, sitting in the afternoon sunshine. I reached over and grasped his hand, and his eyes slowly opened.

“V, in a way, I’m kinda envious.” He blinked a bit, cocked his head slightly. “You can see the finish line.”

He nodded a little, and said to me, in broken phrases and whispers: “There’s a fork in the path before me. I can choose either one, and I’m at peace with the one I’m on.”

I held his hand for some time, in the sun, on the patio, that Wednesday afternoon.

The previous evening, I was in my parish’s adoration chapel. I have a regularly scheduled Tuesday night adoration hour. Much of the time I meditated on death and The Four Last Things: that it isn’t of our choosing, that it is always before us. I read the following from Thomas a Kempis’ “My Imitation of Christ”, from Book 1, Chapter 3: “Blessed is he that always has the hour of death before his eyes and every day disposes himself to die…Be therefore always prepared, and live in such a manner that death may never find thee unprovided.”

Eventually V started to get chilled, so we went back inside, and he returned to his powerlift recliner. I told him I had to get back to work, so I reached down and we embraced. He trembled a bit, just for a fleeting moment. Whether it was out of grief for himself, or for me, I’m not sure. Maybe my hug was too intense. I kissed him on the top of his head, told him I loved him, and asked him to pray for me.  He said, of course.

I hugged L at the door, told her to call if she needed anything. I took one step outside, when she grabbed my sleeve. V had followed me to the door. The three of us hugged, one last time, in the open doorway. We waved good-bye, and by the time I had backed out of the drive, and drove past their home, the front door was closed.

There’s a great grace in a happy death, in dying well. There’s also a great grace in witnessing a happy death. Knowing that V is at peace is a blessing and comfort to me. His journey towards the throne of God fills me with peace I don’t deserve. May I be so fortunate to have as happy a death. He is prepared. He is not unprovided for. He knows he’s received a tremendous grace, despite the accompanying burden of his family’s grief, and his friends’ grief.

I’ve received grace from our friendship and his witness to death, and for now, it is enough.

Photo credit: mikecogh via / CC BY

Posted in Catholic, Death, Friendship | Leave a comment

What My Lawsuit Taught Me About Forgiving My Enemy

courtroom lawyer lawsuit catholic love your enemies

I got sued last year. The details aren’t important, except to say a manufacturer I represented terminated our contract in April. Both sides filed motions, and after two days of evidentiary hearings in business court, on a Friday afternoon in July, the judge upheld their motion while denying mine. His court order read, in part, that I was “enjoined from selling any person anywhere in the U.S any products [the client] sells (as indicated on its website) or otherwise compete with [the client]”, for approximately seven months, and both parties were ordered to go to arbitration to determine who breached the contract.

Naturally, I was beyond pissed off. I was angry at the judge, who had rewritten his ruling in chambers after the hearing had adjourned, making it more restrictive. I was angry at the client who, for all intents and purposes, had lied while under oath, impugning my reputation and character. The ruling had the potential to put me out of business (spoiler: it didn’t). My lawyer was confident we would prevail in arbitration (spoiler: we did. Actually, we settled prior to arbitration, so in the end, we won), but at that moment in time, on that Friday afternoon in July, I was hotter than a six-shooter in a Texas saloon. And not because it was July.

On the subsequent Sunday, I went to Mass, and hung around after hoping the priest would hear my confession. I waited after Mass while the priest spoke with the exiting parishioners. Once everyone had gone, I asked him if he had time to hear my confession. He said yes, and we entered the confessional.

After confessing my sins, I said, “Father, there’s one other thing. I’m really angry towards two men who have treated me unjustly,” and briefly recounted the hearing. “I know I have to forgive them, as Jesus told us, and pray for them. And I don’t want harm to come to them, or wish them ill. But right now, all I’m capable of is asking for the grace to get to the point where I can eventually forgive them. I’m asking for that grace.”

The priest nodded, and said, “Let me ask you a question. Do you want these two men, at the moments of their deaths, to be in Heaven or in Hell?”

It was a simple, unexpected question. I blinked. “Well, in Heaven, of course.”

“Then forgive them now, because you don’t know the day nor the hour.”

He said it with such compassion and conviction, that I was compelled to do it.

“I forgive them.”

The result was immediate. The burden of the court order, all the thoughts of what will I do next, lifted off my shoulders. I knew that God would provide, in His way and in His time. The dark clouds of anger dispersed as if a wind had raced through my heart and soul. Clean, pure air filled my lungs, and it was as if I was breathing for the first time in two days.

The priest gave me absolution and penance, and because I hadn’t received Holy Communion during Mass, he offered it to me afterward. I left the church a completely different man than when I had entered. Jesus Christ and his sacraments had performed a miracle that day. He had made possible in an instant what I thought would have taken much, much longer.

This is why Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to forgive those who have wronged us. He wants to perform miracles in us, through us, and for us. I’ve read and heard His words so many times, that I think I grew complacent – not just as to what those words mean, but as to how those words change us. Putting those words to action conforms us to Christ. Like so many things Jesus said, it’s easy to nod and say, oh, such wise and beautiful sayings!, and then go on our way. But they are the ideal to which all us Catholics must strive. Whether it’s the Beatitudes, or the works of mercy, or the entire Sermon on the Mount – Jesus’ words are meant to be lived. Forgiveness of our enemies – especially if we are unjustly wronged – takes grace, and we must be humble, and we must abandon the desire for vengeance. Forgiving our enemies allows us to love them, so that they might see Christ in us, and thus possibly be converted to Christ. We are changed so that they might be changed. If we live Christ’s words in everything we do, we become more conformed to him, and thus are free to become who we were created to be.

We see our Christian brethren in the Middle East being persecuted, or those in Asia or India suffering for their faith, and are inspired by their ability to forgive and love their enemies. Make no mistake, those people are being persecuted for their faith. Churches have been bombed, priests and nuns have been abducted, Christians are being killed. But just because our lives aren’t being threatened, it doesn’t mean we aren’t persecuted in some way. Just because we live in relative safety and peace, it doesn’t mean we don’t have enemies. Not all enemies are enemies of faith. But keeping enemies destroys our faith.

As time went on, I noticed other effects. With no anger consuming my time and energy, I was able to prepare for arbitration with clarity and purpose. I kept my business running with calmness and peace, open to new opportunities that saved my business. Uncertainty and fear didn’t weigh me down – there were still times when such thoughts crept in, because my client still wanted to drive me out of business. But I wasn’t overwhelmed. To sum it up in one phrase: forgiving my enemies allowed me to trust more deeply in God’s providence. God cannot dwell in an angry heart. The two cannot co-exist.

The lawsuit taught me many things, but the most important thing I learned was why we must forgive and love our enemies.

It’s said that holding a grudge is like drinking poison, and expecting your enemy to die. You’re the one who’s harmed, not the other guy. Forgiveness – loving those who persecute you – is like wounding yourself with a sword, and hoping your enemy will live. After all, isn’t that what Christ did for us upon the cross?

Photo credit: weiss_paarz_photos on / CC BY-SA

Posted in Gospel Living | 6 Comments

As Iron Sharpens Iron

We’re called to strengthen and comfort one another. Sometimes it looks like this:

Posted in Catholic, Humor | Leave a comment

Welcome to A Catholic Misfit

Misfits Rudolph Catholic

Welcome to A Catholic Misfit, and the Obligatory Introduction Post.

Hi. My name is Larry Denninger, and I am a Catholic writer. I’ve been one for the past ten years, writing at the world’s most famous blog no one’s ever heard of, Acts of the Apostasy. I published under a quasi-pseudonym, LarryD. The site was a fun blend of humor, satire, and commentary, wholly and committedly Catholic. AoftheA was where I could express my love for Jesus and the Catholic Church in my personal, (sometimes) snarky fashion, and defend/explain Church teaching. I pushed the occasional envelope, poked the odd hornet nest, and rattled a cage here and there during those ten years, netting more than a million page views. During that time, I’ve come to meet and know many other Catholic writers, enjoying their work while wishing I could write half as well as many of them. Some of them have become friends. A number of those writers have their sites and blogs hosted here at The Catholic Conspiracy (check them out – they’re fantastic).

But all good things must end. Gone are the lions and the puppets. It’s time to close that carnival, and roll out a new circus. AoftheA was LarryD’s. A Catholic Misfit is Larry Denninger’s. Is ACM going to be drastically different? Time will tell, I suppose. After all, I’m the same guy, just with a longer last name. One hopes that with age comes wisdom, so we’ll see. There’s a place online for satire and parody, and I truly hope you find it (The Onion and Babylon Bee are two fantastic places to visit, btw). The old site had run its course; its time had passed.

This doesn’t mean I’ve lost my sense of humor, or put it aside. It simply means I’ve discovered a greater sense of joy. Over the past few years, I’ve deepened my relationship with Jesus Christ – through His Catholic Church – which has inspired me to step into the light. Don’t expect Parish Reports and inside baseball, but trust me – ACM won’t be boring and stiff. Read the tag line on the header image if you doubt me.

So hi! Those of you who’ve been reading me for years at AoftheA – now you know me. Thanks for sticking around. You won’t be disappointed. Trust me – I’m sure the asshat in me will push an envelope often enough. Those of you new to the island – welcome! There’s plenty of room for all you misfits.

***If you arrived here via a redirect, please click the “About” page in the toolbar above. Thanks!***

Photo credit: anokarina on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

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