No, Virginia, We Can’t Make It Without Santa Clause, or Alone.

There has been a push lately to use work at home videos, electronic mirrors, and virtual coaching to get fit. There are apps designed to help you change eating habits and reduce caloric intake. There are gadgets that you attach to your back that sends signals to your smart phone to improve posture. For every problem, issue, vice, or habit, there is some way to sit at home, alone, and try to improve. The issue is that they all fail.

As my Coach at the CrossFit gym said in a recent post, we are inherently social creatures. Even self-described introverts need to be around others periodically! If you simply look at our human history, community matters, and it matters a lot, even when we think it doesn’t. At first, it was to simply to survive as ‘hunter-gatherers’ – but now it is built into our very DNA as a human being. It connects us with something greater, it demands we have time where we are face-to-face with others.

This is why church still thrives, even if a little neglected right now. It is why we still run on the broken and admittedly time-wasting system of committee meetings! It is also why groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight Watchers still make it, despite the latest technology. It is also why, despite the greatest minds trying to find a solution to ‘church at home’, we will always be needed, too. We are social at our heart, we need community, and whether you recognize it or not, you need Saint Miriam.

Every week, people like you and me, gather in this sacred place. We do simple things like say hello, share stories, learn of others’ loves and losts, triumphs and failures, challenges, hopes, and sadness; we hug and cry, and laugh, too! We break bread, sing a little, best we can, and sip wine, and then regale a story now some 2,011 years old, as we listen, learn, engage, and grow. We remember, reminisce, and we love. This is what a community does and gives and how it breathes. Every heartbeat present brings new life and hope, despite the ills of the world. Yes, Virginia, we need the stories of the Santa Clauses of the world, and we need one another, and we certainly need Saint Miriam, or our life would be incomplete, frail, and lacking, and surely, we would die alone.

Yesterday, I helped Ed Hoelker say goodbye to the world; at least the world as he and I knew it. Ed, our most senior at age 96, and certainly one of the most beloved of parishioners. I helped Ed say goodbye to his wife of 68 years, Jinny, just a few years ago in January of 2015. And I have been his pastor, his confessor, and his confidant ever since. Ed loved Jesus and he loved Saint Miriam and he knew the power of community. Despite his advancing age, he traveled to Mass weekly, hardly ever missing his Sunday obligation. Truth be known, Ed often attended Mass at several churches during the week for daily Mass. He once told me it was out of boredom, but I knew better; so did Ed. Ed loved God and trusted God more than even I, as a priest. Ed gave me faith and strength when I needed it and when I was ready to give up. Ed never left our campus without saying goodbye to me and reminding me that he loved me. “I am leaving, Father! Thank you for all you do! I love you, Father!” Those were his parting words every single time.

Ed never forget to have Mass intentions said, never once missed a week of giving to his parish to support us financially, loved engaging the subject of Purgatory with Father Bryan, engaged every fundraiser and tried to attend every event. Ed also volunteered in the office, helped map the cemetery, and proudly would declare that he was the ‘oldest acolyte in the world!’! (I am not sure that was the case, but I know it was close enough to give him that warranted title!)

Ed loved God so much that he waited for me to arrive before letting go at Einstein Hospital yesterday. He held my hand, tried to speak, mumbled his acknowledgment that he knew it was me, and squeezed my hand tightly. I leaned into his ear and I told him clearly that it was time, it was safe, he was good to go. I controlled my deep tears and began to recite the parting prayers a priest does at the bedside of someone dying. I began with the Our Father followed by three Hail Marys in a row. It was toward the end of the second Hail Mary, somewhere about ‘Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.’  Where I felt Ed’s hand let go of mine, as he slipped into God’s embrace. His chest stopped moving and I knew – I knew without any doubt – that Ed was home, in a new community, and one that was waiting and that would embrace him eagerly because he had prepared for it all his life.

Ed loved me. I loved Ed. Ed loved the church, Ed loved Saint Miriam, and Ed loved God. So do I. There is nothing more important. There can’t be, if we want to truly live. Ed gave generously and completely because he knew that nothing here in this life was ever going to last beyond that last breath. How about you?

So, this week, we will gather and say so long to our beloved Ed. But we still have our own work to do, until our time comes. May we live as well and as long as Ed Hoelker. But more than any length of days, may our lives be one of giving, community, love, and hope.

In the end, it is all we really have…



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