It is now 11 years since I returned to Rome and 4 years since I wrote this article. But it applies ever so much on this wonderful Feast Day, my “coming home” to Catholic Christianity. Read and enjoy.
TO THE READER: Tomorrow, April 8, 2016, marks the one year anniversary of my father’s death. Many of you read my personal tribute, linked in the first paragraph, to his influence on me in my life, but not as many may have seen the backstory of the actual dying process he and our family, journeyed through with him during those last months. It is in no way morbid–sad to be sure, missing him daily still of course–but a very real joy exists in having seen a long life well-spent. Here it is once again, and Donald Leroy Evans, please continue to look upon us left behind and pray for us, as we know you will. And a well-deserved rest in peace. We each love you much.
Just over 2 months ago, my father, Donald Leroy Evans, journeyed into eternity. I wrote elsewhere recently about my own experience with him, bridging chasms we once had, due in large part to my SSA (same sex attraction) struggles and the closeness we later shared in the last number of years since my return to the Catholic Church.
This piece however is about another aspect of my dad and his last few months on this earth. We each pray for a “happy death,” not meaning pain free or with no struggles, but with the Lord Jesus Christ as the absolute center of that holy time which we all one day will face. St Joseph had such a death, and passed on with both Jesus and Mary at his side. That, in essence, is what a “happy death” consists of—no more, no less. This is the story of another beautiful entrance into the next world, and one I was extremely privileged to play some small part in.
My dad had beaten the odds a number of times over the years, having had a quadruple bypass while in his 60s and not long after his retirement. He had quit a heavy smoking habit around 20 years earlier, and, had he not done so, the doctors were convinced he would never have lived long enough to have such a procedure otherwise.
Not long after, my mother was diagnosed with lymphoma, leaving us due to that insidious cancer at age 69, just months short of their 50th wedding anniversary. My dad, while not the most domesticated of creatures, took care of her as best he could, and heroically keeping her at home as she had wished until the very end.
Two years later, he met a lovely woman by the name of Betty Yates. He took full advantage of this second chance for a happy retirement, and they were married in 1997 when he was 75! He had converted to Catholicism at age 18 when he married my mother, and Betty was a divorced Lutheran. It would have been very easy to just marry in her faith community, but he chose to go through a proper and careful process of annulment so that he could marry in the Church.
They spent the remainder of his earthly life together, and during that time he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, had two mild heart attacks, and only through much argument with the heart specialists was he able to have three stents put into his already damaged arteries, again saving his life for several more years. He also developed pneumonia a number of times, and kidney disease began to take its toll on him. Finally, on Thanksgiving night of 2014, the family was called and was told that he was in the hospital with what appeared to be end stage kidney disease. He was 92 by this time, and the option of dialysis did not make sense for his already battered body. He was placed into hospice, and moved into the care center of the assisted living/nursing home facility where he and Betty by then were living. She could still see him every day, and he could get the additional care and help that only hospice can provide. But we all knew that the end was near. Or so we thought at least.
I should add that he had one other love—the casino—and spent at least two-three days a week honing his blackjack skills and making friends, something he did easily all his life. Hospice was not going to stop him from this either. He managed, even while on O2, to get there three more times to see his card playing comrades and to return each time with more money than he had come with! Those skills literally paid off until the very end for this amazing man.
In reading the above, one might not have completely guessed that Christ and the Faith were really front and center for him. Not much could be further from the truth though. When he and Betty married, the both began attending each other’s churches; each Saturday evening worshipping at Catholic Mass together, while visiting her Lutheran service every Sunday. To this moment I am sure there are many from both communities who thought that they both were members of each other’s church, and their picture together graced both parish directories. While different on some key beliefs, they truly were one in spirit.
After I returned to the Church, my step-sister, a former co-worker of my dad’s who had introduced them, decided to become Catholic. My dad, at age 85, became her RCIA sponsor as she was received into the Church two years after I had come back. He obviously took his faith seriously, and it showed.
It was in the last four months of his life, with his kidneys working at just five percent, that he blossomed most though. He knew he was not long for this earth, and decided to have his memorial service (aka party!) while yet alive. We had food, festivity, laughter and tears, and it was on that day just before Christmas of 2014 that I saw for the first time how really ready he was. He loved this earth, and the people here. That was clear until the very day he died. But he had begun to detach as well, not from people but from other things that had once mattered so much to him. We took turns sharing meaningful moments together, and he cried freely and laughed just as much as we did. He was still dad, always cheerful and a bit mischievous, but that day it seemed he was also surrounded by angels, and his trodden face looked like one as well. God was clearly in that place and in charge.
He did better than expected for the next few months, scooting around and never missing a card game—or a Mass. Then, once again, pneumonia came, and he made the difficult choice for comfort care rather than antibiotics. It would now be only a matter of days, and once again the family gathered. Again, instead of gloom, it was a near party atmosphere at moments, and tears during others. He would sleep and awaken, and when he was ready to drift off he just said he was glad to know we were all there enjoying one another’s company. At moments he could not breathe well, and would momentarily panic, but medication and prayer brought him back each time. One time he was having trouble resting, and finally said to his wife “Betty get over here and talk to me so I can fall asleep.” We all roared including her, of course. She, like him, enjoyed life, laughter, and large doses of chatter.
The day before he died, he managed to phone every person who was not able to be there in person, and even made peace with one close family member who had some serious issues with him in the past. He had been trying for months to have her come and visit so that they could talk, but due to time and distance it was not to be. However, in a 3 minute conversation they were at harmony with each other, once for all. That was the kind of man he was. Earlier, not long after his diagnosis, he told me that he could now for the first time truthfully say he loved absolutely everyone. He was never a grudge holder, but, like all of us, had some people he was not as close to as others. Now he simply loved them and wanted them to know it.
Speaking again of detachment, he had always loved sports. A lot. When we were growing up, he would often pull the TV into the dining room during dinner and it was nearly impossible to talk at the table as a result. A couple of months before he died, I recall phoning him and Betty, who answered, told me that the game was on. I asked dad if he wanted me to call back later, and he said, “No, I can talk to you for a while.” A first for everything. The night before he passed away, a basketball tournament was on TV, and we offered to turn it on. He said to us, “No, I don’t want to know if MN wins or not.” What he was really saying, I think, was that it no longer mattered to him, and that his family who was gathering to see him off was all that did. For him, that was a very real and final detach from this earthly life.
One other thing he asked me for during this time was a blessing from Pope Francis. I had been able to obtain one from then-Pope Benedict XVI for his 90th birthday, and he was extremely proud to have that blessing displayed in his room. However, those generally take months to obtain through the Diocese, and I had no idea how I could ever honor his request this time. But I prayed, and I suddenly remembered that I had a seminarian friend from Facebook who was and is currently studying in Rome. I sent him a quick message, and he was able to get not one but two of his fellow seminarians to attend a public audience with the Pope for me. People who attend are told that the Pope willingly extends this blessing to any of their loved ones not present, so they each prayed for that blessing on his behalf and mine too. I then printed him an unofficial but real certificate, and he now had a blessing from Pope Francis as well, which I presented to him at his “farewell party” in December. Amazing how God works in little ways and big.
On the last day before he died, the room was filled with family and friends, and health care staff were coming in and out as well, hugging him, crying, telling him how they loved him, and we as a family were amazed at such an outpouring. His priest also came, and gave him the Anointing of the Sick as well as an Apostolic Pardon. By then he was drifting in and out some but still knew we were there, and shortly after that he fell asleep and, other than occasional moments did not wake up again, at least fully.
The next morning, the day of his home going, it was just me, 2 of my siblings, his sister and my stepmom who were there. We prayed for him together, and later both his priest and the Lutheran minister came and prayed with him as well. The care center had Rosary that day, so I attended and prayed for him with his own Rosary. One of the leaders suggested that they come and pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet over him, which they did. She began to cry when she saw Betty, my Lutheran stepmom, and told her that the rosary she was using was one Betty had given to her as a gift! Powerful indeed. True ecumenism.
Just over an hour later he was gone. But as he was passing, I laid on his arm an antique rosary from Lourdes. Mary was there and readying him. And during the last few hours, he continued to talk, on and off, but not to us, saying such things as “I love you” and “I am doing pretty good.” Whatever was happening during those moments we may never know in this life. But when he took that last breath it was simply done, no pain, and no other apparent discomfort. It was the quintessential happy death. As he kept telling people, “what a way to go.”
Why do I share all of this today? Perhaps I want you to know this great man, just a little. More so, because I want us all to be less afraid of what is coming. I know I am. Without canonizing him, I am yet fully convinced that he was taken directly into the arms of Jesus, Mary, and St Joseph. And my mom too. That to me is a comfort beyond words or tears. It is also a challenge to live better so that one day I too may have such a death and join a holy man, Don Evans. Please join us too.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN “CATHOLIC STAND,” June 13, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
I am ready to write again. You will likely read and notice a few differences though. For one thing I do not intend to cover up my weaknesses quite so much anymore. Do not get me wrong—God has done huge things in my life and I do not wish to in any way glorify my less-than-perfectness either. However, too often I have seen, and not just in others but in myself as well, the tendency to put my best foot forward and keep the other one hidden out of sight, so to speak.
I sin daily. Most if not all (actually all, whether intentionally, consciously or not) of you reading this do so as well. We also live in a day and age that is unprecedented in its ease to fall in various ways, in particular sexually. That particular discussion may make some of us uncomfortable—I know it does in my life. But I still fall in areas, and that is one of them. I have been celibate, in that I have not had nor have I sought person to person contact with another human, male or female, since 1999. That is nearly 17 years, and the last 10 as a Catholic Christian. So far so wonderful, right? Yes—and no.
Before you go congratulating me on such an accomplishment, I will openly say that my mind is at times a virtual cesspool. My computer too. Living alone with the WWW at my fingertips has some built in occasions of sin, and I cannot pretend I never have allowed myself to become trapped from time to time due to that combination. I have seen lately a multitude of articles by people who “used to” struggle in this area, and that is truly great and inspiring. I can take nothing away from that and am not attempting to do so. But what of those who have yet to overcome? Those who try all the techniques of prayer, fasting, daily Mass and rosary, and every other good idea on the lists of those who have “made it?” And still fall more than flat into the sewer after doing so?
And that is where I am at. Overcoming, and failing. Overcoming again, and then falling worse yet. Celibate but not chaste. Born again virgin but occasional internet whore. All of that can describe me and more. Not always but sometimes. In between such moments I do indeed seek God in the ways mentioned and have not given up hope. Not at all. But it can be deathly discouraging to be the one who does not quite seem to get over this area of what is a sometimes intense struggle. Reading of other’s victories can, at times, have the unwitting effect of tempting a person such as me to near despair. If I really wanted the victory, if I was truly consistent, if I honestly came to the “end of myself” (whatever or however that may look like) I would be able to write one of those victory articles too instead of one which sounds like I have given up on all that I hold sacred, which I nearly have at times, by the way. More than you the reader know. And not so long ago either.
But one thing keeps me going. What God has started within us, He does tend to finish. In fact He promises to do so. Every one of us are works in progress, even if that progress seemingly comes only in fits, starts, and restarts. And a lot of us fall into that category in one way or another, not necessarily in lustfulness but perhaps with gluttony, jealousy, or numerous other inner and outer wars. Traps exist for all of us, and for some they are lifelong struggles. Mine certainly has been longstanding to say the least.
Perhaps you are the person who watches the infomercial about the 300 LB woman who is now a sweet 120 and size 8. And, instead of being excited, you find yourself medicating your discouragement by going to the kitchen and getting some Ben and Jerry’s plus a spoon as you continue to watch the anorexic model on TV tell her tale. In my case perhaps it is a sense of utter loneliness that makes it easier to imagine being surrounded by beautiful and youthful folks who do not notice my many flaws. That is the power of pornography and cyber.
My point is this. Victory does not come in a one size fits all package. Some are delivered from certain of their sins instantly and never understand why that same deliverance does not occur with in the next person. Others fight a long battle but, once they are on the winning side for a few months or years, begin to lose compassion for those of us who keep messing up. And neither of those groups realize that very pride may lead them one day into something worse. I once knew of a young man who was instantly delivered from drug addiction, with no withdrawals of any kind. He fell in love with Jesus and his life was genuinely changed. I knew him personally and can attest to his sincerity. Yet, a few short years later he had an affair with a married woman from the church. The struggle within him was not gone but had only morphed into a new weakness. That story is scarily similar to many of us I think. The roots of our battles, the besetting ones at least, go deeply and at times lie dormant, waiting for the next way to become manifest. We do well to admit this to ourselves and others.
So yes, expect some honesty, some of it painful not just for you to read but me too, in what I pen going forward. When I posted on Face Book a few months ago that I had failed in chastity if not in person at least online, and that someone was possibly interested in quite literally exposing me due to what he rightly saw as my hypocrisy, I was overwhelmed with the response of probably friends, most Christian but even a few who were not, who gently supported me, as well as some who wrote me privately and admitted to their own struggles. Ironically a fellow Catholic writer was the only person who felt the need to tell me how deeply disappointed she was in me, and strangely that one response is the one I think about the most even still. The lesson I would gently say to that person if she is reading this is that most of us know our failures already, and do not need them to be thrust at us, especially if we have confessed them to God and the world already. Yes there are consequences as she deftly pointed out to me and I am willing to pay them as God sees fit. I took time totally away from writing precisely due to this situation during all of Lent and used much of that time to do some serious reflecting so that I could come back fresh and new after Resurrection Sunday. Instead I skipped Mass on Easter and did it all over again after a beautiful Holy Week. And my first thought after yet another such major failure was to never write again but to go into permanent hiding. Not so however. Not with the God of second chances who we love and serve.
Today I have been to confession and, yet again, I have been forgiven. And my penance this evening was to sit silently in the church sanctuary before the Blessed Sacrament and let God speak to me. That was it. Not 50 decades of anything. Just let God be God in me. In doing so, I came to believe that He does want me to write, and not just about this topic hopefully! But I have to do so with more humility and each time as a “wounded healer.” I do not have all of the answers yet, even for myself, and I will not guarantee to God or the reader that I will never slip into the abyss again either. But that was never my story anyway. Mine is one of Divine Mercy, and not only for the octave of Easter. God’s to me, and, very hopefully, mine to others who also are as flawed as I am. And that is many of us. Many of you.
So I am back. Humbled. Maybe even a bit humiliated. But real. And working on the underlying issues that make certain sins so attractive to me. God willing, perhaps I can help some of you do the same even while you help me too. Then perhaps the ugly sins I have committed can be somehow used for something good. And so can yours as well, if we just do not ever, ever give up. Blessed Easter.
It has been quite some time since I posted here. I want all readers to know I have not forgotten any of you, nor am I planning to do so.
Due to personal reasons I am going to take some time away from writing, but will leave this site up and running for any who wish to read or reference articles from the past several years. My plan, of course subject to God’s plan first and foremost, is to begin again during late spring or early summer of 2016.
I would ask for prayers from any who are reading this, and humbly thank you for doing so. I remain a committed Roman Catholic Christian. God bless.
I do not say the above to brag, not in the least, but rather because I believe it has an urgently important message…the story of my friend Andres is compelling and sad, and beautiful, all at once. If someone you know struggles with SSA (same-sex attraction) or perhaps you do, there is huge hope. His story is worth a read, and I consider it a privilege to know this young man, and to write about him. God bless. And please share!
This has not been the easiest Father’s Day for me, having lost my dad from this world just over 2 months ago, and having no earthly descendants to celebrate it with me. Not exactly anyway. But far from the worst either.
In the last couple months as I have been healing from the events of this winter and spring, I wrote two articles in tribute to my father. One was in regards to my relationship with him and in particular in connection to SSA (same-sex attraction) issues, and I was privileged to have this article first posted in Public Discourse, an outreach and arm of the esteemed Witherspoon Institute, and, just today, in ChurchPOP, a Catholic collection of many different articles, news items, quizzes and other just-for-fun stuff. Read it in either place (if you haven’t already that is), but be sure to in any case peruse them both. There are tons of other articles in both sites that I am confident you will enjoy and be blessed with, and in order to be sure you do not miss out I am placing both links just below, which also list other articles I have written for each site:
The second article dealt with the death experience itself, and, while that may sound morbid to some of you, and I will never say it was not tough stuff, it was also unexpectedly beautiful. The other site I write for is Catholic Stand, and they recently published that particular tribute, as well as linking it to the Big Pulpit. Both are the brainchildren of one Tito Edwards, who does most of his great work through the National Catholic Register, the nation’s oldest Catholic news publication, and now owned by EWTN. Again the link below will come from my author page, as I had a number of other items on that page, but the one on “happy death” was my latest, and certainly a lasting tribute to the good man who was my earthly father.
My dad and me in December, 2014
Lastly, a FB (Facebook) friend shared with me some of the most touching words possible last night when we were chatting online. I have not met this young man as of yet but hope to in the future. His name is Andres, and he lives in Mexico. Here is what he said to me:
“Happy father’s day for you, I love you lots my brother and your baby is very proud of you… Your papa is holding him on his arms and he is very happy seeing him smile, as I smile for you.”
The backstory on that comment is this–My former wife Shirley and myself had 4 miscarriages in the early 1980s. We have therefore four “30-something” children in heaven. Andres, whose first language is Spanish, wrote this when my dad initially passed away, in fact on that very day. It is both simple and powerful:
Andres–“Now you have mama and papa praying for you in heaven.”
Me–“Yes I do. Amazing.”
Andres–“And now your papa met your son :)”
I have not met my unborn children, although I briefly held the first one for a few moments, as the amniotic sac had not broken. But this young man recalled me speaking of them and wanted me to know that they now had grandparents in heaven. Pretty amazing for a young man I have never met.
Finally last year I became a godfather for the Catholic baptism of John Paul Xavier Millegan, the youngest son of my friends Brantly and Krista Millegan. ChurchPOP, mentioned above, is Brantly’s brainchild. So, as I heard it said recently on the radio by a man in a similar situation, I have 5 children, and one I can hold. I am definitely a dad. And a proud one too. Although he is definitely “bigger and badder” now, here is pretty much my favorite picture so far of the recent one year old:
My godson John Paul Xavier Millegan
So yes, I am a father too. The links and pics prove it I think. And a very proud one at that!!! Happy Father’s Day to all men out there, whether you have co-created any children or not. It’s your day so enjoy it.
On this Solemn Feast of Corpus Christi (the Body and Blood of Christ), may I just say this about the Holy Eucharist, particularly to my precious Protestant Christian family and friends on this FB page and blog? When I was first coming back to the Catholic Church, I went to an all night prayer vigil in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I stayed for around an hour in silence before the altar, adoring with the faithful who had gathered that night. I had not yet worked through any particular theology about the Real Presence, but I knew I felt something I had not once recalled ever feeling or sensing during my most evangelistically fervent moments, and there were many over the years.
I won’t try to explain it but I will just say it was the most powerful moment I had ever felt with God in my life. Ever. I was speechless but that was okay, because no words could suffice anyway. I only knew one thing and that only–that Jesus was present that night in a way I had never recognized before, and, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I saw and felt Him literally in the breaking of the Bread, or in this case the monstrance on the altar of that consecrated Host. I did not care if the bread-like Host was actually Jesus or if He was somehow just lurking, hidden behind or all around it. Nor did I attempt too hard to figure it out at that point. What I did know is that I was absolutely transfixed and being changed by Him. And that He was waiting for me there.
Later, going through RCIA, I worked through the Catholic understanding of the doctrine of Transubstantiation and dogma of the Real Presence, meaning that, after the words are spoken by the priest, “This is my Body” and “This Is my Blood,” the physical elements involved would become substantially the risen Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity. And, just as we are made up of chemicals, but yet are substantially humans in the image of God, no chemical change was needed for that to occur. That had always been my hang up. I knew that, even if taken to the finest laboratories in the world, the scientists who tested it would normally find flour, water, and fermented wine. But, just like us, and like Jesus in His earthly form, the soul, that which made Him who He was and is, and ours too, do not show in such tests. Nor do they need to.
In any case at that moment a decade ago I was content with the mystery that He was there, and powerfully so, somehow in a way I had been missing during my most charismatic moments over the last 35 years.
If you do not believe in this teaching, and I did not for a long time, here is my challenge for you today– go sit in front of a Monstrance or a Tabernacle (the box behind the altar which the remains of the Blessed Sacrament are kept) for an hour, and do it with an open heart. That is all. Whether it changes your theology or not, today or in the future, I believe you will know one thing at least–we as Catholic Christians are not “bread worshippers.” Worship the Christ in the bread, behind the bread, around the bread, whatever you must do, but worship Christ during that hour and focus on Him. I believe you will eventually find that it is simply somehow Jesus and you just may want more. And that is why we have the Feast of Corpus Christi. No other reason is needed or necessary.
If you want a fuller and more theologically astute explanation, and frankly I hope you do, please check out this fine link to the Catholic Encyclopedia article from New Advent. Do not just take my word or experience for it. Explore for yourself. You owe that much to the one who had given us His Body to eat and His blood to drink. (see John 6). It has never been “just a symbol.” Here is the link:
Blessed Corpus Christi to all!