Triumph of the Cross

by Fr. Jeff

I opened the Ordo in the sacristy this morning and smiled to see that today is the feast of the Triumph of the Cross.

And then he came to mind.

“One year already!” I said.

A little over a year ago, I was walking past the dining room table in the rectory when a yellow post it note grabbed my attention. “Fr. Jeff, a man is dying in room 316 in the hospital. It would be good for you to go. -Fr. M”

I had been a priest for barely 3 months. This would be my first encounter with someone who was preparing for death.

I jumped in my truck and drove to the hospital.

Clergy parking. “I’m sure glad the hospital keeps this spot for us,” I thought to myself.

I took the elevator to the third floor. Rounding the corner from the elevator, I was greeted with a closed door and the number 316.  I said a quick prayer and knocked.

“Come in.” A raspy voice greeted me.

Slowly opening the door, I saw him for the first time. He was sitting up in bed. His face was thin, his arms were weak, and his eyes looked tired. It was obvious–this man led one rough life and didn’t take care of himself.

“Father, thanks for coming. I just need to talk…”About half an hour later, he closed by saying, “Can I come see you sometime? There’s a lot I need to say and you seem like a man who will listen.”

Over the next week, he came to see me two more times. We talked about his life, his addictions, the trail of broken relationships and pain that he had left behind him, and his cancer.

I’ve heard it said that people know when the time is drawing near. He did. He called and setup a time for what would be our last meeting.

“Father, I’m here to ask you to talk at my funeral. There’s just one thing I want you to do: tell my family who I am.”

He broke down.

“Father, I’ve done a lot of things in life that I regret. I simply want to be forgiven and to tell my family and friends that I love them.”

I put on my purple stole: “Let’s start from the beginning.”

For an hour, we traced the steps of his life. With baited breath, he waited for those words:

I absolve you of your sin in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I remember that I was behind him as we walked down the hallway towards the door. He didn’t just walk down the hallway. He floated. “Father, I just feel so peaceful,” he said over and over.

A month went by, and I didn’t hear from him. Then my phone rang one day. It was the funeral home. “Fr. Jeff, we are making preparations for a Gerald Thibodeaux…” I walked over to the funeral home to visit with his family. As we talked about Gerald’s life, they all said that he had changed so much over the last three years. He attended Mass when his health allowed, and he loved going to Confession.

But that wasn’t enough: “Gerald spent the end of his life apologizing to every person he ever met,” they said. “He even apologized to his yard man for yelling at him one time years ago. Gerald knew that he had been forgiven by God. And he wanted to be forgiven by everyone else.”

That was the Gerald Thibodeaux I knew. He knew the things he had done and the pain that it caused. He had tried to love his family, but he fell many times. But through it all, it was the love of Christ that changed his life. He had been forgiven. He had been loved.

Before I hung up the phone with the funeral director, I asked when Gerald passed away: “early Wednesday morning.”

For 10 minutes I sat in silence at my desk. I shed a few tears and thought of Your goodness. Wednesday was September 14, the feast of the

Triumph of the Cross.