Preface: Sitting in my class last week, learning about older folks and the adjustments they face, I remembered someone. We learned about strokes and the devastating effects they bring on both the sufferers and their loves ones. How a doctor told a wife that she would have to mourn the person that her husband was, because he would never come back.
It reminded me of Father Daniel. Daniel was a professor of mine freshman and sophomore year. We traded many verbal barbs, all good natured, between him, me, Father Jerome, and Patrick.
The best exchange occurred after graduation at the end of my sophomore year. I went over to say hello to Daniel and Jerome. Jerome muttered something to another student. I said, "What?"
Jerome said, "I was telling her about the class I'm teaching in the fall. You should take it."
Jerome. "Because it's the best class you'll ever take at St. Anselm."
I replied, "But I already took Celtic Literature with Father Daniel."
Jerome was speechless. He stared at me, open-mouthed, then walked away. I had never outclassed him in wit before (nor have I since). Daniel was roaring.
As some of you know, I once contemplated religions life (a contemplation far, far from my mind now ). Daniel was an integral part of that search. When we returned near the end of the summer, beginning my junior year, some news came to us.
Daniel had had a stroke. He was 49.
We never got him back. Sure, he's still alive, still a nice guy. But he's lost his wit. He's lost his spark of life. Nevermind the physical abilities he's lost. He's lost the part of his spirit that made him Daniel.
A few of us wrote some stories about him. Here's the one I found on my hard drive:
This Monk We Call 'Father Daniel'
quote:"For as we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God's commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love."
--The Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue
Adverse to meeting new people is what others use to describe me. You can imagine my first meeting with Fr. Daniel--so boisterous, bouncy, forthright, always on the verbal offensive--all the attributes to make a shy person run and hide.
Problem is, you can't hide from Fr. Daniel. He won't let you. For an outgoing person, he knows how to act around shy folk. Oftentimes, he's even better around shy people that other shy people are. Fr. Daniel knows how shy people work. When he told me to meet with Fr. William, it seemed a lost cause. I'm shy. He's shy. I'm quiet. He's quiet.
"You'll have to call him," Fr. Daniel said.
I gave him the perplexed look that became commonplace when dealing with him. With Fr. Daniel, you don't guess the verbal punch till the very end.
"It'll be like this," he said. "You'll think that he'll call you, he'll think that you'll call him and there will be a lot of significant looks that pass between the two of you, but nothing will ever be said."
I promptly called Fr. William.
Sometimes Fr. Daniel's perception is uncanny and you can't argue with it. Behind those eyes of his is a mind and spirit to contend with--and he's an ever-ready combatant of wit.
He also knows things about you before you know. Then he does things quietly, until you figure out for yourself what he's known all along. He did that with me.
It started with that nagging feeling. If you've experienced it, then you know it well. All too well, would be my guess. This "nagging" is that errant thought, that errant thought that--
"Maybe I'd like to enter the religious life."
Then the rest of your mind rebels and thumps that thought soundly in the head. You forget about it.
But it always comes back. Finally, that thought races its way out of the recesses of your spirit and mind and presents itself to someone you're talking to, all to the horror of your rational mind.
"I can't believe I said that," you say.
Yet you can't take it back. And that's what happened to me. It leapt out of me and told Sue. At which point she said, "We'll have to find you a spiritual director."
I'll tell you this--it's a good thing that thought escaped because I'm sure the rest of my thoughts would have beaten it senseless.
So Sue asked the opinion of the rest of the campus ministry staff at the next staff meeting. Only, when you're talking to three other highly perceptive people, they're going to figure things out. She said, "I have this student that's interested in looking into the religious life..." I should have known when she told me what she'd said, that right then and there Fr. Daniel knew.
But I went on, oblivious.
So when with help I organized a trip to a convent for a women's retreat, Fr. Daniel was right there offering to drive us both ways. He took us. On the way there, we passed by a used bookstore. Like every time Fr. Daniel passes by a bookstore, he wanted to stop. He feels the call of the books, of the written word, of stories well told.
For our sake, though, he ignored it and continued down to Petersham. We passed through Athel. The town's name, of course, led to many plays on words. (Say the name aloud and you'll understand why. It's irresistible.)
"I can't stand Athels," Fr. Daniel said.
Those of us stuck in the van with him groaned.
"You think I'm an Athel?"
"Such an Athel." "Knock it off, Father."
He didn't--it was too much fun.
We got to Petersham and found it quiet. The first place we went to was the new church. He took us right in, showed us around, discussed the architecture, the clerestory windows, the carvings of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica on the doors, the simple beauty of its brightness.
Later we found out it was condemned. A typical Fr. Daniel moment. Who else would take a group of students, college age kids who are thinking about the religious life (when vocations are so few) into a condemned church, putting them in physical danger and possibly making the few vocations fewer, just to look at it? Fr. Daniel would. He didn't know it was condemned until after he'd shown it to us. He loved the church and was enthusiastic about it--and he wanted to share that enthusiasm with us.
At the close of the weekend he returned to pick us up. Of course, on the way home we pass through Athel again, bringing on another round of bad puns. So far, Fr. Daniel had resisted the temptation--both on the way back to St. Anselm the first time and back to pick us up the second time--to stop at the bookstore. Now, on the way back the second time, as we drive through the bookstore town, someone decided she really needed to use the facilities.
"Oh, I know of just the place," Fr. Daniel said.
Of course he did. And that's how we ended up at the bookstore in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it town. As the rest of use looked at different sections of books, Fr. Daniel pored through each section, his taste in the written words tending towards eclecticism. I found myself reading a book on the quirks of the English language. Fr. Daniel came up, took the book from my hands as I read, looked at it, read a bit, gave the book back to me at the same page, and said, "I'll get that too. You can read it on the way back."
But who can read with Fr. Daniel jabbering away in the driver's seat? So he continued his conversation with us, talking about nuns he knew, doing impressions of Sr. Gertrude, telling stories. He talked about a book called In this House of Brede--a book about a woman who enters a convent called Brede Abbey, a fictional convent based on Stanbrook Abbey in England.
I don't recall showing any outward interest in the book. The following week, without having said a word to Fr. Daniel, found a copy of the book in my mailbox, with a note attached that read:
"I thought you might like to read this"--Fr. Dan'l.
I still have that note.
I did give the book back, eventually. I realized then that he knew. So I went to see him in his office, just before mass.
I knocked on the doorframe.
"Come in," he said.
I went in.
"You here for confession?" he asked.
I'm sure I made my face. "No, you want me to be?"
He grinned, the Daniel grin we all know well, the one where you can see the mischief sparking in his eyes. "No, no. Have a seat."
We sat. He rested his head in his hands and said, "What's up?"
"Father, you know what's up," I said.
And he did.
Fr. Daniel seems to know things--he has this uncanny ability to see things in people that they can't see in themselves. In his own subtle way, he slowly brings it to light, and most times, to fruition. He knows how to deal with shy people, how to get them to feel safe enough to talk instead of sending them scared back into their shell.
He brings out the best in people, whether it's by making faces at the them and scaring them after Vespers or being willing to sit down and listen. For we can see in him and his actions the love of the God he serves extended to us in his humor and wit, his compassion and perception. All of this within this monk we called Father Daniel.
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You know, that story hit very close to home. My mom had a friend like that. She wasn't considering the ministry (heavens be glad) but she became very good friends with a priest who then died of cancer. He was so young and such a spark and this Daniel reminds me very much of him.