We said farewell to Denny yesterday, a man from our parish whom I’ve known and admired for more than 25 years.
I will always treasure Denny for his spirit of hospitality. He and his wife Penny were some of the first people who learned to call us by name at St. Joe’s—a significant act in a parish community that (with its 10,000+ members) can be a bit overwhelming at times.
Eleven years ago, I was also blessed to be table-mates with Denny at our first Men’s ACTS retreat. Neither of us realized it then, but the 72 hours we spent together on that weekend were going to change our lives in important ways. They would set the stage for an extraordinary run of community-building, peppered with innumerable acts of service, witness and faith-sharing over the years.
Denny and I served on many retreat teams together—so many, that I’ve lost count of the precise number. We worked together on the ACTS Core Team for several years, as well. Ours was the inaugural run; our intrepid group took on the task of nurturing the retreat program at St. Joe’s with no precedent to follow. In many respects, we were building the program on the fly—and Denny’s wisdom, generosity and persistence contributed enormously to the solid ACTS foundation that would eventually take shape at St. Joe’s…and ultimately spread to parishes throughout the Archdiocese (and four other states besides.)
Knowing Denny as I did—both as a friend, and as a faithful, cheerful, available worker in the ACTS vineyard—it’s completely accurate to say that I saw Christ in him. I always marveled, too, to hear Denny talk about his own conversations with the Lord. (It was usually “shop talk” that he described: one wood-worker to another, as he set about making candle-stands, cabinets, table-sharing crosses or other finely crafted objects that help to make our worship spaces holy.)
Still, the “Christ” I knew in Denny wasn’t the whole story. I learned an aspect of that truth during his eulogy yesterday, when his six adult children shared memories of his great love for them and their children. I found myself wondering where he had come up with the time to be such a great Dad and loving grandfather.
So yes, I knew Denny well…and I have been blessed by all the many encounters during which he helped me see Christ, face-to-face in the past 25 years. And yet, I am moved to contemplate how much of Denny I did not know — or to put it another way, how much of the “Christ” in him that there is still left for me to explore.
Christ is just that big, it seems.
I suspect Denny himself knows this reality in a whole new way today — now that he’s getting some serious, unfiltered facetime with the Lord.
Having passed to new life, Denny now sees Jesus in a more comprehensive way than ever before — perhaps like the Christ that St. Paul describes in the passage from Colossians we heard at Mass today:
He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created; things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions, or rulers or powers.
All things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together…
For in him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. And through him, God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
I am grateful for the glimpse of this great glory that Denny showed me through his life of loving witness. I am grateful for Denny’s parting lesson, too – that it is only a glimpse, what we experience here in this life.
In people like Denny, our cup — our experience of Christ — overflows. But even so, it’s just a taste of the extraordinary feast to come.