Posted November 17, 2010:
The Smoldering Wick

by Sandra Malkovsky, friend of MH Raleigh.

My father was baptized Catholic but was never instructed in the faith and never taken to church. In fact, he was strongly indoctrinated against the faith by his Communist father.

As a child, I often heard my father mocking religious beliefs, especially around Christmas. This was very painful to me for I was given the gift of faith at five years of age.

For various reasons, I grew to fear and dislike my father. By the time I was a teenager, there was open rage between us. By the time I was a young adult—well, things had only gotten worse.

I prayed for my father all my adult life—for his conversion and for me to be able to forgive him for years of hurt. God gave me the grace to finally realize that there was nothing to forgive. Whatever my father had done was done in ignorance.

My mother died in 1997; she had been my father’s entire life. My sister and I could not imagine how he would live without her.

He had always had a problem with alcohol, and after her death, he drank himself unconscious every day. One day, when I went to visit him, I found him is such a state that I put him in the hospital. It was hours before he could talk, and when he did, he told me he wanted to die.

Then he said, "I wish I had your faith. I was baptized a Catholic, you know."

I was stunned. I said, "You could have faith if you really want to."

"No," he said, "I can’t."

Should I have called a priest at that time? I don’t know, but I didn’t.

Somehow he managed on his own for five more years, but finally he had to be put in assisted living. Later, he was put in Our House, a home for dementia patients.

I don’t know why, but it was at that time that I decided to do something about his faint call for help in the hospital that day.

The words from Isaiah kept coming to me: the smoldering wick he will not quench (Is 42:3). Surely if there was ever a smoldering wick, it was my father. Was it possible at this late hour to return him to the arms of the Church?

I contacted Our House and asked if I could have a priest visit my father. I was told that a priest visited there twice a month. To my amazement, the priest turned out to be Fr. Mayo, with whom I had traveled in a pilgrimage to Lisieux in 1997.

I called him, and he remembered me. I briefly told him my father’s story. "What can be done?" I asked. "Can you visit him? Can you bless him? Can you give him conditional absolution? Could he be buried as a Catholic? Could he have a funeral Mass?"

On the other end of the phone, a warm, kind voice just kept saying, "yes, yes, yes," and finally, "yes to all the above."

I hung up the phone and sat on the floor crying in joyful disbelief.

I decided to drive to Vermont to visit my father, a long way from North Carolina where I live. I had never visited him in Our House.

He could no longer talk, and the first day I was there, he did not know me. The second day he did, and he was able to say my name to the staff.

That day, I was with him for three hours. When I was about to leave, I leaned over to kiss him. I looked at him, he lifted himself in the chair, and we kissed on the cheek.

"I love you, Daddy," I said. He nodded his head and looked right in my eyes. There were tears in his. I embraced him as he sank back into the chair, and then I left.

He was 86, and it was the first time I had ever told him I loved him. It was hard to leave, but there was nothing more to do or say.

As I started driving home, I knew I would never see my father again. I knew God had kept him alive these last years for this moment and that now he would die.

This visit was on April 10, 2005, and when I arrived home, I began making funeral arrangements.

When I told my father I loved him, I was not being insincere. I meant it.

I knew that in seeing him in his weak, pitiable physical condition, I was seeing a physical image of his weak, pitiable soul, which God had always seen. Now I saw it, too, and so, for the first time, I experienced love for him.

Had I been St. Thérèse, I would have seen this weakness and been moved to compassion decades ago. But I am not St. Thérèse, so it took me many years to see. But that is all right. I finally did have compassion, and I would never be the same.

He died peacefully in his sleep early on the morning of May 28th, on a Saturday, Mary’s day. The funeral, which was on May 31, the Feast of the Visitation, was quiet but lovely. Fr. Mayo is gifted with a beautiful voice, and he sang the Mass. He read Isaiah 42:32—the smoldering wick.

St. Thérèse taught us that if it is our basic human instinct to be moved to compassion for the weak, how much more is this true of God? God cannot resist the weak, the little, the pitiable. We are all weak, little, pitiable. We can expect everything from him.


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