Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Mark Pautler, for the Inland Register
(From the November 19, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)
Now the leaves are falling fast,
Nurse’s flowers will not last;
Nurses to the graves are gone,
And the prams go rolling on.
(W.H. Auden, “Autumn Song,” first stanza)
When I encountered this poem, and why I committed the first stanza to memory, I cannot recall. The verse comes to mind while I gaze at the trees stripped of their garments, and paving the ground beneath. But there are no mommies, daddies or nannies rolling along new-fashioned prams with pneumatic tires.
Last month, I wrote about the St. Francis Parish centennial. This month, I’m reflecting on another Walla Walla locale, Mountain View Cemetery. My occasional visits to Walla Walla include a stop at the cemetery. Here is where my people are. There is no need to call ahead. I’m not intruding. Walla Walla has not been my home since 1962. Now, the city seems more alive than it was in my childhood, but most of the people I have known are dead.
The first stop is the graves of dad (+1999), mother (+2010) and my brother, Phil (+2008). Visitation of the resting place of their earthly remains reminds me that they are not dead, but alive, fully alive. That’s the irony of visiting the cemetery. A moment of reflection at the grave opens my heart not to memory of the past, but conversation about the present. “Well, here I am again. One day closer to being with you. No need to tell you about my life; you know all about it. And one day, I will know about yours, even as I am known” (cf. 1 Cor 13, 12). Nearby are graves of distant relatives, including two cousins born after me and in eternity ahead of me. A short walk to the west are the graves of my grandparents, Vasinto and Catherine Paietta. I never knew my grandfather (+1946), but Grandma Catherine (+1985) was highly influential in my life and in many other lives. She still is. And then there’s the “clergy circle” with the graves of several priests who served in Walla Walla. Victor Breznikar (+1998) and Adrian Van der Heijden (+1990) rest side-by-side. At last they get along. The tombstone of the legendary John Callanan (+1953) stands tall. Next to him is Msgr. Hugo Pautler (+1988), his earthly remains buried and marked according to instructions: “I will be next to Father Callanan with a tombstone like his, only not as high.” His specifications were followed.
The only real estate I own is in the priests’ circle, a plot purchased for me by my parents. I plan to sell it. Are you interested? My earthly remains will rest in the midst of my brothers in ministry at Holy Cross in north Spokane. In my 41 years of ministry, 69 diocesan priests have died. The day will come when I will be with them, and another priest might remember mine as the first priest’s funeral in which he participated, as I recall the funeral of Norm Triesch (1978).
A custom in most parishes is the “book of remembrance” in which we inscribe the names of the faithful departed whom we remember and for whom we pray during November. I recall filling out a page of remembrance early in ministry. There weren’t many names on it. Now, the page is full. Mom, Dad and Phil are there; then grandparents, uncles and aunts – all but two are gone now. The last one was Aunt Mary, Dad’s youngest sister. That family had a sense of order. Dad was the third of six children. All lived into their 80s and 90s, and they died in their birth order. Now it’s the turn of siblings and cousins as we advance into our 60s and 70s. But parents do not always precede their children in death, and older siblings sometimes outlast the younger. Not everyone can stay in line with that sense of order.
“Eternal rest grant unto them all, Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.” As Karl Rahner, the preeminent theologian of the 20th century, pointed out, this is not only a prayer of the living for the dead; it is the prayer of those who are with God for us who still roll along the path to life eternal.
(Father Pautler is Judicial Vicar and Chancellor of the Spokane Diocese.)
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