In an effort to elevate the discourse here, we have the story of a dying priest. He is a prime exemplar of “paying forward”, of how our lifetimes and how we approach the events therein define us.
After the doctor told him tumors filled his abdomen, Hemann took the pathology report to his car and read it. He knew advanced pancreatic cancer was a likely death sentence.
He didn’t ask God to cure his illness or ask, “Why me?” He didn’t rage or consider curling up and withdrawing into himself. He decided to continue his lifelong mission.
He approached what was likely the worst event he could have imagined in the same way he had other events in his life and how he counseled other to approach bad events in their own lives.
Hemann, 66, recounted that day on a late morning last December, as the chemotherapy chemicals flowed through a tube and into his body. The oncology clinic’s small room didn’t hold much but reminders — a calendar on the wall and a clock, precious time passing with steady phone beeps from calls every few minutes.
They were from people all over Iowa reaching out to him. Parishioners and past and current students at Iowa State University called him often. He was priest at the university church St. Thomas Aquinas for 16 years before transferring to St. Patrick three years ago. Students called him Rev Ev. It fit his nature. He often bridged the gap between a priest and faith-questioning students with a quick joke and goofy faces.
He sounds like the good old-fashioned priests we’ve read about in stories from years gone by. It is also almost certain that most of today’s priests see things in a similar light, despite how the anti-Church media might portray them.
“I always thought I would die in a plane crash or skiing into a tree,” Hemann said with his trademark giggle.
“I’m dying. But we’re all dying.
“I’ve had a very good life. And based on that experience I trust the next few months will be the same. It’s going to be a good experience rather than something terribly difficult or negative. Long ago I learned that if you focus on the negative that is what will be emphasized.”
This is a corollary to Dennis Prager’s assertion that we all have a moral duty to be happy.
Find some element of joy in everything. If you look hard enough, you will find it. Focus on the joyful elements and the less-joyful ones will fade and become less significant.
Well done, Fr. Hemann on a life well-lived.