FRANK McGEE’S FUNERAL
MAY 26, 2005
by Robert Foliot, S.J.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” This means, “Congratulations to you of pure heart.” “Congratulations to you, Frank, no more blindness, no more fumbling around in search of where you might have left your magnifying lenses. You are now seeing God face to face. And God will get clearer and clearer.”
In John’s Gospel, Philip said to Nathaniel, “We have found the one whom Moses wrote about – he is Jesus of Nazareth.” Nathaniel said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said, “Come and see.” On seeing him coming Jesus said, “Here is an Israelite in whom there is no guile. There is nothing false in him.” Frank McGee could say nothing uncharitable. Frank McGee could not tell a lie. Frank McGee had to be exact, thorough and complete in his explanations. That is why a long distance phone call with Frank most often lasted at least an hour! That is why you, the people of Cape Croker, know that at Frank’s Mass there would not only be one homily, but probably two, three, or even four!
As a listener you might sometimes be annoyed by his detail. You might be angry at the Church he faithfully represented. You might be angry at its teachings, teachings he spoke with such honest conviction. But you could never be angry at Frank. He was too innocent, too pure – without guile.
Frank was cheerful, eager and full of zeal. When Pope John Paul II died, and the Conclave was looking for a successor, despite his blindness and his being riddled with cancer, Frank said as he had said before, “I am ready and willing.” Frank was ready and willing even to be Pope! He said, “I am ready and willing” in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s when St. Clair Monaghan asked him to teach Grade 11 and 12 religion, without a curriculum, to a class of disinterested and riotous students. He said, “I am ready and willing” to be a curate at Wikwemikong, and with delight he threw himself into trying to get to know how everyone was related to everyone else. In the 1990s he said, “I am ready and willing” to accept the challenge and isolation of serving you, the people of Cape Croker, when you were experiencing such terrible bewilderment, grief, pain, hurt and anger. He was quietly present to you, faithfully loving, no matter what the facts, and all this in spite of his own battle with two kinds of cancer. He said, “I am ready and willing to go to Saugeen on Sunday afternoons – over an hour and a half away – to say Mass even if only one person came. He said, “I am ready and willing” to be part of a clinical trial for cancer. “I know this will probably involve being isolated all by myself in a room in the Princess Margaret Hospital and involve much nausea and suffering. But if I can help future generations this way, I want to do it.” Finally, two weeks ago in the Ajax-Pickering Hospital he asked me, his superior, when he was feeling very, very weak, “Do I have to have a ‘resuscitation order’ and continue in the clinical trial?” “No, Frank,” I said, “You offered your body to the doctors so they could learn more about cancer. They don’t need this offer any more. Now I am giving you a new and more important mission – teach the Jesuits in the Infirmary how to die, how to prepare themselves to see God face to face.” “Okay” said Frank. “I want to go home.”
Doug McCarthy reminded me of how Frank only learned to drive a car in his late 40s. He needed to learn for purposes of ministry. He applied himself assiduously to Driver Training lessons. Then, the first time behind the wheel alone after he got his license, early in the morning on his way to say Mass at the Sacred Heart Convent, he hit a patch of ice in Assiniboine Park. He crashed the car into a tree, and damaged his knee and hip so badly, he was in the hospital for weeks. His twin brother, Jim, came to visit him during that time. Jim was seen walking in the corridors of St. Paul’s High School. On seeing Jim, one of the students came up to Doug McCarthy and said, “Sir, we always thought Father McGee was a holy man, but now that we have seen his “Resurrection” we know he is holy.”
To get to holiness, Frank had to journey. He had to journey from scruples to compassion and eager service. How was he able to make that amazing journey? First of all, he learned how to receive love. Frank’s scruples were loved away by kindness. His scruples were loved away by the kindness of you, his family. Frank loved you, his family, very much. He got excited about the thought of going to Montreal, and would even leave his beloved ministry at Cape Croker on a weekend to see you. Frank’s scruples were loved away by the many little kindnesses of you, the people of Cape Croker. And Frank’s scruples were loved away by the great kindness of his second twin, a twin who in no way was identical to him, Brother Jim Deshaye.
Secondly, Frank was able to journey from scruples to compassion and eager service, because of his life of prayer. Frank prayed. He knew much of the breviary by heart. Just a very few hours before he died, Jack Burns was praying the Office with him. Frank at this time was in much discomfort and was very weak. But in the middle of the reading of the Office, he stopped Jack. He said, “What book is that?” “It is the Office,” said Jack. “It is not quite right,” said Frank. “It is the one from England,” responded Jack. “Get my breviary,” Frank said. He prayed the breviary so much, he pretty well had it memorized.
It is not enough for us to say as the High School student said, “I think Frank McGee was a holy man.” Frank’s life is a call to each one of us. His life, like the life of each person, is a sacrament for us. It tells us something about Jesus and about how to follow Jesus. Frank’s life is an invitation to us to ask ourselves this morning, “What in Frank’s life am I being called to imitate?”
Frank’s passing also leaves a vacancy, a vacuum, at Cape Croker. It now has no priest! This is not the first place from which the Jesuits have had to withdraw. There will be more such places in the future. “We are a small band of men.” But how do we be a Eucharistic Church without priests? Frank did his part to prepare for the future. He trained Ron Johnson to be a deacon, and he trained him well. For us to sit back and merely observe that our Church is becoming priestless is not enough. Until our Church can change its structures, what am I doing to address this situation? Am I really praying for vocations to the priesthood? Am I inviting young men to consider priesthood? It is a good life. Look at the great life of Frank McGee. Am I encouraging non-priests to do the “Jim Deshaye” thing? Jim’s help made Frank so much more effective as a priest. If I am a lay person, Frank’s life is calling me to support, assist and use creatively the priests we do have. And if I am a priest, I need to let go of control and accept the laity as a rich resource. There is a well of talent ready to assist. Think of all those whose life call took them out of the priesthood and religious life. They are ready and willing, and trained to help in the mission.
Congratulations, Frank. You can now see God face to face. And to your delight, all your questions are now being answered in great detail. From your place in heaven, with your eagerness and zeal, pray for those you love. Pray for the people of Cape Croker; pray for your family; pray for the Jesuits. Pray that each of us might set our hearts on the things of God.
Grant to us a pure
heart, O Lord. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the
Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world
without end. Amen.
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