Memorial Mass for Fr. Mike McCaffrey
[Ecclesiastes 3:1-12; Colossians 3:12-17; Matthew 5:1-12a]
This is the time of year that Fr. Mike would be practicing his golf. As many of you likely know, the grounds surrounding Villa Vianney, where Mike spent his retirement years, allow plenty of room for a golf shot. Archdiocesan offices are also on the site, so I grew quite accustomed to seeing him out on the property swinging away. I confess that the sight filled me with unholy envy, because his golf shots were always straight. He would usually grumble about them for some reason, but a straight shot certainly looked very good to me.
In more ways than one, Fr. Mike McCaffrey was a straight shooter. Seldom, if ever, was there any difficulty in understanding what Mike felt about things, as he sought to call things as he saw them. More was at play here than a character trait. As a priest of Jesus Christ, he gave his life to following the straightest shooter of them all. Jesus spoke truth, because he is the truth, and what he had to say always went straight to the heart of his listeners, usually in ways that left them shocked, bewildered, or angry.
An example is what Jesus taught in what we now call the Sermon on the Mount, which begins with the Beatitudes that we heard in the text from St Matthew’s Gospel. We’ve grown so accustomed to hearing these that we may have lost sight of their disturbing character. By them, Jesus is reversing entirely the human perception of happiness. To minds that tend to associate beatitude with proud self-reliance and personal accomplishment, Jesus is teaching that the truly happy are those who live from their complete dependence upon the love, mercy, and care of God. Jesus would go on in the sermon to contrast human with divine logic, and in this way teach his listeners to adopt a new way of thinking and acting, one that accords with God’s way of viewing the world. Fr. Mike was charged with carrying that worldview into all of his interactions with others in order to confront its opposite, which goes by the name of injustice. As a golfer he knew that a straight shot demands proper bodily alignment with the desired direction. As a priest, he knew that directing one’s life toward true happiness requires deliberate alignment with the Gospel, with every word spoken by Jesus Christ. Like a good coach, he showed by both word and example what that alignment looked like and how to achieve it.
Were Fr. Mike with us at this moment, I expect he would find himself in a bit of a quandary. This coming Monday evening the priests of the Archdiocese will begin their annual assembly in Jasper. Mike would almost always get there a day early to get in a first round at the JPL course, in preparation for the one planned for the Wednesday break. Come to think of it, there were times when he managed in some miraculous fashion to play other rounds at the same time as study sessions were taking place. He did love that course. However, the time in Jasper coincides with the playoffs. Certain of a win tonight and praying fervently for same, he would have been asking himself if he would go to Jasper for golf or get to Rogers Place to cheer on his beloved Oilers. I think we all know that, somehow, Mike would have managed to do both. It would not have been for him an either/or, but a both/and.
Here again we touch upon something at the heart not only of his personality but also the exercise of the priesthood. He met people in their “both/and” – their joy and sorrow, health and sickness, strength and weakness, serenity and anxiety, insight and bewilderment, willingness and resistance – all those opposites that mark each of our lives. Mike willingly entered into our complex realities, seeking to lead us to what St. Paul calls “the peace of Christ”, the inner tranquility and trust that arise from placing our lives, with all their competing opposites, in the hands of the Lord Jesus, whose own wondrous “both/and” – being at once divine and human – witnesses to us of the love of God, the sure ground of our hope.
This kept Fr. Mike rather busy. The author of Ecclesiastes teaches that, in the mysterious plan of God, there is a time for everything. Well, in what was by times Mike’s mysterious exercise of the priesthood, he made time for everything, because he made time for everyone. I don’t know how he did it, but I do know why, we all do: he loved people and people loved him. Whether on his own initiative or in response to invitations too numerous to count, he was present wherever people wanted or needed him to be.
At the time of Mike’s death, we all wanted to return the favour by being present with him for his funeral mass. COVID prevented that, and we gathered virtually. The determination to be together in person to pray for him remained strong, and our beloved Margie kept plans alive so we could do so. Now we find ourselves gathered as we had hoped and praying for them both, even as we believe they are praying for us. Their lives have changed, not ended, because Jesus, by his own death has conquered ours and by his resurrection has made possible life eternal in the Father’s heavenly kingdom.
So, as in this mass we remember with great fondness and deep gratitude both Fr. Mike and Margie, we pray that the promise of eternal life given them in Christ will be brought to fulfilment.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
May 14th, 2022