In Memory of Father Matt
April 20, 2011
I served as a deacon with Father Matt when he first came to St. Mary’s, and I watched him as we all did as his Parkinson’s progressed and he could no longer preside at mass.
By then I was going to him for confession, as many of us did. He said he could hear confessions even if he was shaking like a leaf, and that he loved hearing confessions, and I loved going to him, for his kindness and his compassion. I always got the sense with Fr. Matt that he accepted me for who I really was, despite my sinfulness. I think we all felt that. That’s why we kept coming to him. Through him, in a very direct and down to earth way, we experienced the mercy of God. And because so many of us came to him—so many different kinds of people, of different political persuasions and from different positions in the church—I think Matt was a sign of unity. In his person, he brought us all together.
He was also very intuitive as a confessor. He was an artist, and he thought in images, and he trusted his imagination. Once he told me that my penance was to write a poem. I don’t know why I think that, he said. It just came to me.
Another time he was talking about a painting he was doing and how a voice in his head kept telling him that the painting was stupid and that he was stupid. And suddenly Matt just turned around in his mind and said “get out of here.” Get out of here. That was Satan, he believed, that was the devil, because self-doubt like that is never from God. God loves us and cares for us and never wants us to despair about our fundamental worth.
Matt struggled with this, as we all do, as a priest and as a person. As his health continued to worsen he was sometimes depressed. He was sometimes embarrassed that he couldn’t do more as a priest. But what Matt was for me was an example of spiritual courage. The courage to believe that when we’re painting, we’re praying, even if no one ever sees the result. That every act of kindness and creativity is the work of God in the world, and that we’re all in this together, in every little moment of our lives. In every little moment the great battle is going on, between good and evil. But finally, it’s not much of a battle at all, because good is always stronger and humility is always stronger:
Though I thought I had toiled in vain [Isaiah says]
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
yet my reward is with the Lord,
my recompense is with God.
For now the Lord has spoken,
who formed me as his servant from the womb.
Now I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord.
That’s what Matt showed us. That the Lord is always with us, whoever we are. Whether we can stand up or not. Whether we’re shaking like a leaf or steady as a rock. The Lord is always with us, and we are loved, we are seen, we are known.