He was a bigger than life …both in physical stature and in his gusto for life, family, friends and the diaconate.
We met 15 years ago as we began formation, we forged an easy relationship that spanned the formation years and the decade of our ordained life that followed. We shared our ups and downs in life and in ministry…but none so difficult as those spent in the moments of wondering about the future when he learned of his cancer.We met from time to time over the next few months and talked occasionally as he lived out his final days.
The last time we spoke by phone was late in the evening, five days before his passing; not so much words, but just knowing we were sharing time together.
He was truly, as they say in Hawaiian, "Keiki, O Ka Aina," a child of the land, a land and a people that he loved.Most importantly, he loved the creator of this land, his creator, and he loved the Church and its people…all of them!
He served at a little country parish in the former sugar cane community of Koloa on the Island of Kauai.He embraced this little community which includes many lifetime residents as well as tourists from the nearby Poipu Resort area.Everyone, malahini (new comers and visitors) and kama' aina (children of the land) alike are welcome at St. Raphael.
A few thousand came to pay their respects at the parish located in the middle of old fallow cane fields where St. Raphael has stood for nearly two centuries.A few thousand…and this is little Kauai where a few thousand are a very significant number.
The weather didn't dampen the day.A rare thunderstorm moved over the little church as Mass began.A loud clap of thunder rocked us as the Bishop elevated the Body of Christ.Then the rains came, in buckets.We were all soaked to the bone…processing fully vested as they carried his remains to the little cemetery alongside the old church.
So there we stood in the pouring rain a few short weeks ago as we committed his mortal remains to the earth in the 175 year old cemetery that he had reclaimed from the weeds or scrub brush.Tommy wanted nothing more than to rest among his ancestors and next to his infant grandson whose grave he had literally hewn out of the lava a year ago.With his feet pointing to the old church, Tommy now waits, like Lazarus, to be called forth from the tomb.As the rains continued to pour, one of my brother deacons said, with more truth than levity, "Well, at least they can't see us crying."
So there we stood as the Bishop offered the prayers of committal and Tommy's remains were lowered into the sacred ground. Finally, as flower petals were dropped into the grave…voices filled the air with the Salve Regina; …and we walked soaked, shivering and amazingly refreshed…back to the shelter of the church.
Our vestments were removed for later drying.My ordination dalmatic, for over a decade now, covered with permanent stains, stubborn stains from the hundreds of flower lei that were loving offered on my ordination day, stains that had defied numerous attempts of modern science to remove them, that same stained dalmatic, still heavy from the soaking, was folded for our flight home to Honolulu.
I took it immediately to the dry cleaner and vowed to try to have them try, once more, to lift those awful blotches.As I opened the folded vestment and began my plea the clerk at the dry cleaner one more time, I thought for a moment that I had grabbed the wrong dalmatic because as I gazed at this vestment, there were no stains.It was as white and unblemished as the driven snow.
The pouring rain, the clap of thunder, the stains washed away!Was this Tommy's way of saying farewell, of wishing us Aloha, Oe?
I can't say, but I do recall the words of St. John Paul II at the first anniversary of the attempt on his life and many times thereafter, "In the designs of providence, there are no mere coincidences!"
As we near Holy Week, I think of Lazarus coming forth from the tomb, the darkness on Calvary and the light of Easter.
Tommy shared in some of that suffering…and perhaps the Lord allowed him to share with all of us who hope to join him, some of that light!
Oh that my soul can be made as white as that formerly stained vestment; my life, much like that vestment, beautiful at the beginning, stained in its use and washed clean by something greater than what human hands can muster.And finally, that I might one day join Tommy and all the others in that eternal light!
Rest in Peace brother.Until we meet again.