This morning, I will celebrate the funeral of my Uncle, Michael Gnatek. He married my father's sister, Mary, who died seven years ago. Uncle Mike was a quiet man who had a keen mind and big heart. He was a very talented artist, and is one of the most renowned Civil War artists in the country. It was a tremendous joy to become closer to him in recent years, seeing him grow even more in the virtues, especially faith, hope, and love.
I've used his example before in a homily about the greatest witness to love in marriage I've ever seen. He served my Aunt Mary every day and night at her bedside for the last five years of her life. He truly lived out his marital promises of loving and honoring her "in sickness and in health...in good times and in bad". I let him know how much his example meant to me, showing me what love is all about.
He was very generous with his artistic talents. Two of his last prints will be on the funeral program: 1) a painting of Christ for his grandson, Timmy, and 2) the print he did for the holy card on the occasion of my ordination in May. Normally, when his paintings were so precise that they looked like photographs. But, he really struggled to do my holy card; it took him three days because he could barely lift his arm to paint. What a labor of love! That's one way to sum up Uncle Mike's life.
I visited him fairly regularly the past few years, whether he was in the hospital, nursing home, or his home. He really suffered tremendously, especially in the final days and hours. I noticed a real increase in his faith, however, in recent years. He a had a strong devotion to the Eucharist, and showed a great appreciation for prayers and blessings bestowed upon him. His suffering allowed him to grow closer to Christ, and thus grow in the virtues of faith, hope, and love. It was something beautiful to see!
When I anointed him the Saturday before he died, I said to him, "I'll see you soon". As I was saying it, I had a strong feeling that it meant I'll see him next in Heaven. We all knew he was dying, but wanted to give him every encouragement to fight for his life. It is so hard to say goodbye in this life. The finality of death can be very potent. But, I truly believe he is very much on his way to the Kingdom, if not there already. His love in suffering will be his ticket to Heaven. Please pray for his soul, and for his family members - his siblings, daughter Mary, and sons Michal and George. The Lord says "blessed are those who mourn; they will be comforted". My hope is that they will experience the comfort of Christ in their mourning in the coming days and weeks.