Saturday, July 14, 2012

Homily: Fr. Tifft Entered into Your Heart.



"Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.
Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet
in testimony against them."

This past week we lost a good Shepherd.  The priest that has been in charge of forming priests in the Diocese of Cleveland for over the last 10 years died Monday July 9th 2012 after having received the prayerful support and consolation of the Sacraments. 

Thousands gathered at the seminary for his wake on Thursday and around 1,500 attended his funeral on Friday morning at St. Gabriel’s in Concord where he had helped on the weekends. 

After the funeral, his casket was lifted and carried down the aisle to thunderous applause, and when he was brought outside to where the hundreds of priests and deacons awaited, spontaneous applause broke out once more.  He was a remarkable priest, an outstanding rector, and a truly holy man. 

As the crowd began to disperse, Fr. David Bline asked me what I would miss the most about Fr. Tifft.   Many grateful moments flooded my mind. 

Fr. Tifft became rector of the seminary in July of 2001, which was the year that I entered.  He was the first “Authority Figure” in my life that I trusted implicitly, knew he had my best interest at heart, loved, felt safe with, admired, and respected.  He never had to command or force me to do anything.  I would do whatever he asked because there was a mutual respect and reverence there.  I was blessed to have him as a rector and I’m sorry for the guys that won’t have the opportunity to be formed by him. 

I’d miss his laugh, his humor, his warmth… His deep devotion to the life of prayer, his affirmation, I’ll miss his storytelling.  I have to admit that I never liked history… was probably one of my most hated subjects… “History is in the past.  Leave it there,” I used to think.  That is until I had Fr. Tifft for a teacher.  He brought History to life… it was like he knew the people, and was there when the events happened.  He told stories and he made it real.  I think what enabled him to do this was that he himself was very “real” and he, over his many years of priesthood, came to see and accept the “realness” of others… that we are all saints and sinners. 

I’ll miss him asking:  “Michael, how are you doing?”  And really wanting to know.  I’ll miss him doing this with my family as well.  He got to know my parents, and siblings, and nieces and nephew.  He knew them by name and took an interest in all. 

It’s amazing that he had the ability to do this with everyone that he met.   I wonder if he did this just so he could share more stories.  He could take the most simple of incidents and reveal the profoundness of what was said, or the great humor and absurdity of a situation. 

After his funeral, when I got back to my parish I made a Holy Hour in the church, alone.  In my left hand I held a picture of Fr. Tifft laying hands on my head in ordination, and in my right hand the Scriptures for this Sunday.  And it was this line that helped me realize what I would miss the most about him.

"Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.
Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet
in testimony against them."

Fr. Tifft had the ability to be truly present to whoever he was with.  It didn’t matter what the event was or what kind of stress he was under.  Simply by genuinely asking “How are you doing?” he would enter into your heart.  He would give you his full attention, care, concern.  He’d would ask questions and get you to laugh at yourself.  He had this innate ability to love the person in front of him unconditionally.  I noticed this especially with his storytelling. 

Fr. Tifft was able to enter hearts that welcomed him, but was also able to “leave and shake off the dust” when rejected.  This was his due to his gifts of wisdom and understanding.  He had to deal with many difficult people over the years, both in positions above and under him.  He had to correct, discipline, and even reject men from the seminary, and yet I don’t know of any person that he despised or that hated him.  If somebody did or said something mean or manipulative to him, he was able to see beyond it, and just laugh, shrug his shoulders and say: “Well that’s so and so.”  Difficult people and situations never prevented him from being present, unconditionally loving, and attentive. 

Have you been blessed to ever know someone like Fr. Tifft in your life?  Have you ever had that experience, of a person who gives you their full attention and unconditional love and acceptance? 

The bigger question is, “Do we give our attention fully to others?”  Think about it.  Do you really care when you ask people, “How are you doing?” 

When you “enter a house” do you “stay there until you leave?”  Is your attention with the people that God has placed right in front of you?  One of the difficulties with iPods and smartphones and tablets is that we are often not present to those right in front of us. 

Think about this morning.  How did you greet those you first met?  How did you treat your husband or wife or children.  Did you really encounter people as you came into Church today?  Are you attentive to your family members, coworkers, and friends?  Do people get your full attention when you are with them?  Are you truly present? 

Are you able to interact with people and take away what is good and true and holy?  Can you walk away from a difficult situation and “shake the dust from your feet” realizing that we are all “saints in the making?”  Can you choose to laugh at the absurdity of a situation rather than obsessing in anger or lashing out at others in frustration?

That is what I will miss the most about Fr. Tifft… his ability to be present to those that were in his midst and accept people and situations as they are.  I’ll miss his genuine care and concern.  I’ll miss his ability to love and accept myself and others unconditionally.  And miss his ability to “shake the dust from his feet” with a boisterous and hearty laugh.   

May God bless us all with the ability - to be present, to enter into each others homes with unconditional love, and, when we need to, in all humility “shake the dust from our feet,” realizing that over the long history of our church God has had the patience and ability to accept and work with all of us, Saints and Sinners alike.   

4 comments:

  1. Beautifully said. Thank you for being present in your ministry. He taught you well.

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    1. Agreed with Rick. Thank you for your honesty openness and emotion that you so willingly share. Thank yoi also for participating in His ministry. Lisa Logar Keaton

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  2. Agreed with Rick! Thank you for your openness honesty and emotion. May God continue to lead you and bless you in His ministry

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  3. You can truly feel the love this man generated for so many through your blog. Well written; and I am sure he would say the same about you if he had to have spoken first. Good people attract good people. Many people have memories like this of you, too , Fr. Michael. Be proud. You were taught well by good example. Deb

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