Today I concelebrated the funeral Mass of Father Redemptus of the Cross, of the Order of Discalced Carmelite Friars. He died on November 13, just shy of his 93rd birthday, and today his body was laid to rest on the grounds of Holy Hill, the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians.
I last saw Father Redemptus on Friday evening, November 5 when I celebrated the opening Mass for the monthly All Night Vigil of Reparation and Prayer. Father Redemptus was one of the founders of this vigil which has been going on in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for 45 years. This coming Friday and Saturday will be the 543rd vigil since its beginning and it will be held at St. Florian's, the Carmelite parish in West Milwaukee where Father Redemptus served for 27 years.
As the Clerical Moderator of the All Night Vigil, Father Redemptus was the spiritual heart of a little community of the faithful that has formed. Whenever I celebrated Mass or spoke at one of the vigils, I made a point of seeing Father Redemptus. I always felt that in the presence of this gentle and affirming priest I was in the presence of holiness. His smile and words radiated the joy and love of the Good Shepherd. Father Redemptus was there at every vigil, celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation with the many people who lined up to confess their sins and receive absolution from this man of God. Then he would concelebrate Mass, in recent times from a wheelchair and earlier this month, hooked up to oxygen.
The funeral was a fitting tribute to God's grace and the wonders it can do in the lives of all who surrender completely to it. Father Jude Peters, the Prior of the Carmelite community, spoke before the final commendation and he ended with these words: "And now it begins." What begins? The new life of Father Redemptus, for on the back cover of the funeral program, next to a drawing that St. John of the Cross sketched of Jesus looking down from the cross, were words of St. Therese: "I am not dying; I am entering into Life!" But I think something else is beginning as well. I can't help thinking that Father Redemptus, connected to us in an even deeper way now that he has passed from this life, will begin interceding for all those who were so dear to him in this life. He had always interceded for them, but now, having entered into eternal life, he can intercede for them in more powerful ways. Good-bye Father Redemptus. Thank you for being so supportive of me and the Apostleship of Prayer. I look forward, with the help of God's grace and your own intercession, to seeing you again.