The words of Peter in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles are evocative… “You know what has happened…” He goes on to say “You are witnesses of all that he did…” Peter is speaking, of course, about all that God the Father did for the world, how he sent Jesus, his Son to proclaim God’s Reign and to show us a new way for living. Peter reminds us that Jesus “went about doing good”, showing us how we can treat one another with dignity, with compassion and with love. His presence and his witness to the love of the Father brought healing, restored relationships, and imbued hope within all those whom he encountered. For his trouble, Jesus was nailed to a cross. He bore his cross with forbearance, and his faithfulness - even amidst the passions and pains he endured - saw the Father raising him from the dead!
I can’t help but read this passage from the Acts of the Apostles and note parallels in the life of our brother and friend, Fr. John Coleman.
Fr. John ministered and served here at Our Lady of Lourdes, faithfully and without interruption, since 1994. That’s twenty-five years of pastoral service with and among God’s people here in Northridge. He came among us as one of a line of Carmelite priests who gave of themselves for the good of our community. We owe our Carmelite Community our gratitude and the comfort of our condolences.
I met Fr. John for the first time over twenty years ago. I was a young priest in the Archdiocese, and he and I shared a common friend way back then. But it wasn’t until I was assigned to Lourdes that I came to know John in a way more than that of an acquaintance. As Peter says in his speech in the Acts of the Apostles, you know what has happened… You know John well, and you know how he walked among us, accompanied us, laughed with us, cried with us, empowered us to get our feet under ourselves when we were in danger of being overwhelmed by life, and how he always challenged us to grow.
God the Father sent John to be with us, to come among us and to faithfully proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Fr. John fulfilled this call of his Father by his words in our pulpit and by his actions in his life. In his professional work as a licensed therapist, Fr. John worked to inspire his clients to face whatever struggles they encountered in life, to work through them and to transcend them. In a very real sense, Fr. John was in the business of inviting people to enter into and to embrace new life, a fuller life.
As Peter reminds us that Jesus “went about doing good,” showing us how we can treat one another with dignity, with compassion and with love, so too I would say of Fr. John that in his ministry and in his work, he had a great care for the dignity of all whom he met, and at times I know he treated people with remarkable compassion. I would say of Fr. John, that following the example of Jesus, his presence and his witness to the love of God brought healing, restored relationships, and imbued hope within all those whom he encountered. We might expect that for doing such good in his life, Fr. John would enjoy and long and happy life, free from illness and pain. However, as Fr. John himself well knew, life is rarely inclined to follow a “Hollywood script.” Fr. John came, in the end, to confront the fragility of his human existence. He faced into his health-related issues with growing forbearance, and even in his last weeks and months, spent himself in caring for clients and in greeting his family and friends. He had made his peace with his passing from this life, and he endeavored to the end to help those around him to make their peace with his passing also.
Lest anyone think I seek to canonize him, I will be the first to say - as I’ve said in front of himself - Fr. John had his very particular ways. He could be testy and “slightly opinionated.” However, I saw with absolute confidence that he sought always the good as he understood it, at least from my perspective as a pastor here at Lourdes. I will miss our chats between masses on Sunday mornings, his counsel and his measured insights. Our parish will miss him, and as we grieve along with his immediate family, and with his Carmelite family, we will continue to pray for his eternal rest in the embrace and peace of God, whom our brother John loved as Father.
John asked me to anoint him when last we chatted, and we spoke together frankly and with great care for each other. He was looking forward to Easter, and hoped to see his Lourdes family one last time. Instead, John now joins with the angels and saints in their celebration of Resurrection Day. And like the angels and saints, Fr. John’s life and his witness call us to Easter faith too. Amen.