Our friend Fr. Joe Callahan passed from this life on Easter morning. He was the spiritual director of our retreat house, and had held that position for almost twenty years, affecting the lives of hundreds and hundreds of people who lived cursillo and other retreats at the house.
When I heard the news, I did burst into tears, but I’m less sad for me than for the people who will never cross paths with Fr. Joe. I’m sad today for the people who never knew him, who never heard his stories, who won’t experience his quiet, peaceful presence. I’m sad if you don’t know about the hot dogs, or the grandmotherly grandfather, the marble cake, or the white flag. I’m sad if you never heard him sing, or heard him teach you to sing properly, with an arc to your breath and meaning in your words. I’m sad if you never shared a table with him in a chapel or a dining room, sad if you never saw the twinkle in his eye when he saw you come into the room, sad if he never called you by name and made you feel your presence was the very thing that made him the most happy he could be.
I’m sad if you never heard his homilies and reflections, sad if you were never challenged by him, sad if you never saw his real relationship with Jesus in action. I’m sad if you never heard his complete transparency with tears streaming down your own face at the gift of humility and grace he shared. I’m sad if you never heard him giggle with his whole body. I’m sad if you didn’t experience a sacrament with him, if you never waited in line for hours to go to reconciliation with him, sad if you never saw Jesus looking back at you through his kind eyes.
If you were lucky enough to know Fr. Joe, you knew his great love and joy and his spirit of surrender. Maybe you looked up last night at that Easter sunset, saw the colors, and sang him one chorus of De Colores while you heard his sweet baritone ringing in your ears. Maybe you imagined what that homecoming looked like for him, this faithful servant who made the Face of God accessible and real for thousands of us at the Holy Cross Retreat House through the years. It seems to me that Fr. Joe knew the voice and presence of God so personally that when Jesus knelt by his bed and called his name, it probably wasn’t a surprise.
“Yes, Lord,” he surely said, as he took the hand of God and walked into his reward.
So, no, I’m not sad for our friend. He’s home and at peace, fully restored and certainly singing. As for the friends he left behind, what can we do but try to live our lives according to his great example. As I heard him say many times in his simple prayer to the Father at the end of a cursillo day:
You steer, we’ll row. Amen.
De Colores, in loving memory of our friend, Fr. Joe Callahan
(Joseph, Hebrew: may God give increase Callahan, Irish: lover of churches)