How does one react to the news of a terminal diagnosis? Fear, panic, overwhelming anxiety? The devastation that is brought on when a person receives word that they are going to die is understandable. So how you explain a reaction that is not only without distress, but is filled with trusting faith?
On November 14, 2019, Father Bill Lawler sent an email to friends. He wrote,
“NOT EVERYDAY IS A GOOD DAY! Yesterday I got the diagnosis. There is no easy way to say this, so let me do it in typical Bill Lawler fashion:
QUESTION: What is the difference between Bill Lawler and Lou Gehrig?
ANSWER: Lou Gehrig did not have Bill Lawler’s disease. However, I do.”
Father Bill Lawler died yesterday. Bill was an easygoing, gentle person. He had a great sense of humor and brought laughter with him wherever he went. He had a relaxed, comfortable manner which drew people to him. He loved being a priest. He was down to earth and welcoming. He brought true friendship to the parishioners with whom he ministered. He also brought an authentic faith, a deep and trusting love of God.
In that November note, Fr. Lawler wrote, “I would not have chosen this. I have seen and ministered to people with this illness. (The worst part is that Gehrig was a damn Yankee and I am a Phillies’ fan. Why didn’t I get Ryan Howard’s disease? He tore his Achilles’ tendon. I could have handled that!).”
He continues, “I know that asking “Why?” doesn’t help. Why? is a science question that looks for causes. Faith instead says God’s love includes this. Our/my brokenness, weakness, sin… is included in God’s love. God wants all of me: the good, the bad and the ugly, and God wants to love all of me and you. God not only loves the good me or you, when I am in my Sunday best, but also whatever is broken and needs healing. When I don’t or won’t have a leg to stand on, all I can do is fall at the feet of the Master. This I believe and this will I do.
Let us be strong in caring for one another.
When I read Bill’s note, I was blown away. I wrote in my journal, “Bill Lawler is an inspiration. He sees it as it is… “God’s love includes our/my brokenness…”. Despite all the brokenness in the world, Bill is grounded in trust, even gratitude. He challenges us to be thankful for the brokenness. This is the Way of Jesus. Through Christ we can learn to love even the brokenness in our world.
Because of the pandemic, Father Lawler’s funeral will be minimal, like so many others during this time of restrictions. I have reminded families at such graveside services that the burial of Jesus was minimal, even disregarded. What matters more is our confidence in the promises of God. Although our prayers of farewell may now seem limited, the song of angels and saints resounds both in heaven and on earth. “Holy, holy, holy” is their continuing triumphant hymn. “Hosanna in the highest.”
As Father Bill Lawler reminds us, “God’s love holds all of us,” everything. Even our brokenness and all the unanswered questions of this life will find fulfillment in God’s love. “This I believe…”
Thank you Father Lawler for your profession of faith. May choirs of angels welcome you to paradise.