I received word today from the Memphis Knights of Columbus that one of our retired priests, Fr. Gabe DeFedirico, was taken to the ICU today and that there was difficulty reviving him. Fr. Gabe was a fiery little Italian-American man from Philadelphia, who always managed to combine great humor with astounding candor. He came across as gruff very often, yet also ran the diocese's pre-marital counseling. He had an amusing nickname for every conceivable wrong way of receiving Holy Communion (such as the "Trick-or-Treat," in which the communicant stuck out his hands and opened his mouth, leaving the minister guessing how he desired to receive), and a startling blunt manner of articulating the presence of evil in the world: he would list the litany of excuses for something or other, and then say, "No. Such and such is EVIL." At the same time, he displayed a disarmingly simple love of our Lord and the Blessed Sacrament, and could present homilies as memorable for their unadorned and straightforward caring as easily as he could present ones relying on humor or sheer bluntness. He never wanted for an anecdote, having accumulated a truly copious array in his interesting life, and he was quite adept at integrating these into the instructional facets of his ministry. He once observed that until he was an adult, he thought that his parents had never argued; only then did he realize that they did it all in Italian, so as to spare their American children.
In perhaps the most memorable of his homilies I ever heard, he told of his time as a prison chaplain. Every week, he would bring the Blessed Sacrament to a Catholic inmate. One week, the prisoner in the neighboring cell, an old man, leaned up against his bars and said, "Father, please give me what you bring to him." He replied, "I'm sorry, but I can only give it to someoen who believes that it's the Body of Christ." "I do believe!" responded the inmate. Fr. DeFedirico told that he gave Holy Communion to the man, and ended with this observation: "When I went back next week, the man was dead."
That's a simple tale, and one frought with potentially spurious relationships. But it's one that I've spent the last eight years thinking about.