Dear Central Catholic Family,
In this, my last message to you in this 2019-2020 school year, I’d like to tell you about a highlight of my priesthood I experienced just last Thursday, May 7. Now you might be surprised to hear I’ve experienced any highlights during this extended COVID19 state of emergency, and you might be even more confused to learn that the highlight was actually the celebration of a funeral Mass. What sense does that make?
Well this was no ordinary funeral.
The man who died, Robert Knapp
, was a 101 year old life-long member of St. Mary’s Church, literally. He was baptized at St. Mary’s in February 1919, married at St. Mary’s in November 1941, and buried at St. Mary’s in May 2020. It was an honor his family asked me to celebrate the Mass, as I was only a priest at St. Mary’s from 2016-2018, but that’s not why the funeral was a highlight for me. It was a highlight because this man was a hero.
In June 1944, Robert was among the 156,000 Allied soldiers in World War II who stormed the beach during the D-Day Invasion at Normandy, France. If you don’t know the profound significance of this, do yourself a favor during these coronavirus days by watching the movie
Saving Private Ryan
. Robert later received a Purple Heart due to injuries sustained later in the war. A year ago it was estimated less than 1,000 D-Day veterans were still alive. That number must be even less now, and I have to wonder was Robert perhaps the last surviving D-Day veteran here in Bloomington-Normal? It seems likely.
This was a man who grew up in the Great Depression; was the first in his family to graduate high school; married his bride of more than 60 years just 11 days before the attack at Pearl Harbor; survived Normandy and WWII; faithfully cared for his beloved wife every day for multiple years during her final illness; and
rode his exercise bike while lifting weights as recently as Wednesday April 29, three days before he died at the age of 101
!!! Maybe now you can see why it was a tremendous highlight for me to lay this hero to rest!
As I said the final prayers at his funeral Mass and incensed his casket, I was cognizant of the fact that the funeral liturgy is all about offering our prayers up to God, asking Him to be merciful to the one who has died. But at the same time, I was reflecting on the marvel of Robert’s life. I thought to myself, “Man, the dude in this casket was TOUGH, in
sense of the word! Jesus, give me just a little bit of his courage.”
As I was told, he was a humble man, faithful (when I was at St. Mary’s I saw him at Mass
Sunday even though he was in his upper 90s at the time), wise, loving; in a single word, virtuous. I realized, though, that all of those attributes were earned. None of us are just given these things. They come at a price. Robert experienced tremendous turmoil in his life, and I think it was that which shaped him into the hero he was.
So how does this relate to us? Aren’t we all crying out to God to end this turmoil in our lives, this pandemic? Believe me, I’m as tired with it as you are. Just like you, I have no idea what’s happening, but I know God will eventually restore us to a state of normalcy. I also know if we persist in faith, hope, and love, then we, too, will come to be known as people of virtue, something which isn’t given but which is earned. I hope you’ll work on earning virtue this summer and making someone proud of you, just as so many people were proud of Robert throughout his 101 years.
Know of my continued prayers for every one of you. I look forward to seeing you in the fall. Please pray for me.
Fr. Joseph Baker
Confessions will continue at Central Catholic at the school's gym/chapel entrance on Fridays at 3-4pm. These are offered outdoors, and you can go behind a screen or face-to-face. I'll try to offer this for as long as we are unable to hear confessions in our churches. However, there may be a week here or there where I will not be available. In the event I am not available on a given week, I will have this posted on the school's social media accounts. In addition, feel free to email, call, or text me if you're uncertain, (309) 657-0966.
Pope Francis Appoints New Bishop for Diocese of Peoria
What the heck is a coadjutor bishop, you ask? This is a bishop who will take over as the active bishop when the current bishop retires at the age of 75. This means Bishop-Elect Tylka will work with Bishop Jenky over the next two years, until Bishop Jenky turns 75 (mandatory retirement age for a bishop). At that time he will take over as the new Bishop of Peoria.