"Farewell, my friends, I'm bound for Canaan."
For those of you who read this weblog, particularly if you are more devout a Catholic than I am (it could happen), you must wonder why I bother remaining in the Church. After all, I find enough wrong with what's going on, with the scandals in the news, the priests who act like clowns when celebrating Mass, and like total jerks when they're not, the "conservative" bishops who cover for them, and then...
Were I not convinced that being a Catholic was the only sure way of getting to heaven, it wouldn't be worth the trouble it takes to get up early on Sunday morning.
I think of that sometimes, when I attend an Orthodox Liturgy at the Russian cathedral downtown. I could kneel there in a corner for hours, close my eyes, and listen to the voices of heaven wash down on me.
I also think of it when I encounter those folks who wear their faith on their sleeve, to the point where you wonder if they wear it anywhere else. Go to the Old Latin Mass on a Sunday morning, and there are a few of them in the crowd. You can tell who they are, by the way they treat strangers.
And yet, there are stories where Christ appears as a stranger. You wonder if He was trying to make a point.
And there are still others who, astonished at the beauty to be found in Truth, that this discovery overshadows the devastation around them, and their devotion to that Truth is overshadowed only by their humility, not to mention the certainty of Christ's promise, that the Holy Spirit would be with His Church until the end of time.
This morning, I learned that one such man was called home last Thursday, after a long illness.
Gerard Serafin (aka Gerard Bugge) lived in suburban Baltimore, and was the author of a website, A Catholic Page for Lovers, and an adjoining weblog, A Catholic Blog for Lovers. Within the text of his online writings, the word "heart" was always highlighted in red.
Few readers knew that Gerard was a laicized priest, who was separated from the clerical state after certain improprieties were alleged. While they were never completely proven, Gerard bore his cross in admirable fashion, and never stopped preaching the Faith within the limits of his new-found situation. Yet those who knew him realized he was wounded by his experience, particularly when those in positions of authority continued to make trouble for him, in ways that do not bear repeating here.
None of this deterred Gerard, who kept his humble place in the procession of the Church, a pilgrim going forward, his eyes on the Cross, facing ahead.
Gerard was in love with the Liturgy, properly and reverently celebrated with the unity and mind of the Church. His pages spoke of the beauty of the Eastern Christian traditions, as well as the ancient heritage of the Roman Rite. With respect to the latter, he called for, and foretold of, a renaissance of tradition in worship. He was also active in promoting inter-faith relations, being a founding member of the Saint Maximus Society, where Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and other Christians would meet for fraternal and spiritual fellowship. They used to meet at his home in Catonsville, outside Baltimore, but in recent years, at Gerard's spiritual home, St Benedict's in Baltimore. He also authored the parish website, where the viewer would be shown an oasis of beauty and truth in worship, with arms that reached out to the poor and desolate - a place ever ancient and ever new, amidst the desert of modernity.
It is from that parish, that Gerard will be buried today. I wish I had known sooner; I would have dropped everything to be there.
And I didn't even know him that well.
We met several years ago, when I moderated a listserv devoted to the traditional Latin Mass. Gerard posted some sort of statement -- I can't remember what -- that was amazingly enough to get him removed from the list. That decision was made by the administrators without consulting me as moderator. They owned a number of other Catholic lists attached to their website, and presumed their ownership as a license to do as they wished with people. My online defense of Gerard caused my list to be closed down, and my removal as moderator. The administrators (who shall remain nameless, which is more dignity than the bums deserve) where unmoved, as were other moderators associated with them. Not to mention my assistant, who couldn't wait to take over my position.
Gerard was shocked by it all, that those who claimed to preach the Truth so ardently, could be so oblivious to living it. I saw all my work going down the drain, but I never regretted defending Gerard; it was the right thing to do, and that was enough.
Gerard got over it. I took a bit longer. It soured my experience with e-mail lists, until the weblog phenomenon came about, and I found my place on the bandwidth again. Thankfully, he had found a place in the new medium as well, and was a rallying point for those of us in the Catholic blogosphere, setting up the directory which I highlight on my site to this day as "St Blog's Parish." Where many around him saw devastation in the sanctuary, Gerard found a springtime in the house of his Mother Church, and his love affair with Her was to be seen with every entry.
But what is most telling about the man, in the depth of his heart, is the final entry on his weblog.
"[F]or those concerned about my physical condition lately... I will be seeing my main doctor this Thursday, God willing. Let's hope for the best."
Gerard managed to keep his appointment that day, if not the one most of us expected.
As this is written, one can imagine the chant that might echo within the sacred walls of the Church, as he is carried to rest.
"In paradisum deducant te angeli:
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres,
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere aeternam habeas requiem."
"May the Angels lead you into paradise;
Upon your arrival may the Martyrs welcome you,
and lead you into the holy city of Jerusalem.
May a choir of angels welcome you,
and, with poor Lazarus of old, may you have eternal rest."