I remember it like it was yesterday. I was attending a really nice event of music and prayer with LIFT Ministries in March 2016. Many priests were hearing confessions. Fr. Matt Williams was leading the people in prayer. Jon Niven and his band were playing some really nice music, leading the young people in praising God. And then my cell phone rang. Actually, I had my phone with me because I was on-call for the local hospital. Otherwise I would not have had it with me.
|Jon Niven with the LIFT Ministries Band at my church in the Archdiocese of Boston.|
Image Copyright LIFT Ministries
I saw the name on the phone: "Fr James Flanagan, SOLT." He had been my mentor since 2005, but I usually was the one to always call him. "Why is he calling me now?" I thought.
I went to a private location and took the call. It was one of the SOLT brothers, Brother Peter. He said words that still reverberate in my memory. "Fr. Jason, I'm calling to tell you that Fr. Flanagan is not doing well. He is dying." I actually started to cry a little. "How can Fr. Flanagan die?" I thought to myself. He had outlived almost everybody. Br. Peter put his phone near to Fr. Flanagan. I was able to give a blessing over the phone to Fr. Flanagan, and he made a sound to acknowledge me. I thanked him for everything.
After this, I went back into the Church to be with my many friends in LIFT. Somehow, it seemed exactly right that I was with this group at this time. We prayed together, and during Eucharist Adoration, I prayed for Fr. Flanagan.
|During Eucharistic Adoration at my church.|
(Image Copyright LIFT Ministries)
He lived several more days. I kept thinking, "he will get better!" But then, on the very early morning of Holy Thursday, I received word that, after praying the Rosary, Fr. Flanagan took his last breath, and that it was so peaceful. For me, this was profound. I remember that Fr. Benedict Groeschel CFR died in the very same manner in 2014. He also had been a mentor to me, and he met Fr. Flanagan in Rome in 2008 at a Divine Mercy Conference. For me, these two great priests and founders were always connected. Connected in my own life, but connected above all in the great plan of Eternal Wisdom.
|Rome, 2008. With Father Benedict Groeschel, CFR and Father James Flanagan, SOLT|
Some time later, I made my way to New Mexico to attend the Funeral of my beloved spiritual father, Fr. Flanagan. It was such a sorrowful and joyful time. It was such a joy to be with so many priests, religious, and lay members of SOLT. It was such a sorrow to mourn the passing of our beloved Father Flanagan. And, if I may say this, it was also glorious, as we all pondered the reality of Eternal Life. To me, it seemed like we all felt our oneness in that moment. There were tears, smiles, prayers. We all felt a real communion.
|The Wake before the Mass.|
|During the Funeral Mass|
(Images Copyright SOLT)
Fr. Flanagan had been a football player for Notre Dame in the 1940s, before he went to World War II with the US Navy UDTs. So, we came to refer to his funeral as "The Last Touchdown." He made it to the End Zone of this passing life. And the game is now ours. Only... working for the Lord Jesus is not a game, it's real. It seems a lot harder now to carry on our missions without being able to speak to Fr. Flanagan or visit him at SOLT gatherings. But we'll be OK, if we remain FAITHFUL to the Lord Jesus and Our Lady. In fact, we can already rejoice because, as Fr. Flanagan taught us, we are on the winning team!
I wish everyone I know could have known Fr. James Flanagan SOLT. I wish the entire Church could experience the charism that Our Lady gave him for the Church - the charism of ecclesial family teams in graced friendships...
I still feel deeply saddened at his death, even today, one year later. And yet, more and more, I am so deeply thankful to God for the gift of having known him. He was a friend that I did not deserve, a friend I should never have been able to meet. And yet, God, in His mysterious ways, and, in a truly Marian way, gave me this great friendship. And like all graced-friendships, it is eternal. I am still sorrowful, but I am so deeply grateful, and I rejoice.
Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, pray for us!