In Philippians chapter four we read:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Clarence Foltz on his 95th Birthday
Clarence Foltz on his 95th Birthday

On August 12th, Catherinanne’s Grandpa, Clarence Foltz, died at the age of 96. His was a life of hard and honest work, great witness, great faith, great love, and great gratitude. I met Clarence Foltz nearly 20 years ago when I started dating Catherinanne. He was just three months younger than my Dad. I immediately had a great affinity for him and treasured each moment we could get with him. His life was long, and it was fruitful.  You can read about his life by clicking here [I encourage you to take a look – His family have written a beautiful obituary telling his tremendous story]

I want to share a little of how Clarence Foltz impacted my life.

Grandpa Foltz reminded me of my dad in many ways. I was so glad that they had opportunity to get to know one another, as they came out of the same era and shared so many values. They were different in many ways too, but on the things that mattered most – they were much alike. I loved that Grandpa Foltz valued hard work and that he insisted on working hard right up until the near end of his time with us. Sometimes when people work hard at a project, they spend as much time telling everyone how hard they worked as they did at the work itself – not Grandpa. That generation taught us much about the value of work and the virtue of humility. As he aged, he found ingenious ways of getting the job done. He was an independent and proud man. I was astonished to hear him tell me just last year about his adventures of changing the toilets in the house. I pried the details out of him, because he was not advertising that he had done the job. I sat and listened in amazement at this nonagenarian telling me the basic facts of changing a toilet!

What impressed me most about Grandpa Foltz was his faith. Simply put, he was one of the most prayerful people I have ever encountered. He would be up early to attend daily Mass at 7 am. He would pray at each meal, and not just a quick, “Bless us O Lord, and these thy gifts…” either. When he prayed at mealtime, it usually meant prayers for all of us in the family. His dear wife Louise was the same way. To visit the humble home in Petoskey, MI was to step into a deeply spiritual house.  I always felt closer to the Divine when we visited Grandpa. Trips up north reminded me very much of Newfoundland. At times when I sat in the Foltz living room I would daydream. Those dreams often brought me back to our summer visits to our grandparents in Pilley’s Island, NL. Our senses are really tremendous. There was something about the smell, the sights, the sounds, of faith that would allow me to make that journey to my Grandmother’s side. I have been blessed to have powerful witnesses in my life. In 2000, I was fortunate to bring two parts of my life together when we visited Petoskey with my Mom and Dad. Grandpa played host, and did so wonderfully. Listening to my father and Grandpa Foltz talk and share stories of their upbringing is a moment in time I treasure in my heart.

Grandpa was a telephone man. Perhaps it is most fitting that some of the greatest things I will remember he said to me over the phone. While he was a very faithful Catholic, he was more importantly a great Christian. He was very proud that Catherinanne worked for the Church. He was also very proud that I am a priest.  It mattered not to him that I am a priest in the Anglican Church. He respected the Church in the broadest sense. I was honoured that he asked me to give blessings.  It meant a great deal to me that in each conversation we had he would remind me how important he felt the work of a priest was, and tell me how much he was praying for me as I carried that responsibility – and I knew he meant it! He prayed for all of his family, and he prayed not once in a while, but he prayed for us all every day.  What is more impressive to me is how he approached prayer.  Søren Kierkegaard insisted that, “the function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” Grandpa trusted God implicitly.  His prayerful approach to life suggested that he always sought to allow God to influence him, and not the other way around. He truly believed the words of scripture quoted above. He consulted with God in all things and enjoyed the peace that only faith can give. Grandpa’s humble approach to prayer was a great witness to me and continues to influence my own prayer life.

Leonardo da Vinci wrote, “As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death.” Grandpa Foltz lived to see 96 years. He made great use of his time on this earth. He used his life to love, to listen, to pray, to be compassionate, and giving, and kind, and dutiful. He used his time to witness to the love that he felt from Jesus. Having well used his life, I believe that we must now rejoice. He told me many times in these recent years that he felt his was a full life lived and that he was ready to be reunited with ‘his angel.’ We weep because it is difficult to say goodbye to those we love – to those who have loved us so well. But through our tears, we give thanks for the life Clarence Foltz had. God gave us a great gift in him and he has left a great impression on the world. We also rejoice for the hope offered in the resurrection – a promise that Grandpa felt secure in.

As we accept that Grandpa Foltz has begun his New Life, we also embrace the emptiness that his death leaves as a sacred place wherein we can be reminded of how God loved us in the actions of His servant.  We embrace the void left as a space where God reminds of the many ways His will was fulfilled in the witness of His child. This is best summed up by the great German theologian – Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

 “There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled, one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve – even in pain – the authentic relationship. Furthermore, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.” 

On a recent Sunday off, Catherinanne and I went to church together as we usually do. In front of us sat a family of four. Two young boys about four and six, sat snuggled into mom and dad’s arms. Not long into Mass the four-year old was down for the count.  He was sound asleep.His mom held him for a time. He was so sweet in her arms.  Then his father held him in his arms and his little head nestled into his dad’s neck. He was safe and secure. He was loved and embraced.  We were both really moved by this image. I found myself thinking about how we were all like that once. We all were carried asleep by our parents. The older we get the harder it is to remember that we were all that small once. Catherinanne reminded me that Grandpa too was once a young lad like that. As surely as he carried a sleeping child as a dad himself, he would have been carried as a sleeping child. My Dad often said, “Once a man, twice a child.” Those words have been proven to be true over and over again.  At church that day, we were reminded that we are welcomed to the Kingdom as children. At that Mass we were indeed reminded that our dear Grandpa despite his age, is a child of God and is held safely in the arms of his Creator. Our God is as tender as that loving Mom and Dad. He is secure and safe. He is loved and he is embraced. For these and all of God’s gifts – we give thanks.

Give rest O Christ to your servant with your saints,
where sorry and pain are no more,
neither sighing but life everlasting. 

Clarence Foltz
Clarence Foltz