As I write this, the parish where I reside is preparing to say good-bye to a brother priest. Fr. Bob Wolfer had lived in residence at Our Lady of Lourdes in retirement with his brother who was also a priest. Over the last few years, he was in residence at a nursing home prior to being called home by Our Lord here in middle January. I am sad to say that I never really knew either of the Frs. Wolfer, as we were of a different age cohort, and by the time I was on the scene at Our Lady of Lourdes, they were already well into their eighties and needed full time care.
However, as Fr. Bob Wolfer neared his death, calls came in to the rectory for the priests to visit him and prepare him for his final journey home. Fr. Sunberg, the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, visited him, anointed him, gave him Absolution and the Apostolic Pardon and one last reception of Holy Communion to be his strength along this final journey.When we received word that he had been called home, a series of events get put into place for that final journey. Calls were placed to the Archbishop’s Office and the Chancellery to let our brother priests know of his passing that Masses might be offered for the repose of his soul. Arrangements are made with his family for the funeral Mass. Vestments are procured so that he might be vested as he lies in state.
It was this last part that I was called in to help. I was asked to stop by the funeral home that is assisting the family to make sure that Fr. Wolfer is properly vested for his final journey: his cassock and alb were brought over; a chasuble and stole laid in wait for him to wear one last time. It is the responsibility of a brother priest to make sure that the priest who has passed is properly vested for his funeral Mass, and I was glad to assist in this humbling task.In so doing, it is realization of Psalm 110 that is prayed every Sunday at Evening Prayer: “You are a priest for ever, according to the Order of Melchizadek.” All of these little steps and traditions that get activated when a priest dies reflect that he goes forward not just as a Baptized Catholic, as important as that is, but that he goes forward as a priest. During his final journey, he is accompanied by the hopes of all the children that he Baptized; by the dreams of all the couples whose marriage he witnessed; the relief of all those whose sins he forgave in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; and the souls of all those he prepared for a happy death in the Last Rites of the Church.
We pray that the good works that he did as a priest might overshadow his human failings, for every priest struggles with the call to perfection while also the reality of being human. We pray that the homilies he preached continue to echo in the hearts and minds of the faithful who heard them. We pray that the testimony of his life as an ‘Alter Christus’ might gain him entry to sit at the side of Christ in the Banquet to come.One of my brothers, one of our Fathers, has died. We now entrust him to the grace and care of Almighty God, whose minister he was in this life; that Fr. Wolfer might now be with Him forever.
Eternal Rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may the Perpetual Light shine upon him. Amen.