We did an anointing of Dad last Saturday and joked with him that he was one of the few people who had now received all seven sacraments. That made us think about what a gift it is to have a father who had been a priest. (It should have followed that we would all ace Latin in high school—but only Kate did.)
One of the thoughts that resonated the most with us in the last days of Dad's life was that he showed us all what it means to be free.
We visited our dad in many prisons—Danbury, Allentown, Elkton, Lorton, Peterson, Hagerstown, Cumberland County, Baltimore County. We spent time with him in all these dead spaces meant to intimidate and beat down; spaces that repel and resist children, laughter, loving, and family; spaces meant to communicate a clear message of who is in charge; spaces with stupid rules about how, when, and for how long to touch and hold; spaces where you talk into a phone and look through smudged plastic.
Some families would sit silently in the visiting rooms, some would play cards, some would fight. Those families (and those they were visiting) seemed burdened by the thought and the experience that in jail everything is different; life does not go on as usual. You are not free to do as you please or be who you are.
But our dad never seemed touched by that weight. Even in prison, even in those awful spaces, he was free. In prison, as in the outside world, his work and life were to resist violence and oppression, to understand and try to live by God's Word, to build community and help people learn to love one another.
When we visited our dad in prison we paid no heed to the spoken and unspoken rules. We filled those places with love, with family, with stories and laughter and strategizing. Dad showed us that freedom has nothing to do with where your body is and who holds the keys and makes the rules. It has everything to do with where your heart is and being fearless and full of hope.