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  • Writer's pictureFr. Austin

Of Grace and Heroes

I think I can speak for my sister and brothers here and say that our dad was a hero – certainly to us – but I think that he was a hero, period. His life spanned the entire course of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” and then went almost thirty years beyond that.

The third child of Carroll and Angela Murphy, dad came of age in a time of turmoil in our country and our world and found himself heading off to Vietnam for a tour during 1970. That experience forever marked dad – psychologically, and as we had to endure with him, physically. He dutifully served his country and returned home safely in December of that year. Every several weeks or so, Mom-mom and Pop Murph would receive notes telling them that their son had received Holy Communion. No one cheered him or his brothers in arms, but we cheer his service and his safe return.

But this is not why he is a hero.

Dad met mom (after a visit to Jenning’s Bar with Fr. Bechtel!), and a love story was born. They built a life together, raising four kids and sending them to Catholic Schools. They taught us who Jesus was and that we could trust Him always. That marriage was not always perfect. Dad struggled with alcoholism, and finally put the drink down in February of 1983 – remaining sober and helping countless others to face their demons in the bottle. He made mistakes but grew through them and provided a great life for us in two homes. There, he taught us a value for justice, a sense of duty to each other, and to always give help when someone asked. He taught us to love ice cream, running, and God. He taught us that when grinding coffee beans, one “Hail Mary” is long enough. He taught us to love our family unconditionally, and that the best things in life aren’t “things.”

But it’s not just this that makes me call him a hero.

As I consider dad’s life as he lived it, I can see it as a beautiful illustration of how God’s grace works on a person. Mom, you showed dad that grace – whether you knew it or not. Through you, he experienced God’s mercy and compassion: both through the many times I am sure you forgave him, as well as in the heroic care you gave him these last years. We know you would have continued to do that for a hundred more; but God, in His mercy, has deemed that unnecessary. His pain is over.

Dad is a hero because he knew in Whom his strength and salvation could be found. He is like that good thief that we encounter in the Gospel today. Picture it: this man, weak and suffering, literally hanging on the cross with Christ, turns toward the only place that his comfort and salvation could come from. He knows Jesus; he knows what Jesus has to offer. And all he asks is to be remembered.

Dad knew Jesus. He knew Him well; and in these last years he grew even closer to him. While his body pained him and he had to endure so many tests, procedures, and treatments, he knew why he was doing it. He told me. “I am doing this with Jesus, for my family.” When sister told us to “offer it up,” I never knew what she meant. Now I do.

Dad was baptized into that mystery – the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. As St. Paul points out, we who have been baptized into Jesus, share in all that Jesus embraced – including suffering, including resurrection. In these last years, dad lived that mystery; but he also knew what the writer of Lamentations knew: that the mercies and compassion of God are never exhausted; that they are renewed each morning. I think of dad sitting in the kitchen when his pain kept him up, reading his Magnificat, with the cat, and recalling the daily readings of Mass.

Dad is a hero because he knew Jesus and embraced the suffering he shared with Christ. And he shared that same sacrifice with us. Wherever that sacrifice of Jesus is present – in the Sacraments or in the suffering of His people – there is tremendous grace, and that grace is transformative. When we know what to do with our pain – like dad did – then we know that true power of Jesus Christ, the power of the Cross, and there is great peace.

Friends, I am proud to know that dad knew this mystery – that he embraced it and lived it -  without complaint, even with humor and joy. He knew what he was doing; he knew why he was doing it; he knew where he was headed; and he knew Who was calling him. He is a hero for that. To his kids and granddaughters, I need to say: learn that mystery – get to know Jesus – like the good thief did, like dad did. It is only in light of that relationship, which dad cherished, that all this can ever make sense. It was dad’s last lesson to us, and it is why we are Christians. Jesus will remember us as He has entered His kingdom. May we all find joy in our reunion with Him and with dad in that same kingdom.

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