“Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.
But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24)
I wrote my last blog post in December, and the title, I’m embarrassed to say, is “Back on the job.” I should have added an *, and noted at the bottom: “At least until the end of the year” (haha). While my business and ministry workloads have made blogging difficult, it was an unseen virus that stopped me in my blogging tracks (for far too many, the unseen reaper stopped them dead in their tracks. Read on…)
By late February, I had some idea of the significance of the Wuhan Covid 19, but it wasn’t until my daughter, Maureen became very ill that I took it seriously. After seeing and hearing her misery during several FaceTime conversations, and knowing she was alone in a tiny apartment, I decided to bring her home to recuperate. While she very much wanted to come home, she also expressed great concern that I would get sick. I brought her home and five days later became ill, but thank God we have both recovered. She spent the next four months with me, as we both did our work via the internet. An additional concern caused by the viral pandemic was the lockdown’s effects on my work. I stopped listening to the news, because its non-stop alarmist reports about the pandemic and the crashing economy began to upset me.
Then In mid-May, I received an email announcing another death from the modern day plague, and this news hit me hard.
The message came from my friend, Pierce Centina, a cultured man I had met a few years ago who shared my love for the intersection of Christian spirituality and the arts. Early in the year he gifted me a book of poetry, written by his brother, Gilbert, a friar of the Augustinian order and whose verse explored the depths of the Good, Beautiful and True of life as well as humanity’s bad, ugly and false sides. Knowing that the Lenten season approached I decided to use his work for my spiritual devotion, and loved it. Over the subsequent weeks I shared with Pierce some insights I believed I had received from the Holy Spirit through his brother’s work, and as a result of this process I felt sure that I had begun to know his brother despite never having met him.
Eventually, I learned that as Fr Gilbert neared the end of what we should rightly call his Magnum Opus he had begun to feel unwell, and within two weeks of completing it he ultimately fell to the disease. I re-read Pierce’s announcement of his brother’s death while in a bit 0f a fog, and my emotional response made me realize that I had in fact begun to know the friar. Reading further, I had another stunned reaction when I learned that the reverend father had requested that I write the Introduction to his book. I re-read that sentence as well, as I was sure I had initially mis-read it while in the midst of great emotion. In short order, this one email made me reel from news of great sadness to that of great joy, both responses humbling me before the Cross on my desk, to pray for Father’s soul and to give thanks to him, to Pierce and, ultimately, to God for the blessing. What follows is an excerpt from the Introduction, something I hope inspires you to read the book by this holy and beautiful man:
As Jesus’ passion and death drew near, he told his disciples,
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” I look at this final work of prayerful verse by Father Gilbert as one of his many seeds, because from it has grown a touchstone gift both in and through this Introduction. The experience has transformed me; it has also made me hope that I have glorified God, honored our Padre and been a credit to Pierce and the “Centina community.”
It may be common to place greater value on an artist’s final work, or at least to have increased curiosity about it, especially when that work is seen in the context of his or her death. The Catholic tradition commemorates the anniversary of a person’s passing rather than his or her birth, in reverent hope if not celebration of that person’s entry into eternal life. Perhaps that will happen with this book. And so it is with that potential destiny in mind, that I will exhort others in my world with the words that transformed a sinner into a saint because he helped transform the lives of all who learned from him: “Pick it up and read! Pick it up and read!”
 John 12:23-24 (NIV)
 Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions, Book VIII, No. 29, Translated by Maria Boulding, New City Press, Hyde Park, NY, 1997
Dear Father Gilbert,
I thank you for the faithfulness of your Christian witness, in both your holy office as well as in your artistic expression. You gave glory to God by your use of the talents with which He blessed you, and you helped transform this humble blogger into a better man, by the gift you bestowed upon him. I pray fervently for your rapid entry into God’s Kingdom, and for your intercession in the likely event that you’ve made it.