The funeral Mass was quite beautiful and not surprisingly very well attended for Monsignor Chester P. Michael this past Wednesday, August 6, 2014. The celebration of his life took place on the Feast of the Transformation, a fitting God-incident since he was instrumental in inspiring change, transformation, and true conversion in countless people throughout our Diocese and around the world during his 72 years as a priest.
Most Reverend Bishop Francis Xavier DiLorenzo presided at the funeral Mass held at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Charlottesville, Virginia. As is customary for our leader and resident history buff, he gave a homily that compared and contrasted what life was like in the world when Monsignor Michael was first ordained a priest in 1942 and the myriad changes he witnessed from World War II until the present.
The bishop posed three very poignant questions about the 97 years God gave Monsignor Chet on Earth.
1.Did his life mean anything at all?
2.Was his life a waste?
3.What was the meaning of his life and ministry?
Bishop DiLorenzo covered a smattering of the ministries and various levels of involvement and influence Fr. Chet had in them. Basically, he responded to the above questions with this summation of answers: 1.Absolutely. 2. Not at all. 3.He did so much it would be hard to mention it all, estimate the number of lives he’s transformed, or how his work to spread the Good News will continue to inspire others.
In closing, Bishop DiLorenzo said: “We thank God for his ministry, and we say well done good and faithful servant.”
After the celebration of the Eucharist, Andy Macfarlan offered some Words of Remembrance about Fr. Chester Michael. He shared some of the stories, themes, passions, quirks, and characteristics of the beloved priest and popular spiritual director. Looking around the church, I saw dozens of people Kevin and I know through Cursillo. I found it a perfect Mass for our seminarians to attend even while on their yearly retreat. What better testimony can you give than that of a good priest who served God’s people in many different ways over the 72 years since he was ordained to serve our Diocese? He’s been an inspiration to priests, deacons, seminarians, consecrated religious, and laity for quite some time.
Kevin and I never formally met Monsignor Michael, but we’ve heard a number of stories about “Fr. Chet” as many of his close friends and spiritual directees called him. We are aware of only some of the countless ways this man has touched our lives. In 1963, he brought the Cursillo Movement to the Diocese of Richmond where it has flourished as a tool for the new evangelization in place long before that term was popular. Over 8,000 individuals have made Cursillo weekends in our Diocese since then. That’s a lot of lives to touch and enflame with the Holy Spirit!
But wait, there’s more. Fr. Chet also created Open Door Ministries and the Spiritual Direction Institute (SDI) to encourage laypeople to grow closer to the Lord, learn about themselves, and how to live the Gospel in new ways through a more intimate walk with Christ. There have been over 600 people who have gone through the SDI program he developed since it first began. Kevin and I just began the SDI program this summer. I read and highly recommend the three books to the left written by Monsignor Chester Michael, and used as some of the primary resources for his two-year course.
It boggles my mind to think of how many souls he’s affected just through Cursillo and SDI. He’s been involved in so many really powerful ministries over the years, ones I don’t know as much about but which are described in detail on his website. Kevin and I have been fascinated to read about his life, humble beginnings, ongoing education, and the numerous ministries which he started and/or brought to the Diocese of Richmond over the years. He has touched the lives of so many different groups of society, I’d venture that when it comes to ministry in Richmond, there could be a game that would probably only show two or three degrees of separation at most between Catholics currently active in our Diocese and their connection to Monsignor Chester Michael and the ministries he’s created and supported. To read a more thorough biography of Monsignor Chet’s life at least up to 1992, click here.
Today is the five year anniversary of my father’s passing which has gotten me thinking about the influence one person’s life can have on so many others. We don’t know how much time we have left to make a difference. Fr. Chet had a lot of years to do all the work God intended for him.
What is God calling us to be or do right now? Are we taking ample time to listen to the whisper of His still small voice? Are we grounded enough in prayer and edified through study so that we are filled with the love of Our Lord, ready to go out and proclaim the Gospel through our lives?