“If you close your eyes and let the music play,
Keep our love alive, I’ll never fade away…
– ‘Remember Me’ – Miguel
As a severely lapsed Catholic, I’m often fascinated by those who’ve either chosen to remain faithful, or never wavered in their faith. In fact, if I’m being perfectly honest, it’s more than that, actually: I’m jealous of those folks who can continue to believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit- amen.
Personally, I just can’t do it anymore– at least not from a Catholic or Christian perspective, for a myriad of reasons– although I can imagine how trusting in an omnipotent being’s existence would assuage many of my fears, stresses, and exasperations with life’s events.
I’ve never known anyone as dedicated to their faith as my wife’s Uncle Paul– aka Father Paul Rouse, a Catholic priest for more than 50 years– who passed away rather suddenly two weeks ago, just shy of his 81st birthday. Uncle Paul was quite the character, to be sure– so much so that I actually named and modeled a priest character after him in a short story of mine– and he lived his life the way he saw fit: dedicated to a Catholic God, devout in his service to the church, and fully confident that he would ascend to heaven after shuffling off this mortal coil.
He was a man with nearly unrivaled musical talents, a zest for life’s wonders– he knew how to savor his happiest moments, like a piece of pecan pie with everything on top– and a sense of generosity beyond belief. The generosity part of his personal legacy is absolutely astounding, quite frankly, and the stories I’ve heard about his willingness to share any and everything he had with the world is inspiring.
I, myself, was on the receiving end of his boundless benevolence on countless occasions during the short time I knew him, something exemplified best by a football game we attended in 2017 (which was only the second greatest football game I witnessed in person that year).
That year, he invited me to attend the “Holy War” football game– the annual battle between Notre Dame and Boston College, the two most prominent Catholic colleges in the country– after being given a pair of tickets by some muckety muck within the Greater Boston Archdiocese. I couldn’t say no, of course, and not just because I grew up a BC fan who hated all things ND- with the exception of the still-awesome Rudy, that is.
At that point, I’d only been dating my then-girlfriend for a few months, so I jumped at the chance to spend time with someone she found indescribably special. It was hard to hear he was– gasp– a Fighting Irish fan, but being an actual alumnus of the university– not some bandwagon-hopping jackanape– made allowing his otherwise unforgivable infraction of fandom fairly easy.
Actually, considering I was eager to score brownie points with a woman I was falling in love with at the time, I probably would have let it slide either way.
Since my host was no spring chicken in 2017, simply getting to our seats from the Uber was an event all on its own. The long walk from the parking lot– around the entire stadium to our field-level seats just behind the ND bench– would have been an interesting story no matter what, given the cane-assisted slow gait of my companion.
But for a man like Paul– excuse me, Father Rouse, as the dozens of folks we encountered addressed him– the path to our seats was filled with familiar faces- and was a spectacle to behold.
I couldn’t even begin to count the number of friends, parishioners, colleagues, and general well-wishers– most of whom he recognized, even if it had been months, years, or even decades since he’d seen them– who ensured they said hello as Father Rouse passed them by. The impact made by that man was daunting to witness, and still sort of intimidating to consider. I mean, how on earth could someone be so friendly, kind, and caring, with an authentic interest in just about everyone?
Every time I’d see him after that day, we’d discuss the Fighting Irish, the makeup of that year’s team, and jointly remember the incomparable afternoon we spent together. I’ve thought a lot about that game through the years– even more so in the past couple of weeks– and remember just about every detail except the game itself.
I remember it wasn’t close– the Irish drubbed the Eagles up and down the field, with ND winning by at least two touchdowns– but beyond that, the only details that stick out are of the two of us together. I remember the conversations about religion and our lives, the way he seemed so genuinely interested in everything I had to say, and our mutual eagerness to live life to its fullest on that crisp, autumn afternoon.
A couple of weeks after that, I received a giant yellow envelope in the mail from ‘Father Paul Rouse’– the first of many to follow through the ensuing few years– that contained the latest edition of Blue and Gold Illustrated, aka “America’s foremost authority on Notre Dame football.” He’d decided to purchase a subscription after our game, and chose to forward each new edition to me as a reminder of our time together. I can’t say I ever spent much time reading through the magazines upon arrival, but I’d always eagerly open his package each time it arrived, knowing there’d be a typed– and hand-signed– letter addressed to ‘Elizabeth & Adam.’
I’m not here to pretend I’m equally affected by Paul’s passing as those who knew him longer or deeper than I, but I also can’t say I won’t miss the sight of those mustard-yellow envelopes sticking from our mail slot every few weeks. Forgive me for being overly simplistic here, but losing someone you love is always sad, no matter the circumstances.
There is legitimate comfort, though, in knowing he died at peace: peace with himself, his life, and the fact that he had no choice but to join the faithful departed. Maybe I’m not capable of religious devotion, personally, but knowing it could bring such immense contentment to someone before, during, and after their death is comforting in its own way.
And knowing Paul lived and died his way– the way he wanted to, following the beat of his own drum– helps alleviate some of the inevitable sting from losing him, too. He was an inspiration in life, and his legacy will continue to influence everyone he knew, and everything he touched. Heck, look at how he changed me: not only can I tolerate Notre Dame now, but I consider myself a Fighting Irish fan.
Huh…maybe there is a God after all. For Uncle Paul’s sake, I sure hope so.