Saturday, June 20, 2015

Father Catfish, I Miss You

Written by a young person in discernment.

Everything I know about consecrated life, I've learned from two people: my parish priest, and Father Mike "Catfish" Mireau. My parish priest teaches me through the way he lives. Fr. Catfish taught me through the way he died.

Fr. Catfish passed away almost a year ago now, after a long, cruciform battle with cancer. It was standing-room-only at his funeral at St. Joseph's Basilica on September 26, 2014, as the flags of Edmonton Catholic Schools flew at half-mast.

"Calling Father Michael Mireau 'unique' is a masterpiece of understatement," said presider Archbishop Smith. "He had an unmatched ability to connect with our beloved young people."

Fr. Mike was the District Chaplain of Edmonton Catholic Schools and the Chaplain of St. Francis Xavier High School when he passed away. He had previously served as a parish priest, and was a great advocate for the Archdiocese's Camp Encounter.

If you attended Catholic school, or Camp Encounter, in the not-too-distant past, chances are you've met Fr. Mike, and his dog/sidekick, Nemo. Father's characteristics included his love of Star Wars, Superman, and Pepsi, his antipathy towards the music of Justin Bieber, his pop-culture jokes, and the simple words with which he concluded every homily: "God is love."

Fr. Mike was also an avid user of Facebook and Twitter, as well as maintaining his own website and YouTube Channel.

It was actually his YouTube videos that affected my life the most. Though they were geared towards preteens and young teenagers, I, along with many other young and not-so-young adults, subscribed to his channel for encouragement, hope, and good advice.

As I watched over the year before his death, Fr. Mike lost his famous ponytail as he went through chemotherapy. He lost weight and strength as his tumour grew. He openly spoke about how much pain he was in. Yet, to my bewilderment, his message in his videos remained the same: he continued to tell us, with humour and simplicity, that God is love.

How can you still say that?! I wondered. Where is the love of God in your pain, in that ugly, hateful tumour that won't go away? What is loving about the fact that you are dying, that the young people who need you so much are going to lose you? God could heal you; why doesn't He? At first it seemed like a twisted joke. God is love.

After his death, I put Fr. Catfish out of my mind. It was too painful to think about. Then one day, I was reading something about Pope John Paul II. The author suggested that JP II's suffering and death from Parkinson's Disease were just as much a part of his ministry as his active days of energetic travel. Through the way he responded to suffering and dying, the Pope taught us how to suffer and die in a holy way.

I came to realize that suffering and death are something every one of us will face. My resentment about Fr. Catfish's cancer gradually gave way to a gratitude that I had been taught by his example, that I had this example of a consecrated person who was faithful even to the end. In sickness and in health, Fr. Catfish was faithful to his priesthood, to God, and to us, God's people.

It was Fr. Catfish who, by example, taught me about the fidelity of consecrated life. He was faithful. As I discern my own vocation, and think about consecrated life, I am daily grateful for Fr. Catfish's faithfulness and holiness, and his witness, to the very end, that God is love.

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