by Robert Moynihan

My father, William T. Moynihan, passed away at his home in Connecticut, just before dawn on March 28, after a brief illness. He was 93. I was not able to be with him due to travel restrictions connected with the coronavirus

 “Like a flower he comes forth and withers. He flees like a shadow and does not remain.” Job 14:2

“Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall all indeed rise again.”St. Paul, First Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter 15:51

“For He will transform the body of our humiliation into the image of His glorious body.” Philippians 3:21

March 30, 2020—My father, William T. Moynihan, passed away on Saturday morning, March 28, two days ago, just before dawn, peacefully, at his home in Connecticut. I do not know if the coronavirus had any role in his death. He was not tested. Toward the end, he did have a spiking fever which reflected a painful internal infection. But I did not expect his death so soon.

Due to quarantines and restrictions on travel, I was not able to be with him (I left Italy before travel restrictions locked the country down, but did not go to see him at my childhood home in Connecticut to avoid any chance that I might carry the virus with me and infect him). Our parish priest, Fr. John Antonelle, of St. Thomas Aquinas Church  in Storrs, Connecticut, was not afraid of the virus, and came to our house, to my father’s bedside, and anointed him and gave him the last rites. My father saw and understood, and nodded, and fell into his last deep sleep. I will not be present tomorrow for the Rite of Christian Burial when my father is buried next to my mother. 

Only five people are allowed to gather at one time and place in Connecticut today. So Father John, together with someone from the local funeral home, two of my brothers, and one of my sisters, will commend my father to God. This editorial, then, must become my farewell to him.

My father was the grandson of an Irish immigrant who came to Haverhill, Massachusetts in about 1870. For such Irish immigrants, the Catholic parish was a second home — and sometimes, a first home. The Church meant so much to them. It indicated to them that “higher road” my father urged me to walk in life.

When I was four or five, my father handed me an old Catholic missal he had thumbed through in minor seminary (yes, he studied to become a priest; if he had continued, I would not be here). “This is the most important book you will ever own,” he said, to my wide-eyed wonder. The missal’s pages were fine as gossamer, transparent, so thin that turning them was a marvel — the paper was so thin I thought it might tear, but so strong it never tore. In that thick missal, with its various colored threads to mark places, were the prayers of the Church: the Mass, the daily office, and all of it both in Latin and in English. So I felt from earliest childhood that I was poised between a culture of “now” and a culture of “always.” Between a way of using words (in English) that my playground friends and I could share with ease, and a way of using words none of us could use with ease, but which rolled down the centuries like a sonorous tolling bell, telling me each week, each day, “we are one people, one tradition, from the apostles until today, via a cloud of witnesses whose names we chant: Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian.” That I felt from the age of five. That my father gave me.

There would be a time to say much more. He helped me when I started the magazine in 1993, writing many beautiful, thoughtful articles, and without him perhaps the magazine would not have survived — he also helped me financially. He thought and wrote clearly. He urged me to think and write clearly. I owe him so much, beyond what can be written.

But for this day, I want to remember one thing he wrote for me that I never read until a few weeks ago, when my sister found the passage in my father’s diary. It was the entry for the day of my birth.“Thursday, November 12, Robert Barnes Moynihan born 4 a.m. this day at Meriden hospital. Dr. Pennington delivering. Mother fine. Dear Robert, welcome to existence. I fear you will be exposed to the eternal struggle for eternal life in  much the way your father was. Instead of learning from my mistakes, I hope you learn from my virtues. Don’t question for an instant the nature of this existence — it is struggle — a testing. For what purpose? No man knows for sure, but if you look closely and sympathetically you will see that a meter and rhyme so closely intermingles both the human (animal) and divine that you know eternity is a phase of life yet to be had. God love, protect and bless you. Maria, ora pro nobis.”

I did not know my father had written such words to me. I did not know that he had invoked God’s protection and blessing and Mary’s prayer on my life and on his life and my mother’s life — “Mary, pray for us,” for us, not “Mary, pray for him,” but “for us,” for me in communion with them, my parents, and with the six brothers and sisters who were to follow. And so I write these poor words in his memory, two days after his passing.

My father was a man who lived “in the light of God” and “under the aspect of eternity.” He told me that, from the perspective of the world, the faith is folly, while from the perspective of the disciples, it is God’s surpassing glory, beyond what we can imagine with our rational minds. This world tests us, even — I dare to say — enslaves us, in many ways, many different ways. In fact, we enslave ourselves. So our freedom must come from an infusion of power, of grace, which surpasses us, and heals us, and sets us free. This my father taught me.

I recall, as a boy, seeing him kneel or sit with his head in his hands after Communion. “Why does he sit with his head in his hands?” I wondered. He sat with his head in his hands to be a witness to being a man, so that I, and others, could see. And in that gesture, I understood that he was in relation with some principle, some reality, some ground of being, some holy and hidden God, who drew him toward Himself. That was the lesson my father gave to me. Not to tick off the boxes of a prefabricated life, but to get up and walk on a journey toward the infinite, even after falling down, especially after falling down, and continuing to the end, for in our end is… our beginning.

Dad, may eternal light shine upon you, and may you rest in peace.

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