By Barb Arland-Fye
Deacon Bill Olson might protest from heaven, but I’ll take the risk of paying tribute to him anyway. This really tall deacon I looked up to, literally and figuratively, entered into eternal life Dec. 29 at Grinnell Regional Medical Center.
It is not his many earthly accomplishments that moved me to write about Deacon Bill, but the testament of faith he penned and which appeared on the program for his Jan. 3 funeral Mass.
A friend at the chancery asked if I’d read Deacon Bill’s obit, and I said, yes. Then she handed me his funeral program and asked me to read the back cover, which I had not previously seen. I’ve been contemplating his message ever since.
This devout Catholic, husband, father, grandfather, lawyer, Knight of Columbus, and decorated war veteran stated that any celebration of his life should be “limited to my life in God and not to any mortal success or achievement I may have had.”
In sincere humility, he wrote: “I go to my grave knowing that there is only one judge of the human race, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. He alone, by the will of the Heavenly Father, will sit in judgment on me and on every human being at the time of death (the particular judgment) and at the end of time upon the human race as a whole.”
Deacon Bill identified himself as a sinner, and viewed the prospect of his judgment as “both terrifying and awe-inspiring.”
But he fervently believed that Jesus would “extend his mercies to me if, at death, I have maintained the intimacy with Him offered at the moment of my creation and extended again and again to me through the graces of the sacraments, beginning with my baptism and continuing throughout the course of my life.”
He shared how the sacrament of reconciliation, through the words of absolution offered by the Lord’s priests, had become more and more valuable to him through the course of his life. “This is particularly so as old-age, diabetes, heart disease and cancer have taken their toll on me,” he wrote. “Of course, the center of my sacramental life has been the opportunity to receive Our Lord, body and soul, divinity and humanity, in the Holy Eucharist.”
Parallels between Deacon Bill’s testimony of faith and the writings and actions of Pope Francis seem striking to me. Both readily acknowledge themselves as sinners and place their trust in God’s abiding love and mercy. The deacon and the Holy Father put faith into action and prayer into work.
Thank you, Deacon Bill, for inspiring me to reflect on what it means, what it takes, to get my priorities straight.