Father John is in his late seventies, but leads a full and active life. In addition to his priestly duties, he also teaches math and computer science at Msgr. Farrell high School here on Staten Island. He is a lover of theater and would often make mention of Broadway shows in his homilies. His somewhat stern, dour countenance would seem contrary to such interests, but he was a man of many parts. His religious philosophy was strictly by the book; I don't think there was much wiggle room in his adherence to church dogma. One of his favorite homily themes was about today's moral message of "if it feels good, do it." He would often remind us that as Catholics we should be more Christ-like in our lives and less tempted to go with the societal flow.
His homilies were sometimes interesting, especially when he shared his knowledge of what everyday life was like for the Hebrews when Jesus walked the earth. He seemed to be well versed in the historic, religious and cultural customs of the time, and was at his best I think when articulately expounding on them. He had a habit of routinely checking his watch after every homily as if he had set a time limit in advance and wanted to check how close he came to meeting it. Sometimes, when he seemed short of material, he would use the common priestly practice of paraphrasing what we had just heard in the readings. Most priests resort to this tactic as if they are being paid by the word instead of how well the congregation gets their message.
Our Pastor, Father Joy Mampilly, is a sweet man from India who loves to sing. (Sadly he was saddled with two serious impediments to this passion...a high, reedy voice that is very hard to listen to, and the inability to carry a tune.) Father Joy's voice held some emotion when he made the announcement about Father John. Last we heard he was taking some time off for knee surgery. Only this morning did we find out that his condition is much more serious. It wouldn't surprise me if he knew how sick he was, but chose not to share or complain about it. His admonitions to us to live more like Christ he probably applied tenfold to himself and would be inclined to bear his burden alone and soldier on.
Men like Father John Comiskey (and women too) who devote themselves to their God and to helping others are all too often taken for granted. Theirs is pretty much a 365/24/7 calling and we expect they will be there for us when someone needs last rites, a funeral prayer or just a sympathetic ear. My young life was shaped for the better by men like Father John, and I can never thank them enough for their dedication. Too often we only hear the bad things about priests but rarely do we appreciate the services they faithfully perform for us day in and day out. They comfort the sick, give hope to the despondent, share the joy of our Baptisms, Communions, Confirmations and Weddings while sacrificing so much in their own lives to bring us closer to God.
I'll pray for Father John that somehow he'll pull through. If he doesn't make it, he can go to his maker knowing he lived by the book and that his reward will surely be waiting. (He'll be checking his watch.)
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