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Thursday, May 15, 2014
Personal Reflections ... Religion ...

I was a bit taken aback to read that Father Bob Cormier, a 57 year old Roman Catholic priest, died this past week in a tragic mountain climbing accident at Mt. Hood in Oregon. I had met Fr. Bob and had talked to him in passing back in the mid-1990s, when I was working at New Community Corporation in Newark and Fr. Bob was an assistant at St. Rose of Lima, the parish of NCC founder (and defacto boss-man) Msgr. William Linder. I left NCC in 2001 and lost track of Fr. Bob; but Not that many years ago, my brother got to know him a bit, given that he was re-assigned to a parish in Jersey City but would sometimes come out to my brother’s parish in Lyndhurst to do fill-in mass assignments. Unlike almost all other priests, Fr. Bob would never take any money for doing this.

I knew that Fr. Bob was an intelligent fellow who seemed at first to be on the quiet side, but who in fact had quite an activist streak within him. But I never suspected just how quietly but genuinely accomplished he was. Fr. Bob did youth ministry, prison outreach, parish work, drug rehab, radio commentary, was fluent in several languages, did church ministry in Guatemala most every summer, and was a bit of a theologian. He also published several books and maintained a Facebook site and a web site meant to be a “toolkit for faith” in modern times (www.thefaithkit.org). There is quite a lot of interesting and down-to-earth material on that site, it clearly is a work of love. And Fr. Bob was also an outdoor adventurer, a pilot, skier, a restaurant aficionado (he enjoyed his glass of wine with dinner), scuba diver, cave explorer, sailor, and . . . what did finally did him in . . . a mountain climber. Wow, I never would have guessed!!

Unfortunately, his recent trip to ascend Mt. Hood in Oregon was the one with his name on it. He reportedly reached the top, but then found himself on an shelf of snow that unexpectedly became unstable and gave way because of warming temperatures. And down he went.

The world and the Catholic Church has lost quite a guy. And it took his death for me (and probably a whole lot of other people) to find out just what an accomplished man that he was. He did not “radiate greatness”, you didn’t feel any particular gravity in his presence. Unlike most people who live robust lives, Fr. Bob didn’t talk much about all the wonderful stuff that he was into.

However he did leave us with some books and web sites, and I hope to catch up a bit with his thoughts over the coming weeks. God definitely pulled the rug out from under Bob Cormier, and I cringe when thinking of the fear, shock and panic during his final seconds in freefall. And yet, in a way however cruel, God was pulling back the vail, taking away the “bushel over the lamp” (Matt 5:15, Luke 11:33), a lamp that burned surprisingly bright.

Fr. Bob’s lamp is now gone dark, but to paraphrase the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Fr. Bob had been to the mountaintop, the true mountaintop . . . to quote the Zennies, he lived in the moment, he obviously made the most out of his own being. In some of our more dour moments, we Zen people chant the Evening Gatha, which asserts that “live passes swiftly by and opportunity is lost; each of us must strive to awaken . . . take heed, as the sun sets your days are diminished by one . . . do not squander your life.”

And so, hats off to you, Father Bob. You definitely did not squander your life. Your ironic passing reminds me that there is no time for being morose or depressed, no need for neurotic excuses as to why I’m not living at 100%. You were obviously a man of faith — not simply of an abstract faith in a distant God, but of a faith-filled engagement with the daily life that God gifts to us. You kept the faith, in the truest and deepest sense. I hope — perhaps I know, in some odd way — that you live on in God’s light, somewhere on a distant spiritual mountaintop far above the clouds.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:37 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, I’m sorry to hear about the death of your respected colleague. I have read about the deaths on Mount Hood and their being caused by a shelf of snow that suddenly gave way. It’s so surprising to hear of someone known and respected by a friend. So I can imagine the surprise you felt on hearing that Father Cormier was one of those in that avalanche.

    It seems he possessed the mark of a truly great person–as you say, keeping his light under a bushel. I’m sure he knew in those last seconds “this was it, I’m going”; I tend to think that there’s more joy in that realization than we imagine; afterall, he was a man of faith which he seems to have truly believed.

    His life may have been cut short (he was so young), but he added great things to his time on earth in many ways. A wonderful legacy to leave behind. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — May 16, 2014 @ 10:14 am

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