My Dad, Faithful Witness

(photo: Register Files)

Joseph P. Nash, the father of EWTN Theology Adviser Tom Nash, died on Sept. 4.  What follows is Tom's remembrance at his father's funeral Mass on Sept. 8 at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Ann Arbor, Mich.

In recent days, many people have paid tribute to Dad, explaining how he has influenced their lives.

And each of Dad’s many grandchildren could tell you how Grandpa has impacted their own lives, and I will share with you a few testimonies.

Joe Nash, my godson, had this to say:

“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from Grandpa Nash is that the material things in life don’t really matter. He would always talk about how he was a ‘Depression kid’ and wasn’t concerned with having the biggest house or the newest car. I can remember one time, when we were staying at Grandma and Grandpa’s, and we were all eating breakfast. Grandma was eating a cruller and turned to Grandpa to say, ‘Joe, the crullers are stale.’ Looking over at the box, you could see a giant orange sticker that said, “Sale: $1.” Grandpa then turned to Grandma and said, ‘We were Depression kids, Gen; I think they are fine.’”

Speaking of which, I found a few boxes of cereal a couple of weeks ago in the garage cabinets at Grandpa’s home. Dad had forgotten about them, and they were two years out of date, but in the good Dad Nash spirit, and having interviewed Third-World missionaries who don’t waste anything, I’ve been eating them. And they’ve been fine, and I’ve been fine in consuming them. Now, had they been dairy products, that would’ve been a different story. But I digress.

Graham Nash said:

“Grandpa always seemed to be in good spirits. It wasn’t until I grew older and heard him tell stories of his upbringing that I discovered why. Grandpa grew up during the Great Depression, in a studio apartment with only his father. They didn’t even have their own icebox; instead, it was shared with the other units in the apartment.

“As part of the ‘Greatest Generation,’ Grandpa served in World War II, came back to bury his father, then met a wonderful woman and had the large family he always wanted but never got to have as a child. Grandpa was always in good spirits because he didn’t have much growing up and was thankful for everything he had. His gratitude for life’s gifts was always a refreshing reminder of how good we all have it, and a lot of that is thanks to him.”

Joe's and Graham’s words remind me of something Pope Paul VI said in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi in 1975. Pope Paul wrote, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”

Pope Francis, our current Holy Father, referenced Paul VI in saying something similar in his own apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium issued in late 2013. He said: “Whoever wants to preach must be the first to let the word of God move him deeply and become incarnate in his daily life. ... This has great pastoral importance. Today, too, people prefer to listen to witnesses: They ‘thirst for authenticity’ and ‘call for evangelizers to speak of a God whom they themselves know and are familiar with, as if they were seeing him.’”

Dad, Grandpa, understood that — and strove to live it.

And, Dad, Grandpa, also understood that love without truth is not authentic, because it doesn’t promote the good of loved ones, both here on earth and for the hereafter.

After all, Jesus said, “I am the truth,” and “The truth will set you free.”

Erin Coduti, Dad’s granddaughter, hit on this point in her own reflection. She said:

“When I was little, I didn't realize how special my grandpa was. He was just like the grandfathers in all my storybooks — after all, a vast sea of wisdom, love and patience. Grandpa was never shy about telling anyone if he thought they were putting the wrong foot forward — but his criticism never overshadowed his love and belief in you. When he decided something, Grandpa could be amazingly stubborn and resolute ... so I’m glad most of his decisions were such good ones. And, of course, it was impossible to know him and not see the steadfast faith that never seemed to waver, no matter what life threw at him. As I’ve grown older — and a little wiser — I’ve come to realize how very blessed we all have been to have Joseph Nash in our lives. If my grandkids someday feel for me the same way I feel about Grandpa ... I will be proud of my life.”

In reflecting on Dad myself in a Father’s Day commentary for the National Catholic Register two years ago, I wrote,

“Love at its best need not be asked. Rather, it greatly desires — and takes the initiative to seek out — the good of the beloved.”

Dad’s grandchildren have seen that authenticity in Grandpa that Pope Francis spoke of. We all have seen it: an evangelizer who speaks in word and deed of a God whom he knew, whom he was familiar with, as if we were seeing God himself.

Perhaps the most compelling witness was how Dad and Mom welcomed Mary, their youngest child, into their lives — into our lives — back in February 1966. Mary had Down syndrome and went home to the Lord in 2008, at age 42, when doctors didn’t think she would make it home from the hospital, given her defective lungs and heart and bowel surgery that was needed in her infancy.

There’s no doubt that children with Down syndrome require greater care, and, sadly, today some 90% are aborted in America, because so many parents are afraid of embracing the challenge to love.

But Mom and Dad understood that, with God, all things are possible, and so that the words of the old marriage rite are not simply pious platitudes, but wondrous realities, if only we embrace the cross that leads to Resurrection.

The old marriage rite said, “Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy. Perfect love can make it a joy.”

And the impact of Mom and Dad’s witness regarding Mary went far beyond the family.

Monica Pope, the director of faith formation here at St. Thomas [the Apostle Catholic Church in Ann Arbor, Mich.], shared with me the following anecdote, as we began to prepare for Dad’s funeral on the day that Dad died.

Monica said:

“For a few years, my husband, Tracy, and I would watch Mr. Nash, Mrs. Nash and Mary go up to receive Communion. We couldn’t figure out what exactly drew us to watch the threesome so closely. Finally, one day, my husband mentioned it, ‘Why do we always watch them?’ We didn’t know, but we agreed we found them to be utterly compelling. Then, we had Naomi — a little baby girl, No. 10 of 10, with Down syndrome. About your parents and Mary, my husband commented to me, ‘We’ve been in school!’ When Mary died, we were devastated. We were devastated for losing her. We were devastated for your family’s loss, especially for your parents — how could Mrs. and Mr. Nash carry on without Mary? But we were devastated for ourselves, too. We had been schooled by your parents and Mary. Were we being schooled, now, too? We cried a lot of tears. Sometimes, in the years since Mary and Mrs. Nash died, when Mr. Nash would talk to my daughter Naomi, his voice would break a little. He would weep a little. Naomi has red rosary beads your father made for her. He gave them to her and said, ‘These are for a sweet little doll.’ She cherishes those beads.”

As Father Bill noted in his homily, Dad had a great devotion to Jesus in his Divine Mercy and how we need to recognize our own need for that mercy, and thus repent and grow in holiness in an ongoing manner.

Dad also had a great devotion to Our Lord in his Sacred Heart. We grew up with an image of the Sacred Heart in our home, and I’ve long had one in my own home wherever l’ve lived.

And as Notre Dame football players tap their locker-room sign — “Play Like a Champion Today” — before they go out to do battle on the gridiron, and Michigan players do the same regarding their own sign — “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions” — so I do for an even nobler purpose, with my own image of the Sacred Heart, whenever I leave my bedroom each day, and say, “Help me do your will today, Lord,” or similar words.

I highly recommend it as a means to grow in your personal relationship with Jesus, within the context of our communal relationship in the Church, his Mystical Body.

First Fridays are fundamental to the devotion to Our Lord in his Sacred Heart.

And one of the 12 promises Jesus gave to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque is this: “I will be their secure refuge during life, and above all in death.”

After Dad appeared to rally, we were all ready to have his hospice care continue at Angela Hospice in Livonia, Mich. But Dad left us quickly and peacefully in the early morning of Friday, Sept. 4.

It was the First Friday of the month. Coincidence? I would argue, rather, divine Providence.

Similarly, I tried to have the funeral on Labor Day because of those traveling and those in school.

But the parish was understandably closed yesterday.

Yet, isn’t it fitting that we gather here today, on Sept. 8, the feast of the Blessed Mother’s birthday, for a man who loved her and whose actions in making rosaries spoke far and wide about how she leads us closer to her divine Son, as we meditate on the Christ-centered mysteries of the Rosary? Providence.

And now, given that Dad is a distinguished war veteran, I would like to conclude first by reading the poem High Flight, and then offer a few, brief final words.

Some of you younger people have never experienced this, but, back in the day, television wasn’t 24/7.

And so, at the end of the day, in the early a.m. hours, programming would end, and you would just see snow for several hours.

Well, as some of us older folks who are night owls could tell you, television stations would often end their days of programming with a dramatic reading of High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, complete with aviation video.

Magee, a British-American pilot in the Second World War, who flew a Spitfire, wrote his poem at a rather young age, as he died at age 19 in December 1941, during a training flight in England.

Here, now, is High Flight:

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds —
and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of —
wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hovering there, I’ve chased the shouting wind along
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue,
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
and, while, with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
the high, untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Lt. Joseph Patrick Nash Jr.: faithful son, brother, soldier; faithful husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, relative and friend to so many; faithful disciple of Jesus Christ in his one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Mission Accomplished. And until, please Lord, we can all meet again in heaven, you are dismissed in Christ, good and faithful servant. Amen.