It’s been four years since I lost my Dad. People still share with me stories about him on a regular basis, beautifully keeping his spirit alive in this community and in my heart. Without seeking out a lot of social events, Deacon Tom Lehman had a way of making deep, meaningful connections with those who knew him. Whether it was his immediate or extended family members, those who had the privilege of sitting in his barber chair, the ladies at the House of Bread and Peace, his fraternity of firefighters, the Cursillo community, his brother deacons, or the families and elderly of his parish, people quickly knew of his love of Jesus and his steadfast faith.
Granted, you probably heard about the endless woes of this world during many a conversation with Dad, but rarely did a conversation end without being reminded how fleeting these woes are – followed by the hope of eternal happiness in heaven. In fact, it was a family joke that it wasn’t a real holiday celebration without a discussion about death. Morbid to some, perhaps; but I have always been grateful to Dad for these and other existential conversations because they have helped to form my faith, and strengthened my search of goodness, truth, beauty, and eternity.
As we celebrate the feast of All Souls Day Nov. 2, I am reminded of something that was near and dear to Dad’s heart. That is, the path to eternal life God has prepared for believers and followers of Christ takes a difficult but necessary road through purgatory. (CCC 1030, Rev. 21:27, 2 Macc 12:43-45). He embraced the Church’s teaching on purgatory with open arms, and looked upon it not with fear and disdain, but as a true gift from our Creator. He always remembered to pray for the souls in purgatory, and often visited the cemetery to pray for his loved ones who had gone before him and all the souls who lay at rest.
I remember visits to St. Joseph Cemetery as a little girl, learning the layout of the land and where my siblings, grandparents and others were buried. It was a sacred experience. Dad truly desired that we all pray for them – and him – when the time came to pass from this world to the next. Dad was resolute that, even when we believed our deceased loved ones were on a path to heaven, we should pray for the repose of their souls. I hope my family will do the same for me. As St. Padre Pio proclaimed, “We must empty purgatory with our prayers!”
Dad was a man with many adages, humorous quips and points of focus. So much so that there has been a growing list of his famous words on a scroll of sorts hanging in my mother’s kitchen since his passing. Of the nearly 30 sayings and reflections that my family and I have been able to recall, one comes to mind almost daily. Some years ago, Dad found that he frequently looked at the clock when it read 4:44. This happened often enough that he began pondering if there was some deeper meaning behind the time. Perhaps, he mused, something significant was going to happen at 4:44 – and maybe he was given a little heads up. He shared this with a smirk and a shrug, but it was enough of a consideration that he shared this story with many of his closest friends and family. Wouldn’t you know, since his passing, my kids and I also regularly spot 4:44 – and can’t help but think of Dad. And when I think of Dad, I say a little prayer for him and all the souls who have passed from this life, usually praying St. Faustina’s hope of Divine Mercy, “For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.”
Perhaps in this fourth year after his passing, Deacon Tom’s intuition that something significant was going to happen at 44 minutes past the fourth hour of the day will come to fulfillment. Maybe believers and nonbelievers alike will increasingly be reminded by this Trinitarian number to pray for all souls. A beautiful image was given by one of Dad’s spiritual mentors, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: “As we enter Heaven, we will see them, so many of them, coming toward us and thanking us. We will ask who they are and they will say: ‘A poor soul you prayed for in purgatory.'”
Amy Schroeder, her husband Jim and their family are members of Evansville’s Holy Redeemer Parish.