In the wee hours of this morning I happened to see a Facebook post from Bishop Stika that he had been at the hospital visiting Jeff Emitt, a seminarian of the Diocese of Knoxville, and that Jeff was in his final hours, and that he would likely “return to the Father” within a very short time. The Bishop later posted that Jeff had entered Eternal Life not long after he had left him. Jeff was our diocese’s oldest seminarian, and he was waging a very long battle with cancer. I first came to know Jeff myself when we were parishioners together at Holy Ghost, and were both active members in Knights of Columbus Council 645. When Jeff entered seminary for the diocese, this seemed like no surprise at all to me when I heard about it, and I doubt I was the only one. Those of us who knew Jeff believed he would be an excellent priest because he had so much life experience. He had been married and widowed, he knew what it was like to labor for a living, and he identified with the marginalized, with the weak, and the powerless. He certainly made me feel welcome when Nicole and I first came to Knoxville together as husband and wife and we became a part of Holy Ghost at the time, and I joined 645.
There is no question in my mind that Jeff Emitt would have been a fine and holy priest, for he was a holy man who carried himself with quiet dignity. The last extended conversation that I had with him was online, regrettably it was a year and a half or so ago, and I ended by sharing with him that if I were ordained a deacon, I hoped that one day I would be able to assist him at the altar. That won’t be happening on this side of eternity, but perhaps one day, in that Great Eternal Liturgy (cf. Revelation ch4–ch.5) we will celebrate together in union with the whole Body of Christ with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. It can be difficult to think and wonder why God didn’t allow all of us to enjoy the blessings of “Father Jeff,” and I can’t even pretend to have the answers to that, but we can be thankful for the gift of Jeff Emitt’s life, and the gift that he was to the Church in the time that he was with us here in the Church Militant. He has, as the bishop said, returned to the Father. Perhaps it is a chance for us to reflect on the reality that we, too, seek to return to the Father, and when we do, we can look to Jeff as an example of the goodness and holiness, of the kind of life that we might want to lead in reflecting Christ to others, as he did.
One only needs to take a gander at social media to see the reaction of Jeff’s passing from this present world, and the friends that he enjoyed and the people that he touched, and the mark that he left on our local Church. If I seem at a loss for words, I am, but I wanted to try and pray for Jeff in the way that he deserves, and I thought of a way common to any of us who are in formation for the priesthood or the diaconate or the religious life. It is a prayer said by seminarians, priests, monks, friars, brothers, sisters, and many of the people of God throughout the world at the end of many days.
Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiae,
vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevae,
ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos
misericordes oculos ad nos converte;
et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.
Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
our life, our sweetness, and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.
To thee do we sigh, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us,
and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
This is one of the most beautiful renditions of the Salve Regina that I have ever heard. It actually comes from the funeral Mass of Archduke Otto von Habsburg of Austria. I was struck by the way the entire congregation belted out this beautiful hymn to Our Lady, and I thought it a very worthy way to unite in virtual prayer online for Jeff. Many of us pray this prayer, or some variant of it, at the end of each day so that, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we pray that we might be shown through her into the arms of Jesus at the end of “this our exile” in this world.
Jeff, may the angels receive you into Paradise. May the martyrs receive you, and lead you to the holy city, Jerusalem. May the ranks of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, once a poor man, may you have eternal rest.
Jeff Emitt’s visitation will be this Friday, July 18th at Lynnhurst/Greenwood Chapel, 2300 West Adair Drive, Knoxville, TN 37918. The Funeral Mass will be held on Saturday, July 19, 2014 at Holy Ghost Church in Knoxville at 10:00 a.m.