Monday, August 11, 2008
courageous torch bearer
Father Luke Zimmer, a gifted priest located in southern california, had a great impact on many people. I met him on a few occasions at various masses and retreats. He often held seminars on angels and personally enrolled myself and a friend in the scapular of Mount Carmel.
It was fascinating to find out that many of my friends had a special realationship with Fr. Zimmer. It would not be until years after his death and my involvement with the devotion to Our Lady of America, that the phrase there are no coincendences with God would take on a new meaning.
The year was 2005 and the international pilgrim statue of Our Lady of America was sent to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on a series of missions here in Greater Los Angeles. We were grateful to Sr. Joseph Therese for the opportunity to have "the miraculous statue".
The pilgrim statue is about 3 feet tall and traveled from Ohio to Los Angeles UPS in a special traveling trunk. When Our Lady arrived in Los Angeles we eagerly opened the trunk, only to discover that her head had been crushed in transit. Two days before the special mass in her honor DEC.8, feast on The Immaculate Conception panic stuck us all. We immediately contacted sister expecting the worst, but in her calm gentle voice she assured us all would be well. The first frantic call was placed to find a artist who could recreate the face of Our Lady. All we had to go on were two small pieces of her cheeks left among the pile of what once was her head and veil. An artist in Santa Monica offered his services. We left Our Lady with him not knowing what to expect.
That evening a rehearsal was planned to prepare for the mass. Not knowing if we would even have the statue finished in time, we planned the liturgy in honor of Our Lady of America and her Immaculate Conception. During a break I showed those participating a collection of photos given to me by The Our Lady of America Center, showing the pilgrim statue on tour with Fr.Luke Zimmer on one of his 101 Peace Flight to underground China. Three people involved with the mass had been on that same trip with Our Lady and Fr. Zimmer. They shared how Fr.Zimmer always held Our Lady of America close to him while traveling. The seat next to Father on the plane was reserved for Our Lady. How miraculous it had been for them because doors just seemed to open. It was very dangerous in communist china, especially if you were carrying a statue of the Virgin. Fr.Zimmer was always careful to carry her is a special trunk that resembled a piece of luggage. When mass was celebrated Our Lady would be taken out of the luggage and set in a place of honor.
It was a prayer of Fathers to celebrate mass for the persecuted church in China. He petition Our Lady for this request and it was granted. Holy Mass would be celebrated for those living under the communist regime. Our Lady of America was a source of peace and healing for all present at the mass. Our Lady's persecuted priests living in hiding erected a shrine in her honor to remember the grace they received that day.
To all those present on the pilgrimage Our Lady's presence was that of a mother, protecting her children from harm. Father Luke Zimmer's trust and childlike abandon to his heavenly mother only added to the cherished memories of those traveling the 101 Peace Flight.
Needless to say the artist in Santa Monica was able to completely recreate Our Lady's face . That same face Fr.Luke Zimmer saw seated next to him,graced the city named after her, Our Lady Queen of Angels.
Father Luke Zimmer rest in God's peace.
Memorable quotes of Father Luke
The following homily was given at the Memorial Mass for Fr. Luke celebrated at San Buenaventura Mission, Ventura, California by Msgr. Michael Hughes, retired pastor of St. Kilian’s, Mission Viejo, California where Fr. had given parish renewals over the years.
This evening we come to remember a man – Father Luke Bernard Zimmer – whom many of us came to know through his priestly ministry of 43 years. Many things could be said about Fr. Luke in reflecting on his life and his vocation as priest. Let me begin by sharing Fr. Luke’s own story about his call to priesthood.
Bernard or Ben as his family called him growing up, first began to think about being a priest in high school after a visit from his aunt and great-aunt who were sisters in religious garb. They preached "a sermon in silence" as he watched them pray. However, Ben decided he didn’t have a vocation because he wanted to get married, so he pushed it out of his mind. He worked on his father’s farm after high school until he enlisted in the Army Air Corps.
Ben was on his way to boot camp when he became sick with rheumatic fever. It was during the two month hospital stay that he again thought about becoming a priest. He received news that on of his brothers was planning to marry a non-Catholic. Ben decided right then and there that he would become a priest. He offered himself so that his sister-in-law would become a Catholic and there would be one faith in the house and family. This is the offering he made and from that time on, he never again doubted that he had a vocation to the priesthood.
Eventually Ben began his basic training. Towards the end of his training, Ben had another attack of rheumatic fever and he ended up in the hospital again. This led to his medical discharge from the Army. Ben returned home to Wisconsin, where he once again was inflicted with rheumatic fever which confined him to bed for more than a year. It was during this time that Ben developed a deep prayer life.
One day while in bed he looked at the Crucifix and saw Christ on the Crucifix and said, "Who am I to be above the Master? He suffered so much and he was innocent…. Certainly I can suffer and offer my sufferings with Him to the Father for others." Then suffering took on a deeper meaning. Ben realized at that moment that Jesus Christ was an all-loving God, that Jesus loved him with an unconditional love, that Jesus loved him just as he was!
Ben so united his life with Jesus, the words from our First Reading come to mind:
"Do not ask me to abandon or forsake you! For wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Whenever you die I will die, and there be buried. May the Lord do so and so to me, and more besides, if ought but death separates me from you!"
It was during this time that Ben prayed the 15 decade rosary, meditating on the life of Jesus and Mary, day in and day out. He thought about all that the different mysteries of the rosary meant in the spiritual life. They came alive for him! He applied them to his own life and learned much more about the Scriptures through them. He learned how God, how Jesus really loves us. It would be ten years later in 1955 when God would ask Fr. Luke to pray the fifteen decade rosary every day until he died. Fr. Luke responded, "That’s impossible. You know what I do every day," but God simply repeated his request. Fr. Luke then would say, "O.K. if that’s what You want, You give me a fifteen-decade Rosary." The next day Fr. Luke received the gift of a fifteen decade rosary from someone who was not aware of God’s request. Fr. Luke remained faithful to praying the fifteen decade rosary every day from that day forward. He would be inspired to pray and share the meditations of the Mystical Rosary, uniting with Jesus in the Mass.
Ben made his total commitment to Jesus through Mary while still confined to bed in April 1946. This led him to an even deeper prayer life. He began to understand, to live and to realize the deep, intimate relationship of spiritual living with the Triune God! Ben came to know that he wanted to be a Religious priest because he wanted to give himself as a Religious with vows, giving himself completely and totally to God. He knew he wanted to join a Congregation that had devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to St. Joseph, and with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Ben entered the seminary of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in 1948, made Final Profession of Vows in 1952 and was ordained to the priesthood as Father Luke on June 5, 1954 at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
If we are to reflect on Fr. Luke’s life as a priest the Responsorial Psalm come to mind as words Jesus must have spoken to him, "Be not afraid, I walk before you always. Come follow me, and I will give you rest." Fr. Luke served in Massachusetts, Minnesota, California, and Hawaii during his priesthood.
Fr. Luke described his life as Mass-centered. The Mass and Christ in the Blessed Sacrament meant so much to him. His love for God deepened as he spent more time in prayer, in a real deep union with Jesus. Fr. Luke wrote in his book Chosen, "God seemed to spoil me, granting me every request, even the littlest detail. Prayers were answered lovingly and tenderly." This was how Fr. Luke explained the cure of his aunt from a tumor after he had prayed, asking the intercession of St. Therese the Little Flower. Through the years, Fr. Luke was chosen to be the instrument to cure people. Yet, as he explained, "it’s not every time I pray for people or bless them that they will be cured. Some are, some are not. Some are cured immediately, some after a time. It proves that God is the One Who cures people, no one else.... He is only using us as an instrument to bring about these cures in the lives of people." Fr. Luke believed the words of St. Paul in the Second Reading,
"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers: then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way."
Fr. Luke was shown "a still more excellent way" and so he was called by the Lord to seek permission from his community superiors in 1971 to establish the Apostolate of Christian Renewal in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
He wished to call people to devote their lives to Christ through Mary, as he had been living since 1946. His deep prayer life developed his understanding of this commitment to Jesus. He wanted to share with others Vatican Council II’s call to a life of holiness, a life of love, of prayer and of service to others. Thus, the Apostolate of Christian Renewal developed as a Roman Catholic movement whose purpose is to bring to fruition Jesus’ prayer for unity at the Last Supper, which are the words of our Gospel:
"…. that all may be one as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, that they may be one, as we are one – I living in them, you living in me – that their unity may be complete. So shall the world know that you sent me, and that you loved them as you loved me…."
Today this movement is composed of the Lay Servants and Handmaids throughout the country, and the Religious Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Mary and Joseph who serve here at the Mission. Please keep in your prayers that in the future Religious Servants (priests and brothers) will be founded, as Fr. Luke had always envisioned.
Thus began the work that Fr. Luke had been chosen and called by God to do and which he continued right up until his death on January 7, 1997. Through the years Fr. Luke wrote books and prayers, published the Christian Renewal newspaper, produced audio and video tapes while he traveled throughout the country giving parish renewals and directing retreats and pilgrimages throughout the world. He served as spiritual director and confessor to many people throughout the country which he ministered to through letter-writing and phone calls.
Fr. Luke attributed his ability to maintain such an active ministry as priest to a deep prayer life and the grace of God. He daily celebrated Mass, faithfully prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, prayed the Mystical Mass prayer which was inspired through years of private prayer, and prayed the fifteen decade Mystical Rosary in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. He prayed many other devotional prayers as well as went to confession frequently. His purpose in all of this was to commit himself "to building up the parish family community by bringing about the renewal of the person and the family: to help each person become a Saint by becoming Jesus for and to others."
I would like to conclude with Fr. Luke’s own words about his life that he wrote in the book Chosen:
"We cannot just pass over the things that God does in our lives as if they did not happen. I think, at times, we do have a responsibility to share what has happened in our lives, the experiences that we have received and the Graces and gifts that God has given. It is a grave responsibility. We must share these with others, especially today. We live in a time when people need more than ever to be shown that God does exist, that He does choose people, at times, and give them a special mission in life. To be chosen, in this way, does not make any one person great or extraordinary, in his own right. This, in itself, does not make that person a saint. What it does mean is that God can choose whomever He will for whatever He wishes. Usually, when He is working with souls and He has a special mission to be performed, God chooses the lowly…. He chooses sinners to carry out His designs. His reason for doing this is to make us realize that, of ourselves, we are nothing. We can do nothing, without Him. We are weak and He is the One Who is strong. He wishes us to become strong, through Him and in Him, in order that He may glorify Himself. He uses these weak instruments to confound the strong so that through the events that take place in the life of that person, it is God who shines through, it is God’s work which is manifested – not the individual, not the person whom He chooses to use. This is what I hope, in relating the story of my life, will shine through: that God is the One to be praised and honored. God is the One to be glorified, and no one else."
Let us reflect on Fr. Luke’s life so as to praise, honor and glorify God.