With sadness and yet joy, I recently learned of the passing of Father Paschal Cheline, beloved monk and mentor to so many people over his decades of monastic life. Sadness, knowing that his loss is a great one; joy, knowing that he can finally rest from his labors, and through the mercy of God, enter the Father’s house.
When I first entered Mount Angel Seminary, I was filled with a combination of joy, trepidation, and just a general feeling of “oh my gosh, I’m actually here!” As a fresh bright-eyed seminarian of 24 years old, I had some life experience under my belt, but not a lot. Even now, as I approach my 30th birthday, I feel that there is so much more I need to learn, and so many areas in which I need to grow. Back then, and even now, I wondered where and how this growth would occur. How would God work in my life? Then I met a certain monk who loved literature and classical music, who loved liturgy, art, the Church, seminarians and students, and loved living life. Above all, he loved God; he loved Jesus Christ.
Little did I realize the impact that Fr. Paschal Cheline would have on my life. My first encounter with him occurred at the Mount Angel Seminary orientation: my grandfather had just dropped me off and turned back toward Sacramento, my room was a complete disaster from unpacking, although to be fair it’s always a complete disaster, and I found myself praying for guidance from the Holy Spirit during this new phase of my life; much of that guidance would come from Fr. Paschal. Many of my friends who attend or have attended Mount Angel will recall from their own orientations “the talk”, where Fr. Paschal laid forth some of the, shall we say…finer…details of human formation and community life in a humorous yet straightforward manner. From there, Fr. Paschal’s words of wisdom and support would continue to guide me throughout my time at Mount Angel and beyond.
Fr. Paschal helped to reawaken within me many things which I had lost over the years, due to my own life choices or other distractions that I allowed to get in the way. His constant encouragement to read fiction novels, along with Mount Angel’s wonderful literature program, pushed me to re-discover my love for the written word, both in reading and writing. Since that first year, I have not had any time in which I was not reading a novel, even if it took a while to get through said novel due to school work, ministry, and even now lesson planning. Fr. Paschal also immersed me back into classical music, some new artists and some old favorites. I remember clearly one Saturday afternoon when I was worrying about writing a paper and Fr. Paschal told me to “put on some headphones, pour a nice glass of wine and enjoy Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.” The man had a way of knowing exactly what was needed to encourage or enliven one of his charges.
All of this, however, is secondary to how Fr. Paschal helped to nurture my love of liturgy and the Faith. From private conversations to even his “Liturgical Tidbits” before Evening Prayer on Tuesdays, the Holy Spirit working through Fr. Paschal brought me to a love of the Church and Jesus Christ that I had never imagined. When I first met him, I was still a relatively new Catholic with so much to learn. He recognized my love of learning, and pushed me to a depth of study and prayer I thought not possible. Even now, as I approach the 10th anniversary of my baptism, and with still so much to learn with new discoveries occurring all the time, I often return to Fr. Paschal’s words and encouragement.
I recall with fondness one of our last meetings together, during which he had spoke to me words that I know he has spoken to many other guys, but they were no less relevant: it was towards the end the spring semester in 2014 and I was walking through Anselm Hall, the college dormitory, to go check my mail. By this point in time, I had been struggling with my discernment, and did not know what would come next. As I proceeded past his office, I found Fr. Paschal walking, which was rare at this point in time, down to the staff lounge to have lunch. I asked if I could help him with anything, and he invited me to share lunch with him, some delicious pasta that a friend had made for him that he wanted to finish before it went bad. I suppose recognizing the Hobbit that I am, perhaps he knew that if he offered, I could help him in the task! So we enjoyed each other’s company for about an hour over that pasta, and talked about many subjects, a true blessing because even at this time he was a busy man and often had his attention pulled in many different directions by numerous tasks and people.
Where was I? Ah yes, his words of wisdom, just a few of many of the years! He did not know about my struggles, but I think he sensed what was going on, and he told me this, which he has related to many men over the years: “Young man, it’s O.K. You can pull to the side of the road for a while and rest if you need to, but don’t forget to get back on the road! Keep the faith! Move forward, and don’t stop living!” These words continue to resonate with me today, and I hope they resonate with everyone reading these words now: no matter what the difficulties, know that the Lord is in control of it all, and keep moving forward. You won’t go wrong relying on Him!
I am, of course, no longer at Mount Angel, but the passing of Fr. Paschal I know is a huge loss for that small community up there in the beautiful Willamette Valley, as well as for the thousands of people he has directly touched, and even the hundreds of thousands whom he has indirectly impacted. I still wonder about what the Lord has in store for my life, but through the encouragement of Fr. Paschal Cheline, a holy priest, a passionate teacher, a dedicated mentor, and an understanding friend, I know that through it all, the Lord’s hand is there. While I am sure he would remind us that he was only one man who desired to follow the Lord in obedience, I think we can all learn from his example: look at the impact our lives can have if we but follow the Lord, no matter where He leads, just as Fr. Paschal endeavored to do throughout his many fruitful years!
As I sit here listening to the last movement in the “Agnus Dei” of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, even with the accompanying glass of wine almost finished, although I admittedly do not know if it is good wine since I am not a big wine connoisseur, I am reflecting on the time you gave to all of us, and your service to so many men discerning God’s will in their lives. I will be forever in your debt, Fr. Paschal; thank you for your years of dedicated service to the Church, to Mount Angel, and to the many students who crossed your path. May we continue to remember you in our prayers, and through God’s mercy, may you enter the heavenly paradise, with a special corner set aside to finally finish all those novels you never got around to reading.
Réquiem ætérnam dona ei Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat ei. Requiéscat in pace. Amen.