Taking Heavy Burdens to Jesus

(Nov. 25, 1995)

On behalf of my mom, Mary Bloom, my sister Melanie, my brothers Mike, Greg, Louie & Lawrence--and their families--I thank you for coming to my dad's funeral. Many of you have said "Your dad is in heaven," and I believe it. But I also know Pa wanted people to pray for him. Pa himself had Masses offered for his friends who died. He wants you to do the same and offer Masses and prayers for him. The Bible says it is a holy and good action to pray for the dead, because we believe in the future resurrection.

Your prayers for Pa are important--and I especially thank my brother priests who are here today. Pa would be thrilled by your presence. My dad loved priests, he supported them, always had a good word and--I won't say never--but hardly ever did he criticize a priest. And he was pained by that kind of criticism or gossip. Not that he thought we are above human weakness, but because we are a sacrament, ambassadors of a better world. Pa was proud to have a son who is a priest, sometimes to the point of embarrassing me. But I got used to him telling every priest he met from Peru to Alaska, "I'm the original Father Bloom."

What I say about Pa's love for priests applies even more to the chief priest of Western Washington. It would be Pa's proudest moment to know the main celebrant of his funeral is Archbishop Murphy. And, Archbishop, on Tuesday, Nov 21 at 3 pm, you lost from this world one of your biggest supporters. His support had nothing to do with ideology, with agreeing or not with the majority of your positions. He supported you because God placed you as chief shepherd of this area. That made everything he knew about your dear to him.

And you know, that reverence he had for you, Archbishop, he had for every other priest--and in some way for every person he met. To me that is Pa's most remarkable gift especially in an age where the human person is destroyed spiritually by sensationalism, gossip, criticism--and even physically destroyed by turning away the unwanted: the poor, the immigrant, the old, the terminally ill and the unborn child. Pa's life is a small but powerful "no" to the destroying of others and "yes" to the dignity of each person.

You might ask where does that spirit of reverence come from? That brings us to today's Gospel. Jesus said, "Come to me all you who labor and find life burdensome and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon your shoulder and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart."

Mel Bloom had some heavy burdens. I do not know them all, but I know one which was perhaps the key to his relation to God and others. Pa inherited the disease of alcoholism, an illness which has a physical base, but permeates ones psychological, emotional and spiritual being. And of course Satan, the devil knows each of our weaknesses and how to use them to destroy ourselves and anyone who gets in the way, like family, friends. In the case of alcoholism you can clearly see the devil's bargain: a moment of pleasure, escape from anxiety and in return, a mountain of misery. A drop of relief which falls into an ocean of bitterness.

But Jesus holds out the opposite invitation, "Come to me, take my yoke upon your shoulders. Accept a measure of pain, suffering, discipline--the cross--and I will give you a joy, a peace you can't imagine." Even what you dread most will become pure joy.

Of course what an alcoholic dreads is life without the artificial stimulation of drink. It seems like that would be empty, boring, worthless. But Pa, after many falls, embraced what he most dreaded. He accepted Jesus' yoke and received in turn everything worthwhile. First and foremost, his wife. I may be a little prejudiced but I don't think a man could hope for a better wife than Mary Ann Perich. And he received back his six children. Sure we've been a lot of grief and expense for Pa. But I'd like to say a word to any young married couple who are thinking, two children, no more. Or to anyone considering leaving your wife & children. Think about the moment of your death and what it would be like to have around your deathbed your spouse, six children or more.

Mel Bloom made a choice and it gave him a wife, children, grandchildren and a great parish community, St. Cecilia's, Stanwood. On this small level and through the Fire Department, the Knights of Columbus and the Democratic Party he made his contribution. And it was a beautiful one. Like I said at the beginning it was marked not by negative criticism, but a positive regard for each person. I believe that when Pa was tempted to criticize, he remembered his own weakness, his past sins and the harm they did. Pa lived St. Augustine's principle: When we forget about our own sins, we focus on other peoples. But when we keep in mind our own sins, then we can bear the sins of others.

In that gentle spirit Pa fought the good fight, right up to the end. His final full day, he spent alert, smiling and as he said, "B.S.ing" with a stream of family and friends. A few hours before his death, his granddaughter said, "Grandpa, you look tired." He said, "I am so tired." He received the Blessed Sacrament for the last time, a kiss on the lips from his wife and then gently faded to a better world.

Pa fought the good fight. And his program was simple and well known: "I'm Norwegian, I'm Democrat, I'm Catholic." Norwegian, that was a conversation starter. It never implied superiority to any ethnic group or race. I never heard a racial slur from my dad's lips. He was a lifelong Democrat, even though he shared some of the serious misgivings many of us felt about the way that party has gone in the last 20 years. But I think that being a Democrat for Pa meant a vision of social justice, to be sure justice for himself and other workingmen, but in the long run justice for all people who are in a weaker position.

When he, Ma and other family members visited Peru in 1988, it was natural for that vision to include the people he met there, certainly poorer than any of those who like Pa pulled up stakes in North Dakota in the 30's, but people w/ the same faith, courage & desire for a better life for themselves & their children. Pa, together w/ Ma literally gave thousands to help people down in Peru. Pa was a Democrat in the best sense and that for him meant a vision of social justice.

Finally and most important Pa was a Catholic. He joined the Church thanks to a beautiful Croatian girl he met 57 years ago. His Catholic faith naturally incorporated all that was most beautiful in his Lutheran upbringing. And that includes the hymns. His favorite hymn and before he died he asked that Floyd & Leilani Erps sing it at his funeral was "The Old Rugged Cross." I don't know whether I should say this, but Pa would sing it when he was on a binge. You know even though we sometimes abandon our family, our friends, even Jesus, He never abandons us. I think every priest who is here can tell you that when people have fall the lowest that's often when Jesus becomes most present.

Well, Jesus did not abandon Pa. And Pa in turn took Jesus' gentle yoke on his shoulders. He clung to the old rugged cross. As the hymn says, "I will cling to the old rugged cross--and I will change it one day for a crown."


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