A Hopeful Witness
Late on Wednesday evening, I received word that Toni Diem had passed from this world into the next. The Church of St. Francis Xavier is a richer parish thanks to Toni’s service as our Director of Music. When I first arrived in July of 2014, Fr. Hennen had informed me that Toni had been battling breast cancer and that the past several months had been particularly challenging one’s for Toni. Yet, Toni approached her illness with such peace and joy it could be easy to miss the seriousness of her predicament. More than a few times I had to remind myself of Toni’s cancer, because she bore it so virtuously as to make it seem almost an afterthought.
I have had countless conversations with parishioners and staff here at the parish about the remarkable witness Toni has given to each of us, especially since her resignation last May and as the inevitable outcome of death approached. A great many of these conversations have highlighted Toni’s remarkable courage and faith, two virtues that she enshrined so wonderfully for everyone who met her. However, I would like to comment on the magnificent way in which Toni modeled the virtue of hope. The German philosopher Josef Pieper wrote a treatise on the virtue of hope, touching on both its natural and supernatural dimensions, and discussed hope as being the virtue that accompanies man on his way. “The ‘way’ of man,” Pieper wrote, “leads to death.” Hope is not about denying this reality or creating a daydream to which one can have respite during trying times; rather, hope is the virtue that enables us to look towards our ultimate destination without fear.
It is easy to have hope when one is young and healthy, but the virtue becomes decidedly more difficult when the ravages of age and disease take their toll on our person. Toni lost her youth and health far too quickly, but she never lost her understanding of life’s journey and ultimate destination of leaving this world for the next one. Blessed with the virtue of hope, Toni was able in her years of illness to remind all of us that our ultimate fulfillment and purpose is not to be found in this world, but rather in the next one. I believe Toni’s hope was ultimately the source of her great courage, as it allowed her to see beyond the cancer and into the very essence of God Himself. While we will all miss her and mourn for her passing, let us honor Toni by carrying forth the same kind of hope that motivated her until she passed on October 14th.
“In hope we were saved,” St. Paul writes in the Letter to the Romans (Rom 8:24). Let us pray together for Toni’s happy repose and the consolation of all her loved ones, asking with hope that all will now receive salvation through Jesus Christ.