by Tren Meyers, Precious Blood Amicus
I can hear Jane, my long time spiritual director, saying to me, “At times you need to have God show up through the clear presence of another person—touch and warm expressions—sometimes we simply need what could be called ‘God with skin on.’” It’s true. If you’re really lucky, God shows up in the presence of two people at the same time. So often, in so many ways, God has showed up in the persons of companion John Bockelman and his loving wife, Mary. As many of you know, they almost always came as a team. With John and Mary, it was a team of love, of fervent prayer, of generosity, of joy and oh yes, of food.
I think John’s former pastor, Fr. Keith Branson, said it best when he said that John was “a true man of the heart.” I would like to say a few things about John’s heart if I might. Being a cousin of his beloved wife, Mary, I have known John my entire life. Little would I know that one day I would have the privilege to serve as his pastor as well (back in the 1980s). I will quickly say that he was the one more likely “pastoring” me than me pastoring him. In his humility, John would never imagine this to be the case but hundreds of times it happened in the most subtle and often non-verbal ways. Thankfully, God showed up with skin on quite a lot during those years.
John served as a corporal in the military in Japan and the Philippines; in 1952, he married Mary Meyer (they met at a barn dance) and also converted to Catholicism. He worked for the railroad, had various mechanical
and construction jobs, and was a meat cutter. John restored antique cars and tractors displaying them in area
parades. He was a 4th degree Knight and very active in his parish as a server, Eucharistic minister and usher.
I remember for some years John leading an “Our Journey in Faith” group in their home helping parishioners to sense Christ showing up in their own lives using scripture, faith sharing, prayer and food. That group really respected John’s gentle, sensitive and insightful spiritual leadership.
I have memories of competing with John to see who could eat the most hotdogs, fried chicken, ice cream or pieces of pie. He was a man of the heart, but he and I were not too heart conscious in our many eating escapades. He could play a mean hand of UNO and I can vividly hear his deep chuckle that broke out into a huge almost uncontrollable laugh as he handed me a Draw Four card or when he had beaten me at the game. When I think about it, I cannot remember anyone whose smile and laugh warmed me any more than his. John was the kind of person who would shake all over when he felt joy. I envied that in him. I sensed that on some deeper spiritual level he sensed God’s delight and allowed himself to feel it and express it fully. I suppose that is part of being a man of the heart.
Some years ago, my wife and I were driving to visit Mary and John, and as we turned onto the secondary highway toward Cole Camp, we saw unattended bicycles under a tent with a for sale sign. I learned later John fixed up these bikes and asked folks to send him a check or cash using envelopes he left for them. It was all on the honor system. When we stopped there on the way out, the sign said that if they could not pay the full amount or could not pay at all—that was okay, too. Trust and generosity like that is sort of hard to find these days.
When I remember John and sense his presence, I will always feel that I got to know someone close to God. Perhaps I will learn from that and find a way to be more like him. John’s way was unassuming, gentle, and never coercive. John’s memory encourages me to love a little more, to trust more, to be a good deal more generous, and consider being somewhat more non-judgmental (as I do not ever remember him speaking ill of someone). I know God yearns to live through all of us—some folks just get the hang of it earlier in life and live it in very simple profound and non-flashy ways that points the spotlight away from themself and to the other—and on the God who gave them the light in the first place!
I would say I have not ever met two people more proud and dedicated to be Precious Blood Companions than John and Mary. They have loved the Community deeply and dearly and loved serving as companions in their own ways often reaching out to support our members who served in Cole Camp, Warsaw, and others nearby. They have been “God with skin on” for many and I know they would say the members and companions gave the same to them.
Lastly, if you won’t think me too odd, I want to share this image I have of John, along with his parents (Ivy and Alfred) and his folks-in-law (Great Aunt Maggie and Uncle Bill). They are all sitting at a big table with Jesus, St. Gaspar, the Blessed Mother, some resurrected C.PP.S. and some other loved ones. I see lots of fried chicken, pie and ice cream, and it’s possible they could be playing cards! I see them laughing so hard—bursting out with sweet enjoyment in one another’s company—that they appear to be shaking all over, just like John used to.
Thank you, John, for teaching us more about God, about the power of prayer, about the precious sacrament of companionship and about joy! Please watch over your beloved Mary, your loved ones, and all of your Precious Blood family too. Thank you, brother. Please hear this prayer sent with love. Happy Easter life!
John’s Mass of Resurrection was February 25, 2014 at Sts. Peter & Paul Church, Cole Camp with Fr. Bill Miller, C.PP.S. and Fr. Mike Murphy officiating.