When people ask me, “How’s your brother doing,” I never know quite what to say. “He’s dying,” seems to make most uncomfortable.
I have had some people say, “Wasn’t he close to dying a while ago?” I know they mean well, but again, I am not sure what to say. I feel like they are waiting for an apology of some kind for his still being alive. One look at Fr. Joe and you can only wonder how much more his poor body can take, and how HAS he survived the slow decay of his body?
I started thinking about Fr. Joe through various events of his life. When he was younger, he was extremely curious. Hiis curiosity would often times get him into trouble. He would get in trouble for taking an alarm from one of the many BigWheels in our garage and strategically set it up in his high school locker. I am not quite sure how he rigged it, but one day, the alarm just went off at a random time, and no one could shut it down until that Joe Peek was found. On another occasion, unbeknownst to Mom or Dad as well as the rest of us, he decided to see if he could bike from our home in Decatur all the way to the airport and back. Oh, by the way, it was around midnight when he successfully attained what he set out to do.
When he would get punished, he never seemed phased by whatever punishment was doled out to him. Not that he was being defiant or disrespectful. Joe has never had a malicious bone in his body. It’s just that he never allowed his spirit to be broken.
I also remember when he was with the Navy Air and Sea Rescue unit. He was sent to a mock POW camp where the powers that be try to break you - in order that you be prepared for the future possibility of being taken by an enemy camp. When he would tell us some of the ways they would try to break his spirit, he would have a sense of pride that no matter what they did, they could never break him. His spirit was indeed unbreakable.
I also remember a year ago, when I looked at Fr. Joe and wondered how it could get any worse. And yet, with each passing week, the condition of his body worsened and continues to worsen. When I look at him today in amazement of what his body has gone through, I think about his spirit.
I think he must be approaching this like he has approached every other hardship in his life - with an indefatigable spirit. His spirit is definitely willing as his flesh continues to weaken and disappear.
Fr. Joe has often been compared to Christ, not just because as a priest, he represents Christ, but also because of the many wounds covering his body. The wounds on his feet, the wounds on his arms, the wounds on his back, the wounds on his side, and the horrible wounds on his head and face. But this week, I saw two other ways Fr. Joe resembles Christ.
After Christ was beaten up by the soldiers, mocked and spit upon, scourged, and then crowned with thorns, I would wonder during my mediations, how did His body endure all of that and then go out and carry the cross. Any other person in Christ’s situation would have died way before the carrying of the cross. And yet, Christ had to fulfill His mission - to die on the cross to save souls. Christ’s spirit was unbreakable because like Fr. Joe, He had not yet completed his mission.
There was another aspect to the suffering Christ endured during His Passion and that was humiliation. When He reached Calvary, Christ was stripped of His clothing - a painful experience both in the reopening of His wounds as well as in the humiliation of being bare before all.
A week ago, Fr. Joe had wound care, something he used to have three times a week and now is barely able to do once a week. He puts on a swim suit and then gets into a tub to debreed his wounds so that new dressings can be applied. This is not only an extremely painful process for him, but it is also an exhausting one. This past week he was so wiped out by the whole deal that a few times, he had to take oxygen from a machine to get him semi-through the process. I say, “semi-through,” because after the wound care, he was physically unable to get out of his swim suit. He was physically unable to put on his UnderArmour which he wears to hold the bandages on his back in place. An UnderArmour was cut up the front to form a vest so that he could slip his arms in and pin the front. However, he has lost so much weight from being unable to eat for over two months now that a week later, the UnderArmour was no longer holding the bandages in place. A week later, he was still in his swim suit.
Watching him struggle to sit up, stand up, and hobble to the bathroom while only in a swim suit and a barely-hanging on UnderArmour would break the heart of even the toughest soul. I know this must embarrass him at some level, but he takes this humiliation like Christ did - in silence. Looking at Christ on the cross with little more than what looks like a swim suit and looking at Fr. Joe, one can see many resemblances.
Louis Zamerini, star of the movie Unbroken, once said, “Where there’s still life, there’s still hope.”
Fr. Joe perseveres because of his hope in Christ - whatever God’s will may be. As Fr. Joe nears his own Calvary, his tireless spirit, his unflagging spirit, remains unbroken.