I returned from our fall high school youth retreat this weekend to the sad news that Murray Chupka, a former Bible School coworker of mine from nearly 10 years ago had passed away.
Murray was truly one of the gentlest and most humble souls I ever met. A convert to Catholicism, Murray answered God’s call and was studying in the seminary when a car accident left him paralyzed… but his desire to serve God didn’t waver. The WCR did a story about him following his accident, when a desire to help him brought many people together, trying to raise money to buy him a wheelchair van. He did get the van, but the last time I saw him, he was in such pain that sitting up was very difficult for him. He hadn’t had the chance to drive it because of this incredible suffering. But, true to his incredible character, I never heard Murray complain.
I met Murray in the fall of 1998, when I was a student at the John Paul II Bible School in Radway, Alberta. That year, he was one of the men’s dorm supervisors, charged with keeping the eighteen of us (mostly very young) men in order and growing in our faith. Considering the group of us there that year, it was a tall task… one Murray took very seriously, praying for us, listening to us, and encouraging us. He had a gentle and peaceful way of leading us, even when we tried to lock him in his room or saran-wrapped his bed. The following two years, I worked alongside him, taking a few nights in the dorm myself (giving him a break), realizing the responsibility he so embraced. It felt like a heavy one to me- but he embraced it. It was a joy to work with him and learn from him over those two years what it means to live and serve like Christ. I can still remember seeing Murray play goofy characters in skits, being totally immersed into a moment of prayer, or with an apron and rubber gloves, washing dishes alongside a group of students.
After a great deal of prayer and discernment, Murray left Radway for the seminary in the fall of 2000. He was thrilled to be able to go, and excited at the possibility God might be calling him to serve Him as a priest. After his first year, Murray returned home and got a summer job helping upkeep the Bible school, working hard at reinsulating the Chapel walls (to make morning prayer a little less freezing), cutting grass, and things like this. I vividly remember playing Frisbee golf with him in the field across the road from the Bible school on a beautiful July evening, just before I headed to a week at Camp. Murray was his usual, joyful self… even if he completely missed a shot. A few days later, I heard the tragic news: Murray had fallen asleep while driving – as he was praying the Rosary – and had been struck a semi truck and a small van. He was paralyzed from the chest down, and lucky to be alive. In suffering, Murray was still Murray… saying he had a sense of God telling him that He would be glorified through (the accident.) And He was. Murray continued to be a vessel of grace, praying for and with his roommates in the hospital, visiting prayer groups and sharing his faith and desire (still) to become a priest, and mending a few hearts and friendships along the way.
Over the last five years, I lost touch with Murray… the last time I saw him I was at his house for a dinner visit. Although he was in a great deal of pain the entire time we were there, he was a gracious host, welcoming us, smiling for us, praying with us, being who he was.
As hard as it was to hear of his death, I am glad his suffering is over. Murray’s life was an incredible, holy one. I have no doubt that this weekend, Murray was welcomed into Heaven to the words: Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:23). I couldn’t help but think of the following song:
Press On (by Bob Filoramo) – a favorite praise and worship song from our days at Bible School
For the man who follows Jesus all the days of his life, picks up his cross and walks with his God, a glorious inheritance awaits him at the end where he will see and know his true Father, and the pearl of great price is in his hand.
[Chorus] So as for me I will press on in running the race with my eyes fixed on Jesus who inspires and perfects my faith, I will fight the good fight with all my heart and soul ‘til the day that I’m with Jesus, the day I’m finally home, the day that I have won crown.
He will approach the throne of his Father with Jesus at his side, the Father will rise and say, “Welcome home! You’re a good and faithful servant, come home and take your reward. The battle’s done come and take your rest. Stay with me for evermore”.
And the heavens will resound with a thunder of praise, the Angels and the Saints will should for joy. And the Father will dance for his son has come home. Another warrior returns from the fight. Another victory for the Lamb of God.