My Uncle Wins an Academy Award – and Dies

January 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Conversion, Faith, Family, Work

My uncle, John D. Lowry, was scheduled to receive an Academy Award for his work in digital film restoration on February 11, 2012.

He died on January 21, 2012.

As a kid, I was always impressed with my uncle, aunt, and cousins David and Julia. They were all extremely gracious – and bright. The entire family had an entrepreneurial streak. Back in the 80’s, my dad and Uncle John were partners in a couple tech firms, one an early incubator for my dad’s search technology.

In later years, Uncle John returned to his roots and spent many years building Lowry Digital, a firm that specialized in digital film restoration. His work in this area helped him to become acquainted with some of the greats in the industry, such as George Lucas, pictured above with Uncle John. My uncle’s projects included many of Hollywood’s best-known films and series: Star Wars, Citizen Kane, Mary Poppins, Indiana Jones, Singin’ in the Rain, various Disney classics, the list is incredible.

My eight year old son David (who was named partially as a result of my liking for my older cousin) is deeply in the debt of Mr. Lucas and Uncle John. David lives in a Star Wars world – come to my house and you’ll see how the talents of these two men make a kid happy. Now multiply that by a couple billion.

It was for his pioneering work in digital film cleanup that Uncle John was to receive the award on February 11.

We’re all in debt to individuals like Uncle John and George Lucas, who use their talents in ways that benefit so many people. I’m grateful to Uncle John for his use of these talents. In reflecting on his death, some of the principles contained in my newly released book, Faith at Work: Finding Purpose Beyond the Paycheck, can be traced back to my formative years when Dad and Uncle John were in business together.

Yet there’s one thing that has bothered me – I never knew Uncle John to be a man of faith.

As a kid bouncing around various Christian denominations, there would have been any number of perspectives on this – some might say he went to heaven, due to God’s infinite mercy. Others might have said he went to hell, since there was no visible acceptance of Jesus as Lord.

I see both extremes as being presumptuous – in some cases, even downright arrogant. In becoming Catholic, I learned that the Church never presumes that any individual has gone to hell. Now, don’t misunderstand, it’s possible to get there. Jesus speaks of the gate to hell being wide in Matthew chapter 7. But the Church hasn’t ever pronounced anyone as damned.

On the flip side, the Church does canonize people, after a process of spiritual “due diligence.” So we have the communion of saints, who act as role models for all (and do a better job of this than professional athletes or musicians).

So what do we do as Catholics when someone dies, and we don’t know much about their faith?

We hope, and pray.

The Catechism tells us:

The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1257)

It’s the last sentence that is the key. Although we know that outside the Church there is no salvation, we recognize this is not a superficial, sound byte issue – there’s great depth here, and there are many misunderstandings about what this means. Again, from the Catechism:

How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.

This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 846-847)

Fr. Ray Ryland, our family friend and most gracious priest, expressed great affection for Uncle John after seeing his picture. Fr. Ray offered several Masses for Uncle John this past week, and expressed admiration at his use of his God-given talents.

Amen, Father! My dad told me years ago that he wanted to learn more about intercessory prayer, and hoped that there would be people in heaven who were surprised to be there. Our Lord tells a story in Matthew chapter 25 that appears to illustrate this point:

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:37-40)

To my uncle, I was “the least of these” and he treated me graciously anyway. Thank you, Uncle John, for using your extraordinary talents in a way that will benefit so many people for years to come. Thank you for your even greater legacy, my wonderful cousins David and Julia. And thank you finally for something you never knew about, that happened many years ago.

Some of the wealth you created went, indirectly, to sending me, a rebellious sixteen year old Canadian kid, to a small Catholic college called Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio (that story is here). That led to my marriage to a beautiful American girl, and to our eight children. You see, we became Catholic as a result, as did your younger brother – the former Presbyterian minister. Now, as Catholics, we’ll pray for your soul.

We also hope to see you in heaven. That, I’m quite confident, beats even an Academy Award.

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5 Responses to “My Uncle Wins an Academy Award – and Dies”
  1. Hello, Kevin, This article is hugely helpful to me a cradle catholic married to a dear man of partially Jewish heritage. You may be a prophet – how did you know,amazingly,that our family has at least 2 such unclesas your Uncle John and many other similar relatives?(Some were Jews who died in the holocaust). I frequently have Masses said for all their souls (even when it’s not November)! Now it looks as if 2 of our most precious grandbabies might become some of these who are never baptized nor taught the truths of the Faith. Could you & your family pray for them? One is named Tomas Miguel and he will be ONE year old on February 13 of this year. And Clara Elizabeth who is 2 years & 2 months old. We all live in Texas. Are there any particular prayers, novenas, patron saints or angels to whom you think I should commend these grandbabies? Any other advice? Thank you Kathy Bamberger Austin, TX

  2. james hughes says:

    This was a great article and reminds me of my mother who is long dead. We have nine children and I well remember my mum coming as soon as possible after the birth to the hospital where she uncovered the baby ,checked out that they were intact and proceeded to baptise them . She had a family of eleven of us and was always afraid that something could go wrong before the child could be baptised in church and this apparently happened frequently when she was young. I was always very touched that my mum loved her grandchildren so much that she ensured that they were baptised at the earliest opportunity. Sadly my wife and I are separated and my heart is broken. But I hope and pray that someday we will be reconciled. Which leads me to the question of intercessory prayer. I would plead with you to pray for my family that god would reunite us . I will in turn ensure that I will pray for the repose of the soul of your uncle . AMDG

  3. kelso says:

    Thank you for the post Kevin. The Church has always taught that there is no salvation outside of her, defining it ex cathedra three times in clearest of terms. Vatican I defined that dogmatic definitions are “irreformable by their very nature.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not contradict the defined dogma, but it certainly confuses its “form” with this novel addendum; “Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.” How small is such a class of obstinants? The dogma was not defined just to keep Catholics in the Church, but to convert non-Catholics. Just read Cantate Domino promulgated by Pope Eugene IV. That definition says nothing about “knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, [but refusing] to enter it.” And for those who do not know Christ or who, knowing Him, refuse to believe His word as given by the highest authority of His Church and the gospels, they must “follow the lights God gives them” and cooperate with grace. If they do, and persevere, they will be saved, but not where they are outside the Church. They must accept the Faith without denying any article, and thus be ready to enter the Church, and be baptized if they are not Christian. It is a sin against true divine charity to so dilute the saving doctrine in its clear literal sense as to render it a “meaningless formula’ (to quote Pope Pius XII on the salvation doctrine from his encyclical Humani Generis). This does not mean that a pagan, for example, who accepts the message of the gospel but has not opportunity or time to know anything more than the truths of the Trinity, Incarnation, and Redemption, could not be baptized Catholic Christian and saved. They most certainly could be. But no one can be saved who dies without accepting Jesus Christ explicitly. “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.”

  4. Kevin says:

    Thanks to all for your kind comments! Kathy, I am happy to pray for you and your grandchildren. You’re probably already praying the right prayers, since it sounds to me like you’re doing it with great love. The power of prayer from a grandparent is phenomenal! My only advice is to persevere!

    James, thank you for your comments and by all means, I will pray for you. Unity is clearly worth striving for!

    Kelso, I appreciate your input as well. It would be difficult to express my gratitude for the gift of being Catholic and the graces of the sacraments. I desire the fullness of truth for everyone, but my desires mean very little. My caution is simply against presumption in particular cases, such as my uncle’s. I would rather spend my time in hopeful prayer. Thanks again for your thoughtful analysis.


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