I grew up in a loving, but strict Catholic household during the heyday of the Church. As soon as I came of age to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, I was immersed in the business of being Catholic. Every Friday morning we second graders were paraded across the campus to the church where we confessed our sins to the parish priest. There wasn’t much a seven year old could confess, other than an occasional argument with my younger brother, so I made stuff up. That way, I could confess to lying on the next visit. As I got older, I cheerfully participated in cleaning the nun’s rooms at the convent after school. I also was a money counter after mass, and a member of the choir. If I could have been an altar boy, I would have done that as well.
Fast forward twenty-three years… I was getting married at thirty years old! My husband-to-be and I participated in all the pre-Cana classes required by the church, and on a glorious Saturday morning in October we exchanged vows “till death do us part” in his parish. Little did I know how soon that vow was to come home to roost.
Less than a year had gone by when I came home from work one night to discover my husband had died. In shock and broken-hearted I called our parish priest to make funeral arrangements. His response to me was that I had interrupted his breakfast, and he didn’t want his eggs to get cold. Could I call back later? As my world came crashing down upon me, all the years of going to church felt like I had participated in empty, meaningless rituals that even the fathers of the church clearly had no belief in. I angrily turned my back on God and never set foot in a church until…
I met my second husband. As I tentatively dipped my toe back in the dating pool, I merely wanted a companion who would share an occasional dinner with me. I had an executive position which required frequent and lengthy stays all over the country, and was not interested in another husband. As I got to know him, I found him to be kind, generous in sharing his tremendous intellect, and not at all interested in Church. You see, he had his own demons to deal with regarding his faith. Perfect.
On another glorious day in October, his world collided with a truck, and he sustained a serious closed head injury. Years later, he confided to me that he would stare into a mirror and not recognize the person staring back. In desperation, and seeking a quiet place, he stopped in Holy Angels Church. As he sat in the cool quiet, he heard a voice asking “Who are you?” His reply was, correctly, “I don’t know”. The voice then proceeded to instruct him on who he really was; not the husband/father/son/ brother, but the true essence of who he was… a child of God. He began to spend more and more time at church, learning that he was loved, protected, and forgiven of all his sins. One day, he asked me if I would accompany him to Mass. Sure… no big deal.
It took some time, but as I accompanied him to Mass week after week, I began to feel the Holy Spirit descend upon me, gently answering my questions and concerns. I came to understand the years of getting to know God, my friend as a child, were not in vain. I eventually realized that priests are human and fallible, and I forgave that priest as God has forgiven me. I also came to understand that I follow Christ, not humans. In the ensuing years, I have felt Him by my side, always ready to share His love; never forsaking me despite my ungodlike behavior. I see Him in all aspects of my life. I cannot begin to tell you how comforting it is to know that despite the worldly trials and tribulations we all must go through, He is waiting for all of us to come home…we just have to stretch out our hand and say “yes”.