My Uncle Leo lived a really mixed life, full of -isms (sexism, racism, alcoholism, addicted to cocaine) but also full of grace, with a strong devotion to Mary and love of the Church. About a year after he quit cocaine, he was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. He died not long after this.
About a month after Uncle Leo died, I was still so sad, thinking about his death and how much he had suffered. I was worried for his soul. And then I got the strongest sense of him saying, “Becky, it’s okay, I’m home. You don’t need to worry about me, I’m home.” I could barely contain my tears. Normally I have the radio off, but I happened to turn it on that afternoon on my drive home. I heard that song by Tim McGraw, “And know my soul is where my momma always prayed that it would go. And if you’re reading this, I’m already home, I’m already home.”
In human touch, in a simple song, I saw the profound depth and strength of Christ’s love for us. Do not be afraid. Nothing is impossible with God. Nothing, neither sexism nor racism nor addiction nor cancer nor death, can keep us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
I remember the first time I started going to confession again. I hadn’t gone in years! I guess I had forgotten how much unconditional love God has for his children. I had been reading the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) and thinking how wonderful it must have felt for the son who finally came back to his waiting father and was immediately embraced. That same week, I went to confession. After listening to the prayer of absolution, each word seemed to seep into my soul. I went into the chapel, knelt on the floor, and just cried. I felt God’s merciful embrace right there. I felt like that prodigal son who was welcomed without hesitation back into his father’s home, into his father’s loving arms.
I sat there facing my bed, my two lists staring me in the face: “Jesus is God” at the top of one, and “Jesus is not God” on the other. The list for “Jesus is not God” had been getting smaller every day for weeks, as the other list grew page after page. The hundreds of ways Jesus fulfilled prophesy, the probability of any one person on the face of the earth fulfilling even a handful of those prophesies, how Jesus lived, what he taught, the martyrs, his massive effect on human history, the way my Christian friends lived, the experience I had walking into a Catholic Church for the first time. With page after page of evidence, I couldn’t deny it any more. The evidence was stacked up against my atheism. And so I chose the only rational path – to believe in Jesus.
The year my father died, I was spending the year as a volunteer in Chicago. I was having a blast teaching Pre-K and bonding with my new community members. My dad encouraged me to stay and assured me that he would be fine. About half way through the year, he took a turn for the worse. I went home in time to say goodbye before he passed away, but I was devastated. God had let me down in the worst way. I spent a month at home in a dark blur, before heading back to Chicago to finish the school year. It hadn’t occurred to me, though, what I would say to the kids. They knew I left because my dad was sick, but now what would I say?
When I got back to school, they all came running. I was completely bowled over by their love, their smiles, their innocence, and their goodness. They took turns showing me their lost teeth, the cool rock they’d found and giving me the sweetest hugs. After a while, one little boy asked, “Miss Anne, is your daddy all better?” The tears began filling my eyes, and I started, “Well …” He cut me off mid-stream, “ALSO DID YOU GET TO RIDE IN AN AIRPLANE?” I nodded. “THAT IS SO COOL!” then he ran off to join his friends. The pain was still there, the mystery of life and death being what it is, but goodness goes on. I truly felt God was there in that moment, reminding me that while I lost a lot, there are little gifts all around us.
I’ve always loved singing at church, even though I’m not a very talented singer. Upon moving to California, I joined the young adult group at my church, where they recently decided to make their 5:00 pm liturgy a young adult Mass. Everyone is welcome, but the young adults take responsibility for serving as lectors, ushers, choir members, etc.
One Sunday, the young adult minister scheduled a meeting for us to learn more about each of the roles. I was planning to sign up to be a Eucharistic Minister, or maybe an usher. I was at Mass prior to the meeting, and a young woman (whom I had never seen before) sat in the pew in front of me. After Mass, she turned around and said, “You have a really nice singing voice, you should join the choir!” I laughed and replied, “Thanks, but I think you were hearing someone else!”
We both left church, and when I arrived at the young adult meeting, who would sit right next to me but that same girl! We both recognized each other and laughed at the coincidence. As the meeting got underway, the young adult minister described the various roles. Then he paused and said, “But what we really need are people for the choir! If anyone has ever told you that you have a good voice, please consider joining.”
No one in my life has ever stopped and told me that I should join the choir! But the one time a stranger says this, it’s the same night that the young adult minister is looking for new choir members. How crazy is that? I still wasn’t convinced, so I signed up to be a Eucharistic Minister.
Until my new friend caught the attention of the young adult minister, and told him this whole story! I agreed to join the choir, but only if she joined as well. I was laughing so hard that night, and I’m sure God must have been laughing too. Why hadn’t I joined the choir at my previous parishes? I suppose I was scared or self conscious, even though I love to sing. That night it was so clear that God had set this whole thing up. Maybe God was trying to tell me that praising God is what counts the most, even if I don’t have a superstar voice.
My first year as a teacher, I worked in a post-grad volunteer program in Chicago. Early in the year, one of the students, who was supposed to be in our second grade class, died of leukemia. I was very worried about my students and how they would handle the death of their friend. I was so concerned about helping them through the funeral that I neglected to think about how I would handle it myself. The funeral was held during the school day so that all of his classmates and teachers could attend. As his family walked into the church, following the tiny coffin, I lost it. As my body shook with sobs, I clenched my fists and closed my eyes, trying to get a grip on myself. It was then that I felt a small hand slip into mine. I felt this gentle pressure on my back, my shoulders, my arms. I opened my eyes to see all of my students who were within reach had laid their hands on me. At a time when I should have been comforting them, they were reaching out to me. More clearly than ever before in my life, I saw God’s love made manifest in each of them.
I work for Catholic Charities’ Homelessness Prevention Call Center where I spend eight hours a day answering the phones, listening to people who are faced with the threat of becoming homeless. The calls are never easy. Even when I am able to make referrals for financial assistance, I know this silver lining is coming under a very dark and heavy cloud for most of our clients. It’s an exhausting job. However, there are moments of joy. Nothing makes me smile more than a caller who says, “thank you, I appreciate you,” or hearing them laugh at the ridiculousness of their situation. When they can identify joy or delight despite the tumultuous burden they are under, I see the hand of God. Although I’m constantly talking with people who feel abandoned and cast off from everybody, I still manage to hear the voice of Jesus in these callers, asking me to do the best I can to help them. Those moments are few and far between, but it’s a grace I can’t deny. I thank God every time I experience that grace whenever it comes through the earpiece.
A simple rosary was all it took to entirely dissolve my quarantined wall and let the trapped emotions escape. My already exhausted composure had been stretched to its limits.
As we chanted the first “Hail Mary full of grace…” throughout the intimate chapel, I was determined to keep my crying to a bare minimum. Looking around, I felt as if God was telling me that this was a safe place to mourn, a place to let my emotions take over like they did on Mother’s Day, the day my father died.
As we prayed, the familiar sight of my old house blinded my vision, and I recognized the first layer of my wall – the memories. Memories seemed to be the most harmless defense, because they could make me laugh or cry depending on the circumstance.
As the rosary approached its first “Glory Be to the Father…” I approached the second layer of my wall – the unfairness. My father was not exactly a healthy man, but he was too young to die. He was supposed to be there to see me graduate from high school, be the first in my family to earn a college degree, and give me away on my wedding day. I wanted the chance to grow closer to my father as an adult.
Drowning beneath feelings of anger and pity, I found myself crying silently. I bent my neck low, so as to not let anyone see my embarrassing display of emotion. A hiccup sounded next to me, and I realized that my disguise was not complete, as my best friend had now joined me.
Knowing that someone else was truly feeling empathy towards me brought down the final wall – the unseen future. I finally felt the loss of a future without my dad, the many “could-have-been” moments and the memories yet to be made. Like wading into the deep end of a pool, I suddenly felt the sharp slant into the unknown. Leaving behind the security of having two feet on solid ground, I completely immersed myself in the waters of my own grief. I let the emotions entirely take over for the first time since that dreaded day in May, and I will never look back.
There was a part of me that was scared to feel pain and grief, because I thought I would be overwhelmed by it to the point where I could never move past it. I needed to step back and let the grieving process take hold of me and stop trying to take hold of it. My struggle to keep-it-together for the last several months had done nothing more than decrease my progress to a complete standstill. I was completely oblivious to the outside world until I was enveloped in the loving arms of a friend. As the arms of my friends pulled me from that sea of despair, I realized that I would be okay if I just let myself grieve.
I know it is a cliché, but I discovered that I could still, in fact, continue with my life even though my father is not here. With the support of my friends and family, my life will carry on, always conscious that he is looking out for me; and I know I will make him proud.