“Hi, Father Warwick!” I sang, tapping his shoulder from behind. I was attending the St. Simon Parish Barbeque in September 2012, an event I hadn’t participated in for over twelve years.
Beaming from ear-to-ear with his welcoming smile, the pastor hugged me tightly. Then, his grin turned to a quizzical look as if something was out of place. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
Stunned, I wondered why he would say such a thing. After all, I’d been a member of this lovely parish for 31 years. Then, I quickly realized why he looked so confused. This kind man only knew me from the frequent visits he made to my 96-year-old father, not as a member of the congregation.
Sheepishly, I looked down and felt like a naughty child caught doing something inappropriate. “Perhaps I should show up in church a little more often,” I mused.
At home that evening, I relayed the story to my dad. The devout Catholic looked at me sadly, and responded, “I wish you would.”
“Dad, I just don’t have the time anymore,” was my excuse. “Besides, I feel so out of place.”
When I became a single mother in 2001, not only did my new status create a myriad of fragile emotions, but it also made me question: “Where do I fit in?” The life I’d known and felt rooted in had been crushed like the withered leaves of fall under my feet. I was left without a solid branch to cling to when the wind blew too hard, and there were times the gale forces nearly knocked me over.
As my children moved away, going to mass by myself just enhanced the loneliness I was already feeling. Everywhere I looked, couples sat holding hands. It was painful to witness, so I stopped putting myself through the agony.
But witnessing the joy my father’s faith brought him, I wondered if perhaps he knew best, once again. So, I returned.
In the beginning, I hid in the last pew. There, I’d let my mind wander to more relevant topics of my day rather than the sermon. Macy’s would be having a huge sale, and I’d know calculating my finances for my next expenditure would require a peaceful setting. But when I began attending the services Father Warwick presided over, my attitude changed.
During one memorable sermon, he spoke of our blessings in the presence of the Lord’s divine grace, and I surveyed the congregation with eyes wide open. People of all ages, some married and some not sat in kinship and embraced a higher power. Lovely memories washed over me as I viewed families with children huddled close. Instantly, a tear found it’s way to my eye recalling my four babies crawling all over my body before snuggling in my lap as I lowered my head in prayer.
Two months later, on October 28th, my daddy slipped away to heaven while resting in my arms. At that moment, I understood what he was trying to teach me all along. Dying is the most important job we ever do. We prepare ourselves every day to walk into the light by living a life of gratitude, which is renewed and refreshed through faith. It is something that just doesn’t happen naturally, but must be cultivated with fresh seeds each spring.
I’ll miss my dad’s gentle ways and wry sense of humor. I’ll yearn to hear him ask about my day and the, “I love you” that followed. But I’ll especially long to witness his head bowed in grace as he said his nightly rosary, silent, reverent, and always at peace.
Thank you, dad, for helping me resurrect my gift of faith. It’s a present I plan to hold close to my heart every day until we meet again.
Have you ever lost your way from the faith you were raised with? Did you one day go back or find some other spiritual experience to replace it?