At a community picnic two weeks ago we learned that somebody promininent in our church, and who I'd seen recently, experienced a massive heart attack and was in very poor health.
The last time I saw him, he glanced at my husband and I, but I didn't think he remembered me from the prayer group that I'd attended about twelve years ago, so I didn't say hello. I regretted that later, especially when I heard the news about his health. He always reminded me of my brother, a big, burly marshmallow who loved God and was kind to others. What was the big deal if he didn't remember us? I could have said hello anyway. I thought of him and his wife today as we entered church to honor Dad on his birthday.
My thoughts were interupted by a loud screeching, grinding metal sound. I looked behind me and saw a man pushing a walker up the center aisle. That reminded me of Fr. Sabby, who also passed this year.
Fr. Sabby once said that a congregant in his new church entered late to daily mass, pushing a screechy walker up the center aisle. Neither the sound of the walker nor the lateness individually bugged him, but the two combined did. I tried to hide my laugh as he told the story but as I imagined the expression on his face, I lost it, and so did he and we laughed until our sides hurt.
So this morning at mass, I thought, not just of Dad, but of Fr. Sabby, and that they're together. Since last October, there have been six people from among family and friends who joined the "cloud of witnesses," our advocates on the other side.
There'd been a lot of change in our parish, too, and for the church as a whole. Now each time I attend, I feel stuck in a time warp. Twenty years ago, we'd just moved to the parish when a new pastor, Fr. Joe, arrived. He was young, vivacious and eager to grow the congregation. I was at a meeting when he walked in, introduced himself and announced that now that he was the new pastor. He said the lid was being lifted and that he wanted people who'd left the parish to return to a whole new experience. I didn't know what the parish was like before, but I was interested to know what taking the lid off meant.
Fr. Joe orchestrated the building of a new church that looked more like a church. Many retreats and programs were implemented or re-energized. In the line of the creed "for us men and our salvation," Fr. Joe dropped "men" and emphasized the word "us." So it became "for US and our salvation." It never bothered me to say "men," but maybe it did some people.
Fr. Joe was sent to serve in another parish, and change occurred once again. Another devoted pastor arrived with a different style. During a pause, I snuck a peek inside the bulletin and opened to the What not to wear (to church) section. No shorts, mini skirts and, well, pretty much anything you'd wear to the beach. I looked around to see if everybody adhered and when I saw the age group, I remembered something Dad said about thirty years ago:
"I don't know what's going to happen to the future of the church," he said, "It's an aging crowd now. We're losing the younger generation." That was the appearance of it today. Nobody was underdressed. It looked like a senior citizen meeting.
Were the later years wiser? I know, I know. Some people go to church weekly over their entire lifetime, never veer off the path too far. While others veer off, tumble down hills, bounce off the road and get up and turn to God, maybe a little more broken or mangled than those who never left, but no less authentic and perhaps with greater appreciation for the wings of love and mercy on which they traveled.
During the exchange of peace, I was thrilled to see the man who had the heart attack standing beside his wife. He looked better, younger, than he had before. And I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Day. We'd been given a second chance to greet him and his wife. We did and he smiled and said, "I'll be around another hundred years."
Dad's birthday mass blessed us in more ways than I can count. Happy birthday, Dad!