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My father's' passing: you can go home again!

It is fortuitous that the Church acknowledges on the feast of Corpus Christi the love we receive from our fathers, which is perfectly represented by the body and blood they have given us in paternal service. God, who is Father of all, gave us Jesus, body, blood, soul and divinity as our spiritual father who generated the Church of one family with many children. We are the beneficiaries of that self-giving love, and in turn, are provided our own singular lives to mirror that same divine love. In all of this I am reminded of my own father who spent his life providing and caring for his family.

A few weeks before my father’s death, we were talking about this and that, when he began describing one of his favorite books, “The Royal Road to Romance.” A collection of true stories by a great adventurer of this century who did everything, from climbing the Matterhorn to dancing in the reflection pools of the Taj Mahal. Whether it was the fervor in my father’s expression—how his voice got brim full of emotion--or some unnamed impulse, I was moved to interrupt our conversation long enough to slip onto the computer and order that book online. When it arrived a few days later, I read it and realized that my father left clues about himself from his favorite books: Roger Heinlein’s The Glory Road, Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel, Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes of Amber together with Sacred Scriptures: all spoke symbolically of the ideas that most delighted him and hinted of what his legacy and final blessings would be for family and friends who remain behind.

His own life was a Glory Road, infamously begun when as a five-year old rogue and rascal he tried to run away from home with his brother of six years. All too soon, his became the road less traveled by when he fought as a brazenly fearless teenager in World War II. Abruptly and for the better, it turned into his Royal Road to Romance, leading him home as a decorated soldier, back to marry my mother and begin a family. Through his wife’s faith, he became convinced of the fullness of truth in the Catholic faith and joined the Church, and here my father’s assorted roads coalesced into the highway he most favorably traveled, his Road to Emmaus. His life was devoted to searching for truth, which he found, embraced and lived in Christ and His Church, until eternal truth in return sought him out and embraced him on the Glory Road to Home.

From his youth, he developed an extreme confidence in his native intelligence and abilities, and blessed with irrepressible enthusiasm, turned that into an indomitable dedication to succeed through hard work. When he married, he blossomed into a good father, generous with life and responsible as a family provider. He taught his children to be stewards of what God generously made available. I still laugh how decades ago he would put dimes in the grass to get us to pull weeds in the front yard, hoping to teach us the value of diligence and its rewards.

Shortly before his death, he told me he worried about letting go of life and going to God because he wanted to see that his family was provided for. “But dad,” I said, “your kids are all grown and have their own families. They can take care of themselves.” “I know,” he came back sheepishly, “but I worry about my grandchildren; how will they take care of themselves?” Always a generous provider to a fault, my memories are that he gave to us even if it meant he had little reserved for himself. In return, there were few things he asked of us; mostly all I can recall is that he wanted us to get along with one another.

In his later years, my father discovered the Glory Road to Home would not let him rest; there was something more God wanted of him. From his serious love of the truth and his devotion to the faith, he learned through avid reading that the Church herself taught the necessity of Catholic faith for salvation. Not a new idea, and not a self-centered one either, when one considers it through God’s eyes. God simply wants everyone to be saved, and provides the only salutary means, Jesus his son. Jesus in turn established through seven sacramental signs the way to live constantly in God’s grace.

My father understood, then, that life in the Church was practically necessary, because it was the only way to avail oneself of the seven sacraments whereby Christ commissioned His Church to dispense the fullness of grace, grace that brings us to holiness, restores us to holiness, and raises us in holiness, a holiness without which it would be impossible to face God who is holy. Baptism is clearly a necessary means of salvation, but what about living the faith once we’ve received it? Confirmation gives us that strength. And if we fall into sin, grave sin, how can grace be restored but through Christ who forgives sin through the sacrament of reconciliation? The sacrament of Ordination provides priests, unworthy ministers of these sacraments, who make Christ’s sacraments available to all. With God’s help matrimony enables couples to live in love and raise families in a way that models the deepest mysteries of relationship found within the Trinity itself. The sacrament of the sick provides strength and grace for those who fail in health. And the most precious sacrament of all, Christ’s body and blood made present at every mass for the faithful to consume, allows us to remain in Him, and He in us.

The one problem that perplexed my father was that, if God makes provision for such grace out of prodigal goodness, how could people stay away from the Church? Drawing on his own background, his own journey from searching to embracing truth that set him free, he felt the overwhelming need to share that truth with family and friends. He urged those close to him, those he knew, and some he didn’t, to become Catholic, or become better Catholics, sharing the faith they professed. Many mistook his enthusiasm for the truth as a misunderstanding of the true faith.

In part and because of these misunderstandings, my father’s glory road was also a dark and wounded way through the symbolic shadows of Amber (Nine Princes of Amber, one of my favorite books). Filled with heartaches with the loss of three children and frustrated from financial setbacks and poor health with heart attacks and cancer, he felt his successes in life chill. But even then, his love for the truth continued to guide him while exacting faithful service. The last five years of his life, my parents went daily to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, one hour a day for their children. In love that entailed suffering, my father’s journey was true to the end, and it was on the Road to Emmaus that he finally and forever encountered the Lord he loved.

His legacy remains: Everything matters in a life short-lived and destined for glory as is ours. Everyday counts, even as it is counted. Idyll moments, casual words, passing gestures—become either temptations to sin or opportunities of grace, moving us unavoidably towards a choice between compromise or truth, self or God. His life was testimony that freedom is found only in Christ, and Christ is lived most fully and lovingly in His Church. We know this like we know every truth of our faith. That saving grace invites sinners into the Catholic Church, a universal family of God, caught my father’s mind and heart, and will continue to do so, we pray, for all eternity. It would be his greatest wish, in addition to praying for his own eternal salvation, that all of us “take to heart these truths passed onto you today, drill them into your children, speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest“ (Deuteronomy 6:5-7).

I recall how he would often tell us of his favorite line from Thomas Wolfe, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” But dad, what did you just do?! As we pray for our fathers, we turn to our wonderfully loving God to help us find our way home, too!

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