Today would have been the 76th birthday of my dad, who passed away in September of 2014, after a great deal of suffering from cancer and all that comes with it. We will be heading to the Basilica to celebrate Mass and have the children light some candles for ‘Poppa.’ We will remember him with stories and talk about what we remember most about him…and pray for him. Pray that he may enjoy his reward in heaven with the Lord…if not now, soon.
My father was a proud man. As a young man he had to work to help his parents out and then as an adult he worked hard to provide for the physical needs of his own family. We were important to him…to his sense of self worth. He had a sharp wit, but a quick temper that you didn’t want to be on the bad end of…as youngsters, we held my father with a bit of fear and trembling…he could be loud…but then he would always try to make amends…I remember getting in trouble and being sent to my room…it was a regular shouting match… with doors slamming and angry words said. But after it was said and done ,dad would always come knocking at the door to talk. He wanted to patch things up…I still knew I was in trouble but I also knew that dad still loved me…it wasn’t the perfect means of parenting, but I always knew that I had a place in his heart.
After I grew and started my own family, my relationship with dad was more distant. We didn’t connect on the same level. I had re-found my Faith and dad was now at a stage in his life were he was in complete denial of his Catholic Faith and almost had contempt for the Holy Mother Church, it was a turbulent time. Since I was trying to raise my young children to love the Church…there was distance between us. It wasn’t great, but we still loved ‘poppa’ and got together with the rest of the family on big holidays like Christmas and such.
Anyway,the years passed and by the time he was diagnosed with the cancer that had eaten up his clavicle we were talking on the phone quite a bit. And it was during this time that he was able to allow the Lord back into his life, back into his hardened heart. After much resistance he joined me for the Feast of Divine Mercy and was able to go to confession and receive Holy Communion after many…many…years of being away. And I tell you what, it was one of happiest days for my father. When he came out of the confessional he had an honest to goodness joy beaming from him. All the way home, he was smiling and just radiating! He had allowed God to move him...and God gave him a sense of peace in the midst of all the turmoil that sickness brings. Even though he suffered much physical pain, I know, that, having gone back to God and receiving His Mercy,it really helped my dad in so many ways…it was a quiet blessing. He even told me as such…Well, there is much more to say…I mean, I watched as a man who had been so angry with the Church for so long, find his way back home…practically on his knees…because of the pain.
I watched as the Lord poured out His graces on my father and lifted him up, and held him to His breast as if my father had never left. It was like watching the story of the prodigal son, with my father playing the role of lead son! I know that the rest of my family doesn’t feel this way, all they could see was the pain and suffering… These things have got to be viewed with the eyes of faith. But dad would tell me things in those days…he wanted to talk…and he never uttered a harsh word near me because he was looking for what he needed from God and I think he felt like I was his ‘connection’ to the Church and the prayer life that he had left so long ago. He asked me on more than one occasion to pray for him…he said it helped…it was really a difficult time, but the Lord is kind and merciful, and we must trust that God, our Heavenly Father, always knows best. It is funny, dad, who spent so much of his time on this earth away from the Church, so much time angry at the Church, wound up serving as such a powerful witness to my own family about the power of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
So as we head out to Mass today…still, with a bit of sadness for the missing we feel …we also rejoice, because Poppa returned to His loving Father and sought out God’s mercy in his heart…and that made all the difference. Happy Birthday Dad…we miss you.