Thursday, April 13, 2017

38. MASS


Twelve years ago today:
We sat in silence, our backs forced straight and square there in those wooden pews. Heavy, sorrowful silence. The footsteps of the priest made the only sound as he walked up the aisle, past our family on one side and a cluster of friends on the other. The air shifted as he passed, his robes moving through the stillness. I held David’s hand in mine, my other arm curled around the shoulder of one of our children. The scents and the sounds and the specter of the church were distantly familiar to David, who had stood at that very altar as an altar boy in his youth. Now we were visiting from our western home, returned to Pittsburgh for the funeral mass of David’s father.
The music, the spoken chorus of words repeated by the congregation, the Eucharist that resembled our sacrament, the Latin and the candles and the dancing of the hands above the heart: these we had experienced before, though we are faithful church-going Latter-day Saints.
My David was born into an old Catholic family, steeped in holy practices for centuries - back in their French and Irish homelands, and later in old Quebec and then as immigrants settled in Michigan. They named all their sons Joseph, and their daughters Mary, their middle names becoming the familiar names they called each other. David’s Grandpa, Joseph Antoine Roy was the oldest son of 18 children, born of the same mother. They practiced their faith devotedly back then. When David’s parents, Donald Ray Connors and Helen Roy moved to Pittsburgh they enrolled their young children in Catholic school. Neither of David’s parents ever attended a day of school except catholic schools. Dave’s dad earned his PhD in Nuclear Physics from Notre Dame and his JD (law) degree from Duquesne University. He served on the Diocesan School Board. They knew the prayers by heart.
But when it became apparent that the nuns and others may have been misguided in the way they treated and taught their students, Helen removed her younger children and placed them in public school. Today, I’m not sure what kind of spiritual commitment David’s family has with Catholic practices. It’s not something we talk about since his parents died.
I do know that the practices of the Mormon church in the 1970’s were a tremendous heartbreak for Helen, and I feel great sorrow for that. When we married in the Washington DC temple it was incomprehensible that the groom’s family was not permitted to attend the wedding. In those days, though we sincerely asked for an exception, the LDS leaders were adamant about not having ring ceremonies, and if we were to marry civilly we would have to wait a year to be sealed in the temple. I imagine Jesus shaking his holy head a bit at the stiffness and divisiveness such practices caused, but that’s me putting my human spin on Jesus. Today it would be different.  Our temples are holy places, open only to those who sincerely believe. Otherwise they would lose their holiness. I don’t think anyone would seriously contend that people who do not fully align with the gospel and its ordinances should participate in temple ceremonies. But there is a wound that only God can heal that was placed on Helen and her family when they were not permitted to witness our marriage; as if they were unrighteous people. It still hurts my heart to think that there may have been any implication that they were anything but good Christian servants.
It took many years for me to feel like Helen could see that we were fairly normal, non-cult-following Americans who loved God and followed Jesus Christ, and our children were good, devoted but semi-normal kids. At least I hope so.
Since we lived in Salt Lake City and they lived in Pittsburgh, our summer vacations were generally spent either in Pittsburgh or at the cottages in Michigan. Sometimes I wished we could go somewhere new, but Dave and I agreed when we moved so far away that we would make it a point to visit Dave’s family at least once a year. We decided, when we were in Michigan, that it mattered to us to be able to worship with Dave’s parents and grandparents. So, when we were there on weekends we attended mass with them, down at the Church of the Immaculate Conception that faced the sunrise side of Lake Huron. There was a profound prompting that returned and returns to me still; that this was acceptable to God, that it was no indicator that we were anything but faithful to our own religion, but that we were embracing of the people and the religion that was the foundation of our family’s patriarch. David did not suddenly become a good person when he entered the waters of baptism in the Mormon church. His goodness was born of faithful parents and grandparents, of thoughtful and devoted priests and teachers in his Catholic upbringing, of confidence in the meaning behind holy wine and sacred bread. I honor and revere the goodness in his ancestors and cherish their faithfulness, like I honor my own ancestors who crossed oceans and plains for their religious convictions.

Today, in our home, we display this love and reverence in many ways. Next to my statue of the angel Moroni, a replica of the one atop the Washington DC temple, is a Holy Bible with a Catholic rosary marking our reading place. And on the wall in our family room is hung David’s father’s rosary over an old print of Christ, below which is hanging his father’s Catholic crucifix. We are the product of our pasts. We are divinely guided by those who went before us, who carried our names and our convictions and brought us to the place we stand today. Lord, thank you for this holy heritage.

2 comments:

  1. It was nice attending Easter Mass today. David comes from good stock. I love him.

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  2. Yes Libby. David does come from good stock. And so many of my friends do as well. We are all children of a Heavenly Father who loves us and we love Him. I love that my friends not of our faith honor our beliefs as we do theirs. It is a gift that I believe unites us.

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