Fr. Joe Nolan, Pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, and Dear Friend

Father Joseph A. Nolan 1936 – 2015 Beloved Pastor Immaculate Conception Parish Melbourne Beach, Florida

“Hallo Beel! How ya keepin’?”

I can hear those words echoing in my particularly empty head this morning.  The lovely Irish brogue that welcomed each of us, week after week, is a beautiful thing but, unfortunately, now a warm memory.

The Reverend Joseph Aidan Nolan left us a few days ago, October 5th, 2015, from complications related to his diabetes.  He was 79 years old.

Most people called him Fr. Nolan, but to me he was Fr. Joe.  I’ve often grown close to our priests, over the years, cities, and parishes on my journey.  To me, “Fr. Nolan” was just too formal for him.  He was an ordinary Joe.  Not that there’s anything less than sacred in ordinary people, in fact we had discussed this very thing not long ago in his office.  We meet Jesus in ordinary people, in our everyday encounters.  We are the only Jesus many people will ever meet.  And as such we must remember that we are always in the presence of God, and treat each other with respect and love.

Anyway, because I tend to see priests also as ordinary people, I think I’m probably pretty forgiving of faults and quirks in those who have devoted their lives to serving us.  Or at least I try to be. When in the Sacramental context, they most certainly are acting “in persona Christi,” but outside of this, he was clearly a human being.  He loved golf, and despite his near blindness could drive a ball further and straighter than anyone I’ve ever met. Fr. Joe was old school Irish, and most definitely enjoyed things going his way, and, like the rest of us, had certain propensities. Which brings us to the human nature.  By being human and making mistakes, those leading us show what it’s like to be human, and vulnerable.  And forgiving, and forgivable.  And endearing.

I’m going to miss those homilies underpinned with peaks and valleys of Fr. Joe’s blood glucose. The “tip-off,” to those of us constantly looking for such stuff was him parting his vestments to look down at his glucometer on his belt.  He must have known something didn’t feel “just right.” But so did we, as on “those days” when his level was too low, his gait would change, and the volume and emphasis of the points he was making would reach fever pitch.

I’m not the only one I noticed positioning themselves on the edge of their seat, positioned for a quick dart to catch him, should he pass out and fall on the altar.

Once, I remember him on a particularly embarrassing morning, acknowledging by pointing out his nephew in the congregation, “Wearing the red shirt, OR WHATEVER COLOR THAT IS!” (Fin’s shirt was not red). And he went on and on for some five minutes, ranting and raving about how much he loved this man, much to Finian’s embarrassment. Please know I’m not making fun of Joe Nolan. These were endearing things that we learned to know, accept, and love. Truly love. Because although there were a few of these moments, Fr. Joe was as sharp as a tack, until his very last day.

Old school Irish indeed, Fr. Joe would end every Sunday Mass with a joke.  Something else I’ll always miss terribly.

He was quick to fault himself, and felt very human at times.  He used to preach an entire homily from the center of the altar, without any notes, and had the entire thing memorized, with breathtaking accuracy and recollection. Recently, he’d begun reading from behind the ambo, where he could refer to his notes, but still had most of it memorized. He shared with me that once he had “lost his place” in what he had memorized, and was mortified. He took his preaching so seriously, that he never again gave a Sunday sermon without notes, because he was so concerned that he might give a wrong message. “There are souls at risk!”  A few weeks later, on a Wednesday, I visited him in his office for a while, and he asked me how to phrase a point he wanted to make in his homily for the next weekend.  I worded it in a way that I felt was particularly poignant, but he thought for a few minutes, then said, “No, no, Beel, that’s not really where I’ll be goin’,” and read what he decided on instead.  I was taken back. I like to think I can turn a phrase and make a point, but his was much better. He was 79 and the sharpest knife in the drawer.

And he was so excited about our new Pope.  He went on and on about how beautiful it was that he was making people squirm and reach outside their comfort zone.  He has the humility of the common man, and teaches us what love and being Christ-like really means.  When I suggested that he was much like our new Bishop Noonan, Fr. Joe said, “You have no idea how right that is. Bishop John Noonan is like you and me, and it’s so humbling how he leads with such love and compassion.”  He went on to share a funny story with me (again) of what a really good friend the Bishop was to him, involving his not recognizing him in public, because of his bad eyesight.  Good friend indeed.  When Bishop Noonan heard the tragic news that our dear Father Joe had fallen, he cancelled his schedule for the day, and drove over from Orlando to administer last rites; and sit with him.  I’m told he sat with him for most of the day, holding his dear friend’s hand and praying.

Fr. Joe came to us at Immaculate conception in 1989, after nearly two decades as pastor of Holy Redeemer Church in Kissimmee, FL.  He came to that then tiny parish in 1972, and over the course of 17 years had rebuilt the Church, and grown it from 200 families to over 2000.

Joe Nolan was born in Mullingar, exactly in the center of Ireland, in 1937.  After ordination and 8 years of service in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, he served at Mary Magdalen in Maitland for 2 years, and then at a year at Ascension in Eau Galle for one year, prior to being named Pastor at Holy Redeemer, before coming here.

Father Nolan then went to Rome to study for a month at the Vatican, and then on to the Holy Land, where he had, what he described as the highlight of his life.  He met Pope Saint John Paul II, got to shake his hand, chat for a few minutes, and receive his blessing.

Fr. Joseph Aiden Nolan with Pope John Paul II

Fr. Joseph Nolan with Pope John Paul II

When he returned to the United States, he learned that he’d been transferred, and had been appointed to Immaculate Conception as pastor; it would be his final assignment, and he would serve us for 26 years.  He’d always get a bit teary describing how good everyone had been to him over the years, and from the pulpit often told the congregation that he’d been so very blessed, that we were the best parish, anywhere.

When we moved to Melbourne Beach in 1993, I remember him already talking about “his legacy,” what he’d like to leave us with.  But those priorities would change over the years. Funny how life works this way.  First he wanted so desperately to enlarge the church with a major renovation.  (side note: Even with subsequent “touch-ups,” he maintained the maroon colored carpet, seat covers, every adornment throughout “his” church. Just last Friday, in our weekly meeting after Mass, I commented on this obviously favorite color of his, since his new eye-glasses were maroon, wondering if he was a FSU fan.  He laughed so loud the others turned to look at us, as he exclaimed that burgundy was the team color of the Meath Gaelic Football Team!)

After the Church enlargement, he pushed hard for funding for beautiful new stain glass windows (which I discovered he had been so proud at Holy Redeemer also), and was so excited about how beautiful they’d be.

After the windows, he pleaded for a new “world-class organ,” quite a different direction from the “guitar masses” so many churches were having “these days.”

Buts shortly after the organ, and then a consistent theme for the next ten years would be his emphasis on the youth of his beloved parish. He’d regularly pop into Sunday and Wednesday CCD classes, and open his back yard up for the annual picnic for them, complete with music, a bounce house, and fishing from his dock.  One year he arranged for jet-skis!

I don’t remember a Mass where Fr. Joe didn’t recognize the youth of the parish, thanking the altar boy or girl, and making then feel so important, that they had just done the best job assisting him ever in his entire life.  When my daughter Kayla sang just a few weeks ago, he went on and on about how wonderful it was that we had such a fantastic group of youth, here in the parish.  Later, when I asked if he had known that Kayla was my daughter (since we had different last names), he pulled back, astonished, and nearly shouted, “Beel, do ya think I’m daft?”

Father Nolan had received special dispensation from the Bishop that ours would be the only parish in the diocese to have high schoolers trained as Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, and distributing communion.  He realized that our young people were our future, and he felt driven to reach out to them.

Every year Fr. Nolan’s annual concert event served to fund scholarships for the youth of his parish to attend Catholic School  if they desired. He’d bring in cabaret style entertainment from Ireland, which was quite popular with many of the retired in our community and “1964,”a Beatles tribute band a couple of times, which drew people for a hundred miles.  Some of my fondest memories include my then pre-teen daughter Camille as a guest performer, Irish dancing with the Tony Kenny Variety Show professional dancers.  And, more recently, I’ll never forget the entire family dancing for almost two hours to the Beatles music, in Fr. Joe’s back yard.

Many of us have so many fond memories of Fr. Joe, but this is my blog, so I’ll share some of mine.  First communion, confirmations, weddings and compassionate consolation and reconciliation to all of us in the confessional.  Keeping me from bashing my head against the wall in anguish and regrets over so many things involving my first marriage. He’d humbly agreed to go to a different church, one where so many of his parishioners had traveled seeking more contemporary services, to con-celebrate with Fr. Tony, the funeral Mass for my wonderful son Cullen.  And he would be my biggest advocate for the diaconate, and told me he’d be “lookin’ down on me an’ smilin’ at your ordination.”  I had no idea what he was talking about – I truly thought Father Nolan would live to see that day.

So many times over the past three years, when Fr. Nolan would say a Mass in honor of Cullen, when announcing the intention of the Mass from the altar, he’d pause for the memory.  He’d shake his head in bewilderment of God’s plan, lamenting the loss of a boy he truly remembered so well, as altar boy, lector, and simply the mischievous little fellow, and share with the entire congregation exactly who we were remembering and praying for.

There’s going to be so many things we’ll all miss.  I’m so sad.  I’ll never again hear (for the tenth time) the story of a mother’s love, Fr. Joe fondly remembering from the pulpit when he was a child on a bicycle, off to the market for eggs.  He was so proud that his mother had entrusted him with such an important task – to take the few dollars she had been able to save of the weeks to go get eggs for Easter.  And so, when he arrived home, she opened the basket and every single egg was broken, except one.  Little Joe Nolan was horrified, and very scared, for these were the only eggs the Nolan children would be able to afford for Easter, and his careless riding had broken them all, except one. As an example of our Lord’s loving forgiveness, mercy, and sense of humor, his loving mum reached in for the only unbroken egg, and with an ear to ear smile, and a loving laugh he claimed he could still hear, smashed the remaining egg on the top of his head.  Every time he told that story, he laughed like it had just happened.

Enjoy this time now with your mum.

We’ll miss you so very much, Father Joe Nolan.

Much Love.

Nolan Obituary

Fr. Joseph A. Nolan

 

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Not Alone on my Camino

Fourteen year old Bernadette Soubirous was the poorest of the poor.  Her father was unemployed, having been pushed out of his job as modern advances made his profession obsolete.  The entire family of six existed in the single room that had years ago been abandoned as unfit for the village’s jailhouse.  The stench of the town’s overflowing sewage was overpowering, but the family was literally destitute, and at least had a room together where they could huddle around the fireplace.  Bernadette had been sick much of her entire life, with her asthma resulting in chronic respiratory disease.  Malnutrition, the cold weather, and lack of medical care was taking its daily toll on her.  She had missed more days of school than she had attended, and as such could barely read, the homely girl was labeled “simple” by her teachers, and teased as “stupid” by her classmates.  She was poor white trash of her day.

The story would feel uncomfortably…

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Coach Mike

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My daughter Emily called me from college, crying because she heard about Mike Snelgrove’s passing – apparently from a heart condition. We spoke for a while about what a real impact he had made on her life. Not just that he had been a strong influence for her to pursue a cheer scholarship to HPU, but what a good person he was. She was feeling the horrible guilt we all do when someone we care about leaves our world. We don’t stay in touch, tell them that we care about them, or even thank them. So the next day I found the funeral home online-obituary and posted my thoughts, hoping so much that Mike’s little girl would someday know how her daddy had positively impacted those he touched.

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By now, I’m thinking he’s well aware of my feelings:

Mike Snelgrove was a coach at Extreme All Star Cheerleading in Melbourne, Florida for years.  I hope he knows how many little people he touched, and what a positive influence he was at such a vulnerable age.  These adolescent years are probably the most important formative times of our lives. (Don’t we all remember them vividly, even decades later?) These are children, and they never feel good enough, never quite feel that they measure up to goals at home, at school, and especially with their peers.  Mike was the rock that God calls us all to be.  My Emily and later Cullen spent several hours a day, and often 5 days a week at the gym.  He was a constant source of affirmation.  Positive energy that was so authentic.  Mike was the genuine thing.  He loved these kids and they loved him.  He told them how talented they were, even when they really weren’t.  How he could tell how hard they had been working, and just how hard they were trying. “Good job!” “I’m so proud of you!” They formed their little fraternity, their club that only their squad could understand … the stress, excitement, sweat, blood, pain, failure, success, failure again, practice, keep trying, practice, competition, keep working, you’re awesome, I’m so proud, you can do this, wow that was awesome, wow I’m so proud of you.  None of their school friends got it – they didn’t need to.  They had their cheer friends who did “get it.”  They knew, so what others thought at school mattered a lot less.  They knew they were awesome. Cause Coach Mike said so.

Mike was a man’s man, a real guy, as I’m sure his military buddies know.  But he didn’t judge, he didn’t need to.  Not only did he keep little girls from feeling inadequate and weak and failures like we all do in adolescence; he was also an inspiration to the boys.  Constant “attaboys” and high fives and hugs.  They were working so hard, and Coach Mike appreciated it.  And some of these boys had a different kind of a struggle than any of us can even imagine.  As concerning as having a gay son is to many parents, we can’t imagine the inner angst and confusion, and lack of worth they often feel.  Coach Mike looked past this, and made them feel OK with who they were.  Their sexuality may or may not be a struggle, may or may not be real, may be painful, may be a source of torment and fear.  But Coach Mike made it irrelevant, because these were also great kids, hard workers that needed a hug and to be told it was gonna be OK.

I don’t think he really got it, how important he was to them, what a wonderful role model, how loved he has been by hundreds of little people over the years.

I explained to my crying daughter Emily not to be sad; she must be so thrilled that such a positive influence had come into her life at such a hard time for her.  Many of her friends were headed the wrong direction, and cheerleading had been a stress valve, the positive channel for her energy and daily frustrations.  She worked so very hard and is a much better person for it.  I reminded her to make a positive thing out of her friendship with Coach Mike.  Remember the ripple effect.  She wasn’t even in his inner circle of family and close friends, and yet he had still made such an impact almost ten years later: to remember how we influence every person we’re with every day of our lives, and to pay him forward with each and every person we lift with our words and deeds.  He lives in his legacy, that cup of loving enthusiasm that over flowed onto everyone he touched.  And I know my kids lives were made better for having known him.

I read the online comments – how his buddies in Iraq trusted him, what a great guy they found him to be.  I honestly don’t know about how his close friends and family feel, I don’t know them.  Surely some who knew him better are well aware of his human faults. I praise our God for being compassionate and forgiving.  I pray for Mike and that those who love him to know that his short life was not wasted because it was cut short.  Instead, that his life was a wonderful fulfilment of all that we’re sent here for.  My family is blessed for having known Mike Snelgrove.

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That was the backdrop of my acquaintance with Mike.  We were not friends, per se, but certainly friendly.  He would always shake my hand and smile, and tell me how much he thought of Emily, and later, of Cullen.  I was one of the always-present “cheer-parents” that he actually seemed to seek out to high five and hug when my kids had competed well, when Emily finally “stuck” her first “full,” or when Cullen did it on his first try!

Which segues into Cullen and Mike.  And Cheer.  Since Mike was always so friendly to me, I have to assume that Cullen never told him what a jerk of a father he had.  I realize how disingenuous “self-deprecating” sounds after you write it, but Dear God, how I wish I could have a “do-over.”  Inside I squirm when someone remarks about what a great father I am.  I’ve made more mistakes than anyone I know.

OK, unless you’re totally new to my blogs and never knew our dear Cullen it’s no secret at this point he had a gay orientation.  You also probably are aware that like many (most?) parents, I was not very happy about this kind of reality.  This is addressed at length in prior posts.  Suffice it to say, looking back, my attitude towards Cullen’s participation in cheer makes me hang my head even lower.

I remember his excitement when he told me that when Emily was on stage competing, it looked so fun.  He felt exhilarated just watching them; it seemed so exciting, and he really wanted to start.  Without hesitation, I replied that there was absolutely no way I could afford it.

Admittedly, cheer is an extremely expensive activity for kids.  His mother and I had just divorced, the finances were drained, and we just wouldn’t be able to afford it.  That was all true.

True, maybe, but we all know how it looks now.  The only boys that cheered were gay, and I couldn’t allow him to do something that was so gay, because maybe this was, you know, “just a phase.”  Right, just a phase, and all we needed to do was to go camping, and to more ball games, and spend more time teaching him to throw the ball, and maybe carelessly leave the Victoria’s Secret catalog in his bathroom.  Yeah, that should do the trick.

How much harm did all my efforts do to my dear Cullen?  Maybe it made me feel better; I was doing “everything I could,” so this problem certainly wasn’t my fault.”  But no, despite my attempts, Cullen HATED going to ball games, and he most definitely could not throw a baseball or a football worth a crap.  I couldn’t either, but at least I didn’t “throw like a girl.”  Wow, I really wish I could take those words back.  How must that have hurt to hear from your father, when you were doing your best to be “good enough” in his eyes, to make him proud.

And why would I care how about how he would wave his hand, or put it on his hip?  (Maybe if he stops doing that, nobody else will know, and I wouldn’t be so embarrassed and ashamed).

So, there it is.  So much to be proud of, and I chose that hill to fight on.  Claiming poverty, I did not pay for my son to do the sport that he wanted to participate in.  I had paid three years for Emily, and a for a decade of dance for their older sister.  But the rules were different now that his mother and I split up.  I’m sure it didn’t help any that there was money for his new step siblings to be in swim club.  Admittedly, those were funds that had long ago been set aside for them, but for 13 year old Cullen I’m quite sure it just didn’t feel fair..  He never said a mean word, or resented his new siblings; and was quick to correct any of his friends who might refer to them as his “step”- brother or sister, they were real siblings.  I know he saw right through me; Cullen saw it better than I did.  Sure, the monthly budget was a convenient excuse, but the bottom line was, I could have found the money, but I didn’t.  I did not support my son in the one sport where he could excel.  It will become apparent later why I’m sharing such ugly and painful admissions.

If you didn’t know Cullen, here’s a glimpse.  Did he get depressed and mope around and complain how unfair life was and hate me for how much I sucked?  Not a chance.  In a few days Cullen had gotten a job washing dishes at Rosati’s, the only restaurant within bicycle distance, so he could pay for cheer himself, and had arranged a carpool system to get to class.  Remember also that Cullen was dually enrolled in college classes, and despite the work and practice regime, maintained a 4.0 GPA, and tutored several of his classmates.

This enthusiasm and resourcefulness might have been news to his father, but not to Mike Snelgrove.  No, as I said above, Mike was nothing but affirming and supportive.  Quick with a compliment, constructive with the criticism, he fed Cullen’s talent and self esteem so that, within 6 months of joining the club, he was on the elite squad, the very best of the competitors.  Mike stayed late after practice, and gave Cullen lots of private lessons.  Mike was a young adult, with lots of his own bills to pay, but only charged for a fraction of the lessons for Cullen, knowing he was paying for the classes and privates himself.  Cullen knew this and really looked up to Mike for being such a “stand-up” and affirming person.  About the time Cullen left to attend Florida State University, Mike joined the army.  In 2010, he was home on leave, and died in his sleep of a “heart condition.”  Indeed.

We roll our eyes and laugh when a news story reports where someone says “God told me to do this,” or simply that God “spoke to me.” Maybe the way such stories are presented by the media is a reflection of our culture itself – that folks who hear what God is saying, and even religious folks in general are weak for needing some mythical god to lean on, or are uneducated morons, buffoons.

I don’t really care what people like Bill Maher say about anything.  I’m a reasonably intelligent person, and I know what I’ve seen and heard, what I’ve experienced.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, on May 4th, 2013, Mike Snelgrove walked past me on the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  What you now know is that this was three years after he had left this world.

I had longed to see an apparition, or even a dream in which I got to see Cullen.  Other people were having them.  Lots of them.  (The subject of a later blog post).  But why not me?

My Map-My-Hike app showed that I was hiking at 4.2 miles per hour, a reasonably brisk trekking speed through the Spanish forest when I was passed by this person, who whispered something to me.  The log then shows me stopped there in my steps for over 10 minutes.  I honestly don’t remember this at all.  I do remember I was dumbfounded when it hit me who I thought I had just seen, and what it could possibly mean.

This was pretty big stuff.  Even if I just imagined the entire thing, why?  Why not something, or someone else?  I had lost touch of Mike when Cullen left Extreme Gym, and had no idea he had joined the army.  Why would I see someone that reminded me so much of him, with an army rucksack, on this particular day?

Was this the message I had so been pleading for God to give me?  Had God indeed spoken to me – in the earthquake, the fire, the wind, and now the whisper of a passing “stranger?”  And what did it all mean?

And what does it mean, going forward?

Anyone who knows me, know that the gears are always turning in my head.  I’m usually not paying attention because I’m so engrossed with hidden meanings, the metaphors and lessons presented by life.  I suppose I overthink everything, so this whole thing just kind-of makes me numb.  Clearly this was some kind of message.  Was I to take comfort that Mike was involved, and that somehow he had found Cullen and that they were safe?  Or was this something about where I was supposed to go.  As you can imagine, its a bit of a struggle charting a new course after such a loss.

I think it is all of those things, and probably lots more.

We had founded the William Cullen Klein Memorial Scholarship at FSU to help a student each year realize the dream that made our Cullen so very happy, studying in China.  I raised almost half of the money necessary to have the Scholarship endowed (permanently funded) from sponsorships of my walking the Camino last year.  A memorial scholarship certainly seemed (and still seems) appropriate, but where is the real “legacy?”  To me, a legacy would be something going forward, making a difference; doing perhaps what Cullen would have wanted done, a difference in the world, because he had been here.

The answer came to me in the airport in Chicago, on the layover.  I read a book called, “Love is My Orientation,” by Andrew Marin.  This set the backdrop for going forward, and for the first time in a long time, I sensed a smile looking down on me.  I’ll continue to share, and expound, as I do go forward.  Please share your comments.

Much Love.

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Saints & Mass Intentions – Part 2. And Morocco

Always a little teary and short of breath when I hear my son’s name at church as a soul we’re praying for, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the next intention.

If you haven’t glanced at “Part 1,” please scroll down a bit first; its a really quick read.

The kneeling moments after communion often touch me deeply, for a number of reasons.  As a devout Roman Catholic, I totally accept that the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, quite literally.  Even non-Catholics have shared with me how moving the reverence in a Catholic Mass is for our Lord.  And if you truly believe in His presence here with us, how else would you behave?  This in itself puts me in a special place.

The second reason is that one of my last memories of Cullen, my eternally 19 year old son, was kneeling next to him at an adoration service where the Holy Eucharist was present on the altar for us to reverence, meditate, and in an Ignatian way, to contemplate on.  Sarah Kroger was the music minister, and I’ve always been so very moved with her worship music.  After kneeling in prayer and adoration of our Lord, for over an hour, I looked over at Cullen.  I truly expected him to be dis-engaged, even texting, or at least at this point, sitting.  An hour is a very long time to kneel.  I was taken back to see my beautiful boy, kneeling in deep prayer, tears running down his cheeks, and a smile on his lips.  I was then also brought to tears.  My son knew my God in a way that I am, to this day, still in awe of.  He was conversing with our Lord, and so many of my prayers had been answered.

When he was a little younger, around 15 years old, my son was pretty typical.  Rebellious and a bit of a smart aleck, Cullen preferred staying with his Mom, cause there were few rules there, particularly concerning curfew, weed, and sleepovers.  He resisted going to Mass, and often butted heads with me on a few issues, but in retrospect, probably rooted in frustrations he had not yet come to terms with.  He was much more like me than he could admit at the time, with a deep seated compass and a very conservative nature.

A self described “polyglot,” Cullen was fascinated with all things linguistic.  At 17, he was fluent in Spanish, French, and conversational in German, Korean, Chinese, and Arabic.  He was up at all hours of the night studying Rosetta Stone and reading, and Skyping with friends all over the world, practicing and attempting to speak without accent.  Extremely intelligent, he was awarded his AA degree (having dual-enrolled at the local community college, he had completed his first four college semesters), and graduated from his high school after summer school his Junior year.  So, nine days after his 17th birthday, Cullen started Florida State University as a Junior, with majors in Spanish and Chinese Mandarin.  Wow.

Cullen participated in an international studies program in Fez, Morocco the next Summer, where he would earn enough credit hours to qualify for Arabic as a Minor degree.  After that 6 week study program, he was to stay for two weeks in Barcelona, Spain with the sister of his mother’s best friend, who lived there.  He planned to drop by to see us for a short weekend, then return to FSU to start the Fall semester.

We texted with a phone App periodically, but I do vividly remember Skyping with him one evening with his Moroccan family walking back and forth in the background.  At some point the elderly grandmother started shouting at him, glanced at me on the computer screen, then shouted again.  He laughed and explained that it was time for the family to eat dinner, and she treated him like all the other kids in the family, scolding him for not being seated at the table and ready.

I also remember vividly having the very serious conversation about his “orientation” in a Muslim country.  I pleaded with him to take this stuff seriously when he was there, because I wanted his head to come back attached to his body.

It was also around this time when I dramatically changed my approach to praying for him.

I am a pretty religious guy; I seriously study scripture and Church teachings, and try to apply them to my life.  I constantly converse with God, all day, every day.  I ask for favors and intercessions, I give thanks, and I beg for guidance.  So you could say I “pray” all the time.  However, at times, I have a much deeper, contemplative prayer time, such as after Communion.

For the longest time – for years, I prayed for Jesus to have the compassion to change Cullen’s orientation.  I knew it was so difficult on him, and that no one would “choose” to be attracted to the same sex.  A lifetime of prejudice and hatred was certainly going to accompany him.  I was sick with anguish about the physical and mental health risks.  And certainly, as I’ve expressed previously, I was concerned as to how this would affect his salvation.

It was about this point in time, after so many years, that I found myself no longer praying for my son’s “healing.”  “Normal” seemed to take a back seat to “healthy.”  I prayed for extended periods of time that Jesus walk with my son and keep him safe; To guide him in his decisions; To know how very loved he was; To realize that God was knocking on the door and it was time to open it.

God had made my son the was he was for a reason.  I’ll never know why.  It still seems unfair, and even cruel – unless there are other components to our relationship with Him that we just don’t understand yet. And, of course there are.

So I prayed, longer, and deeper, and more often than ever before.  I pleaded for my son to develop a healthy, happy relationship with my Jesus, who I knew so very well.  The Jesus I know loves unconditionally, because He is love, personified.  I begged for an intercession, by whoever was listening up there, to God to rescue my boy, to bring him “home” and keep him steadfast and righteous.

I had completed my 2 hour commute home from work on Saturday afternoon, about 2 weeks before Cullen was due to return from Morocco.  For some reason we had decided to go to Mass on Saturday, as something was going on Sunday that would keep us from all being together.  My wife Sharon had said something that led me to believe that my oldest daughter Camille was back in town for the day and would be joining us at Church, which I always considered good.  Apparently everyone was “in on it,” except for me.  So I remember being in a really good mood, anxious to see Cam and glad that she wanted to join us for Mass.  I’m sure I bounced, in my happy, dorky way from the parking lot to where I saw them gathered in the foyer in front of Holy Name of Jesus Church.

I remember the odd look on everyone’s face when I looked around and asked where Camille was.  Pregnant pause.  Then their eyes left mine, and looked towards the fountain, and the statue of Jesus.  Seated there next to Jesus was Cullen, with an ear to ear smile!

I get a little choked up every time I think of this scene playing over and over again in my mind.  We ran to each other and embraced, both with tears down our cheeks.

Not that my shedding a tear is anything unusual.  Everyone that know me, knows that I cry at SPCA and Hallmark commercials.

“Cullen!”  I exclaimed, “Why did you come back so early?”  I knew he had so been looking forward to being in Barcelona, in real Spanish culture, living with Spanish friends.  “Dad,” he explained, “When I was landing in Spain, I looked out and saw a Cathedral.  I never thought I’d be so glad to see a cross on the top of a church!”

“Every moment of every day,” he said, “Someone was trying to convert me to Islam … from the guy selling newspapers, to the pretty girl on the bench, to the host family.”  The proselytizing had taken its toll, and he was ready to go “home.”

From that moment on, Cullen was so very different.  He actually seemed like he wanted to spend time with me, with us.  He looked forward to going to Church, and discussing religion and spirituality with me.  At first I skeptical, it was just such a turn-around.  But it became more and more credible every day.  On Sundays, Cullen would call me from school, as he walked 45 minutes home from Church to his apartment, to discuss the homily.  How many college kids walk 45 minutes each way to attend church?

So, I digress.  But it does serve as background.  Anyway, it was August 27th of this year.  I was born on August 27, and so was Cullen.  That’s right, Cullen was my 32nd birthday present from God in 1992.  So of course I had requested Mass be said for Cullen on August 27.  And, even though I was expecting it, the mention of his name as the “special intention” of the day’s Mass found me squeezing Cullen’s cross pendant necklace, and looking down.

The rest of the Mass was a bit of a blur, except the mention during the homily of the patron saint for August 27th.

St. Monica.

The very same St. Monica who prayed and cried daily for the salvation and return to the faith of her son Augustine.

With all my heart I now believe in the intercession of the Saints on our behalf.  We are not here alone.  We are part of the “Communion of Saints.” The time/space continuum is certainly something that we, as finite creatures just can not grasp, but one thing is definite.  Is it a coincidence that Cullen and I were born on the feast day of St. Monica?  Lately I’ve just noticed way too many things and people woven together with that famous “red thread”  that Amy Hollingsworth discusses in Gifts of Passage.  I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no coincidences.

Life does not end with our mortality.  There is life on the other side, and it’s not somewhere else.  Our loved ones are with us in a very real way, and touch us in ways we can not even imagine.

Catholic stuff like Saints & Mass Intentions – Part 1

I never really understood why non-Catholics have such a problem with the saints, or asking the saints to intervene for our intentions, on our behalf, to God.  My purpose here is not faith apologetics, there are plenty of resources devoted to that which would be more helpful to the curious seeker. However my own understanding is that the saints were just regular people, many in fact quite like me, very rebellious and sinful early in life, only to grow in their faith and touched by our Lord such that they became worthy of imitation.  (ha, not that I am!)  A common theme seemed to be their humility, none of them seemed to feel very “worthy.”  We hold it to be a truth that these “Saints,” are in heaven with our Lord.  Therefore, being “closer” than we are, it just seems logical that they could put a word in edgewise, and referencing Maccabees and Revelation 5:8, they in fact do receive our prayers (symbolized by incense) and relay them on to God.  Why not pray to God ourselves? Well, of course we can, and should, and do.  But when we’re hurting, or scared, or facing tragedy, don’t we also ask our friends to pray for us?  And aren’t we more likely to ask those who we consider “the faithful,” “saved,” or at least “believers” to pray for us than our cousin Joey who thinks it’s all a bunch of crap?  So who better to ask to pray for us that those we believe are so “saved” that they actually are with God already?  I’ve heard claims that praying to the dead amount to necromancy or even “idolatry.”  This is absurd, no one is conjuring up, worshipping or deifying the dead, simply asking them to relay a request.

Ok, that all being said, during my life, I haven’t prayed much or very often to the Saints – at least not until recently.

St. Monica (AD331-387) is remembered and venerated as a devout Christian during those early years, and her virtues, particularly the suffering against the adultery of her husband, and a prayerful life dedicated to the reformation of her son (Augustine), are legendary and heroic. Saint Monica was said to have prayed and wept every night for her son Augustine’s conversion.

Monica was married to a Pagan named Patricius, though like so many his religion was no more than a name; with a violent temper, he was drunkard and quite a carouser.

Monica seemed to spend a lifetime of worry centering on one of her three sons, Augustine; who was wayward and lazy. He was sent away to school, but lived there “dissolutely.”

Always the arrogant “intellectual,” Augustine had been living an “immoral life,” and adopted a heresy called Manichaeism. When he returned home, he shared his new theological views and Monica drove him away from her table. However, she is said to have experienced a strange vision that convinced her to reconcile with her son.

Monica followed her wayward son to Rome, where he had gone secretly; when she arrived he had already gone to Milan, but she followed him. Here she found and pleaded with the local bishop St. Ambrose for assistance.  Through him she ultimately had the joy of seeing Augustine convert to Christianity, after seventeen years of his resistance, and decades of her prayers.

Augustine would become one of the most influential thinkers in all of history.  Considered a “Doctor of the Church,” St. Augustine’s writings and teachings including his Confessions, have shaped Church teachings, as well as philosophy forever.

St. Monica is forever remembered as the “Patron Saint of parents,” especially “parents of troubled or wayward children.”

Being a “Cradle-Catholic,” I also wasn’t aware that other Christian denominations (and non-denominations) had a problem with “praying FOR the dead.”  This was just something we always did, without really wondering if it was necessary or helpful.

Hadn’t the deceased already determined their destiny by their Faith (or lack of it), and consequential actions manifesting that Faith during their lifetimes?  Of course they had.

So, of what good would prayers be for them?  Not being a theologian, I’m not really sure; being a Catholic there was the issue of “purgation,” mentioned numerous times in scripture.  Regardless of whether or not Purgatory is real or figurative; lasting “the blink of an eye,” or some longer element of time; and whether or not we can actually aid those in that position, I can’t be sure.  Again, this has been argued for centuries by folks much smarter than I, but suffice it to say, it all becomes different when you lose someone you love.

I really have no knowledge whether or not it helps my Cullen grow a bit closer to God, or whether he’s there with Him already.  I am relatively sure, however, of two things.

(1) The act of praying for my son certainly does no harm (Pascal), and (2) You would do so also if it was your own son.

Several Masses were said “for” my son, as well as for Mom and Dad this past year.  The “Prayers of the Faithful” is a part of the Catholic Mass where we pray for each other, the world, victims of natural disasters, guidance for our leaders,etc, etc, with a special intention for the individual for whom that Mass was being said. “For the remission of their sins and the repose of their soul.”

It may or may not help my son on his journey.

It certainly helps me on mine.