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.
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.