The news came like a left hook punch that you never saw coming. Sister Anne Romain, my principal when I was in 5th grade, came into the classroom and asked that I come with her down to the office. As we walked in, there stood Monsignor Beahan, the head of the church and school I belonged to – Our Lady of Sorrows. Monsignor, a tall, sturdy man with pale blue eyes, said, “Hello, Michael. I am going down to your house, so I thought I would give you a ride home. Why don’t you come with me?”
Monsignor knew my parents well and I often was pulled out of class to go over to church and serve as the altar boy as he said Mass during the day. So, to be asked to go with him wasn’t too unusual. We glided across the school grounds towards the back of the church, when Monsignor said, “Let’s stop in and say a quick prayer.”
We sat in the last pew of the big church and both knelt down. Monsignor was in his sixties then and I heard his knees crack as he lowered himself onto the kneeler. I knelt as well, folded my hands, and wondered what he was praying about. He eased himself back into the pew and gently guided me to sit back as well. Monsignor turned to me and said, “I have something difficult to tell you, Michael. Your mom passed away this morning. I am going to take you home. Your dad is there with your brothers and sisters waiting for you.”
I could feel my brain short circuit. This couldn’t be possible because she sent me out the door in the morning. As I sat in Monsignor’s car with its gold polyester seat coverings, I looked out the window trying to sort out how this could be. I remembered hearing an ambulance siren during the day, and I wondered if that was for my mom.
As I approached our house, I saw my older brother Jim on the front steps crying. Monsignor walked me up the steps and in through the front door towards my dad and my other siblings.
I looked up to my dad and shouted, “Who is going to take care of us now?”
He took my hand and said, “I will, Mike. I will take care of us.”
In a recent talk with my dad, he recalled this moment. He said what he remembers is the look I gave him after he said he would take care of us.
My dad said with a little chuckle, “You looked up at me and kind of squinted your eyes with an expression of ‘I am not so sure about that!’”
Of course, my dad did what he said. He went on to care for six kids, from me at age 10 up to my sister who was 20 at the time. At that moment, though, I needed reassurance. He later sat me down and said to me, “Mike, Mom can’t be with you like she had been. But you need to know she will always be with you. Every day. It just will be in a different way.”
That was a moment of faith. Nothing visible could possibly affirm what he had just said to be true, yet his words gave me comfort and they ring true today, nearly 40 years later.
As my dad and I talked recently about this time when we all lost our equilibrium, he said, “We live in a time where there is a lust for certainty. As human beings we want to know that every event has a reason and that we should be able to figure it out. But when you come right down to it, if everything was certain there would be no need for faith. Yet we want to make sure that everything, all of our ideas, are right, that everything we do is right, and yet we will never know that for sure. So there is this ‘lust for certainty.'”
It doesn’t matter if we are 10, 50, or 88 years old, we live with this constant craving for certainty in our lives when in fact we need to draw up our faith muscle.
When the headwinds of life push me back on my heels and I would just like the future to be more certain, I think about a saying my dad has repeated to me all my life: “Work like everything is in your hands, pray as if everything is in God’s hands.” A simple insight worthy of daily practice.
Author’s note: My 88-year-old father is also a Catholic priest. As a widower, he entered the seminary at age 62 after running his own business for years. At age 65, he graduated with his master’s degree in theology and was ordained a Catholic priest. His experiences of growing up in the Depression, serving in WWII in China, raising six kids, having 18 grandchildren, and running his own business have given him insight, wisdom, and a great sense of humor about life. Here I share short wisdoms from my father the Father.