Monday, March 18, 2013

An Instrument of Peace

A statue sits in one of our flower gardens in the backyard. It's a small statue. Once the garden is in full bloom, you have to look for it to see it. But it's there. I know it's always there. I can see it no matter what. It's there for a reason.

During our backyard Halloween party last fall, I thought about picking it up and putting it in a safe place. But I didn't. I figured, who runs through a garden that's in the corner of the yard, away from all of the activities? And wouldn't you know it, a boy ran where he wasn't supposed to run. He broke the statue. I then proceeded to take that boy on a guilt trip that would have made my mom proud.

It's a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment, the saint from whom Pope Francis took his name, and my dad's favorite saint. That last reason is why I gave that boy such a guilt trip, and why the statue sits in our garden. (The boy was very sorry. We later fixed it together.) The ironic thing is my dad was no animal lover. Here's why he did love St. Francis:

The Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
When I feel particularly sad about my dad, I will read that prayer. It's on the back of a card that I've stuck in the mirror over our dresser. My dad was no saint, but he was a man of strong faith. I admire that in him. His faith played a big part in my faith journey. My sophomore year in college, I was home for Easter weekend. Like many college students do I'm sure, I was going through a crisis of faith. A period of doubt. I didn't want to go to church on Easter Sunday. I was adamant. "I don't know if I believe in God anymore," I insisted. He didn't get angry, like he was prone to do when I revolted during my youth. Instead, he showed a glimpse of the dad he would become, the dad he was becoming when he died suddenly more than ten years ago. A more patient, understanding dad. Calmer. Instead of shooting first and asking questions later, he listened to me.

"Easter is the day we renew our Baptismal vows," he offered. "I think you should come to church and see if you still believe the vows we're saying. That'll be your answer." I know as a staunch Italian Catholic he was hurt by my doubt, but he didn't lash out. He didn't insist. He became an instrument of peace. Where there was doubt he showed faith. Injury, pardon. Despair, hope. Darkness, light. I went to church that day and I felt a renewed faith.

Faith is a journey. The word itself implies that along that journey you will encounter doubts. I still have doubts. But I also have faith. (That's why it's called faith.) Whether my dad would approve or not I don't know, but I don't consider myself Catholic anymore. (My mom most certainly doesn't approve.) For many reasons, My Director and I chose an Episcopal church instead. It was a reasonable middle ground between our two religions. We also liked the parish and pastor we had found. There is also my inability to justify the homophobia, misogyny, and pedophilia that is engrained in the institution of the Catholic church. To myself or my daughter.

Some day, when she's much older, Peanut will recognize that her dad went to Catholic school, that most of her close family members are devout practicing Catholics, and yet we attend an Episcopal church. She will ask why. I will tell her we felt our new church and parish are more welcoming and accepting, while maintaining the basic tenets of the religion and upholding a lot of the ceremony that I hold dear.

And maybe too one day, Peanut will have her doubts. She might question her faith or beliefs. Instead of being judgmental or taking it personally, I hope to be an instrument of peace for her like my dad was to me.

Today is my dad's 70th birthday. We will say the Prayer of St. Francis in his honor as a family. And while I may not consider myself Catholic anymore, I still and will always feel a connection. The moment I heard the Pope took the name Francis, I immediately knew why. I immediately thought of the Prayer of St. Francis and I immediately thought of my dad. The Pope is not a perfect man. Neither was my dad. But I choose to remember his good, and learn from his mistakes. It is in dying we are born to eternal life. He lives in us. In our hearts. In the telling of stories like this.

Happy 70th birthday to my dad, my instrument of peace.

8 comments:

  1. What a beautiful tribute to your father. I'll be thinking about you and him today. Peace, my friend.

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    1. Thank you. It's a day we try to celebrate him and remember him fondly.

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  2. And maybe one day you will come back to being a catholic. It does happen you know!

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    1. Never say never, my friend. Ya never know.

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  3. It is so hard to understand why things touch me the way they do. I sat in stunned, prayerful silence for a good ten minutes after I read this post. Exactly the right words at the right time. Thank you.
    Also, that is one well-written piece there. I think people don't understand how difficult wrangling words can be. In fact, I couldn't get my words to do what I wanted them to do on my blog today.

    Well done.

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  4. Dad had an impact on my faith formation as well...sometimes with the use of words, but many times without them. I remember Dad going to get our dear, wheelchair-bound-friend, at anytime of the day, to bring him to our house to be a part of the family meal or holiday and then take him back home. I remember Dad giving gainful employment to the long haired young men most people wanted their daughters to steer away from. I remember Dad patiently listening on the phone for hours to the troubles of a troubled man. I remember Dad painstakingly removing wall paper from our kitchen every 5 years, or when the decor tired, and silently adhering the latest trend. I remember Dad shoveling my snow covered driveway and proceeding to build a "G.I. Snow-man" with his grandson. I remember Dad leaving my home in Virginia and heading back to Jersey to help advise my brother with a car purchase after a lease turn-in.
    That was the last time I saw him alive. It is this loving act of giving to another that is forged into my memory.

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    1. I woke up this morning with the realization that St. Francis of Assisi is attributed with saying "Preach the gospel at all times, use words when necessary."

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  5. Very nice. I'm not religious. I don't give myself to possibly, maybe, or just have faith. I have no faith in any of the dogmas ascribed to the various religions of the world but that doesn't mean I don't understand its power or respect that fact that for millions, it is instrumental in their lives.
    Its reassuring to know that we have those sorts of things in our lives which allow us to keep people we love and have lost, close to us. Whether it is a prayer, a statue, or a jacket, book, or picture.
    Happy Birthday to your Dad.

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