Once a Catholic

Springfield Diocese Bishop William Byrne. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Originally published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette 4/2/2021

This Easter column was in the works when a love song played in my head. It served to remind me of God’s omnipresence:

“It’s Always You”

Whenever it’s early twilight, I watch till a star breaks through,

Funny, it’s not a star I see, it’s always you.

If a breeze caresses me, it’s really you strolling by

If I hear a melody, it’s merely the way you sigh

Wherever you are you’re near me, you dare me to be untrue

Funny, each time I fall in love, It’s always you.

One year ago, most Christians missed Easter Sunday. Palm Sunday, one week before, begins Holy Week when the faithful slow down, take stock, recall and relive Christ’s passion. Believers will question their lives in faint hopes of justifying His sacrifice. This faith of ours, given at birth, or chosen, tells us that God created the world and everything in it.

Considered from the viewpoint of a lightly-educated layperson, Holy Week is tribulating. Jesus, the son of God, was sent by His Father to die for humankind’s sins. The story is told that following the great flood, a rainbow appeared in the sky. It was God’s promise to our ancestors that he had not given up on His creation. Salvation would come and prophets appear with a loving message to sinful mankind. It is not a stretch to believe our ancestors witnessed every offense in the Ten Commandments given to Moses.

In 1930, my 20-year-old Irish father emigrated to America. Jim’s companions were his Catholic faith, drive and ambition. His visible assets consisted of a winning smile atop a sturdy 6-foot frame. Five years later he became a naturalized citizen, inviting appeals from Ireland. Dad graciously sponsored many siblings, who now comprise our extended U.S. family.

In 1932, he married serene Vermonter, Imogene Smith, in St. Mary’s Rectory. A church wedding then banned because Jean wasn’t Catholic. Baby James Francis was baptized at Saint Mary’s. Mom raised six children in the faith. Times are changing: Though their parents are unwed, Father Francis Reilly lovingly baptized our two great-grandchildren in church.

Dad and his Irish friends built the peaceful St. Mary grotto facing Smith College’s Grécourt Gates. A plaque lists their names. I’m glad my father died a year before the Boston Globe broke the church’s 1992 child abuse scandal, leading to Cardinal Bernard Law’s expulsion.

Nearer home, Catholics’ tolerance of repeated Springfield Diocesan coverups had their faith tested like a steel ball in a cosmic pinball machine. Try justifying a suicide amid disgraced priests, Bishop Duprey’s midnight-ride to Maryland and Bishop Weldon’s posthumous death-of-reputation due to credible sexual charges? Funds dried up as churches merged and closed. In rightful disgust, young and old parishioners voted with their feet.

St. Michael’s Catholic Grammar and High School are now Michael’s House Senior living. Saint Mary of the Assumption Church, Northampton’s twin-spired gothic masterpiece, is up for sale. Driving by, I find my sign of the cross habit hard to break. A miracle, the faithful and non-religious make peace, God is no longer in-residence.

New Springfield bishop William Byrne arrives to captain our ancient religion’s ship, building on truth. Father Bill Byrne is an inspiring YouTube fixture. He’s the author of “5 Things with Father Bill: Hope, Humor, and Help for the Soul.” Fr. Bill’s easy smile and earnestness shine through. In Chapter 17 of “5 Things,” he speaks to the problem of emerging from a year of separation: “Long-distance relationships are hard to maintain. Real love requires face time.” Fr. Bill reminds us that our bond with God grows stronger when we show up, slow down, visit a church, meditate, try to fill quiet moments with prayer.

God’s gift of a Notre Dame de Namur convent grad with a deep faith bolsters my days. She kept me from giving up when five children and most of their generation decided they could live spiritually minus church. I found it impossible to blame them, because a childhood faith failed in its mission. I’m old now, thankful that grace, plus the exemplary lives of good friends, have been my salvation.

Easter brings a soul-healing lift? I know this much — every caressing breeze is more likely angel than Uber! May your Easter blessings arrive like soft rain, or in a song. Alexa: Ask Bing or Frank to sing, “It’s Always You.”

Happy Easter.

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