About five years ago, I was on the phone with my father when he told me about something that was bothering him. A very dear friend of his, a Catholic man he had known for many years, had recently confided to him that he no longer believed in the True Presence in the Eucharist. This friend had come to think that it was merely a symbol. “You need to pray for him,” Dad said, and I promised I would. “The minute I have some time,” he continued warmly, “I am going to have a talk with him.”
My father was a judge and a very deep thinker. Set in his ways, he loved nothing better than to research legal issues, writing his own judicial opinions and dissents by hand even after the rest of the world switched to laptops and PCs. All my life, I remember his notes, meticulously kept on large white index cards, with legal issues and points outlined in his black-inked, flowing hand. Each one of those cards formed a piece of what would become a well-reasoned decision, sound and persuasive and written down in the same black, flowing hand.
As far as I know, my father never did have that planned conversation with his friend. Dad passed away unexpectedly not very long afterward, and that minute of spare time probably never presented itself. Weeks passed, and I had the difficult task of helping my mother sort through some of his things. How well I remember sitting in his old chair, thumbing through each of those well-worn books of his, the teetering end table groaning under the weight of them.
One book in particular stood out from all the others. It was a leather-bound Bible Dad had owned at least 50 years. I probably would not have paid much attention to the familiar old relic were it not for the index cards poking out the sides. As I opened the Bible gently, the cards fell onto my lap. There in that old familiar handwriting was a “judicial opinion” in the process of being mapped out bit by bit, but this particular opinion had nothing to do with the laws of the State of New York. It was the beginning of a cogent argument, biblically based, on the undeniable truth of the True Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Thanks to that brief phone call so many weeks before, I understood its significance. He was preparing for the hoped-for moment, the day he would have helped his friend to see the truth and believe.
As Catholics, we believe we must always pray for the dead, remembering that our loved ones may be in purgatory — assuming otherwise does them a disservice. Still, I must say those index cards made me smile. It was comforting knowing that he went to God while in the midst of fighting the good fight and doing exactly what our Catechism teaches:
“The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 1816.)
It taught me a practical lesson as well — one might call it a father’s legacy to the next generation. I repeat it so often to my children that I fear becoming the proverbial broken record: “For the rest of your lives, never worry about what to say if someone questions you on a matter of faith. If you know the answer, explain it as best you can, but even if the words do not come to you on the spur of the moment, promise to find out the truth and return to the conversation later.” We are all called to be lifelong students of the faith, and lifelong teachers as well.
Related to this is the reminder that Christ did not leave us orphans. We have an unerring source of Truth that can never and will never let us down — the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. If we remember to cling to it in daily life, especially during times of trouble or decision, our yoke is easy and our burden light. Confident assurance in eternal truth is the greatest gift we can give to our children, a compass to guide their way in an increasingly relativist world.
Thank you, Dad, for passing the compass along to us.
[The Long Island Catholic, August 2008]