I see their faces as I write this - some living, some now gone to meet the Lord: Sister Theresa, the feisty Irish nun who taught me about Catholic faith and led the RCIA team that brought me into the Church. (I remember the day we encountered each other, years later, at a national RCIA convention and how moved she was to see someone she had helped initiate now working in the ministry of initiation.) I see Don and Elna, my devoted and caring sponsors, chosen by the parish because I walked in not knowing anyone, with my two young children in tow (their non-practicing Catholic father never came with me.) I see the other team members, who after I came into the Church became close friends and fellow ministers in the parish. I see Sarah, a bright, mature and dedicated woman skilled in liturgical drama who ran the parish liturgy committee and was a member of that same RCIA team. Sweet, dear Sarah, who loved liturgy - and taught me to love it too - but who unaccountably, a few years later, broke my heart when she committed suicide.
I see the faces of the women in the Altar and Rosary Society - who, after I was presented to the parish at the Rite of Welcoming, came up to me and made me feel so sincerely welcome in that parish. I see the faces of my small community, the choir, who embraced me, formed me in liturgical music, and loved me through the painful breakup of my marriage. I see those who faithfully served in the many ministries of my very active home parish. I see the faces of Cursillistas, women who returned year after year, to invite and assist other women to know Jesus and the community more deeply. I see the priests who formed me and helped me heal the hurts of life over the years through their roles as retreat leaders and spiritual mentors.
I see the gruff, yet compassionate diocesan vicar who picked me up when I was down in despair over my unemployment who told me: "You need a job, I need a secretary. Do you want to try this?" (He later mentored and supported me through a master's degree program - for which I can never thank him enough.) I see the faces of the sincere faithful women who were, for four years, my weekly companions in my learning cohort. I see my friend Patrick, a priest who died of AIDS, who called me every morning during his final weeks to talk. I see the supportive pastors - the one who confirmed me, the one who recognized my leadership skills and hired me to be part-time liturgy coordinator, another who took a chance and created a dual position for me as director of religious education and liturgy. I see the young pastor, who darkly angry over a perceived betrayal of what was in fact part of his own indiscretion, told me I was fired.
I see the face of my dear, departed best friend, the man who fell from grace as part of the same dark situation that got me ejected from that community, who taught me the power of unconditional love and of living a Catholic life faithfully through the storms of life. I see the vaguely bewildered face of the priest who, in the confessional, heard my tale of woe, absolved me of my anger and occasional mistrust in God - and welcomed me to life in a new parish in a new city. I see the faces of the people of my current parish, devoted older Anglo folks with years in the ministries of music, catechesis and parish leadership - along with their relative newcomer Hispanic counterparts, the people who have shared my love of my parish for nearly 10 years.
I see the faces of my now young-adult sons - one who rejects the Church, the other who embraces it deeply, but only on occasion. I see the faces of fellow workers in and around the diocese, and even around the country, each one, in his or her own way, trying to build the Kingdom of God. I see the faces of faithful Catholics from all walks of life, who I have "met" virtually in my social networks and through my online course facilitator's role - and I know that even if I may never meet most of them, we all belong to something larger than ourselves. Most especially I see the faces of those in my family, parish and diocese and the friends who have supported me for the last three years, during a time of great grief and loss - through one of my deepest experiences of Paschal Mystery.
This Easter Triduum, as I celebrate 25 years of Catholic life, I am grateful for all of them, in good times and bad. - and to all those I may not have mentioned. I thank them for being part of my journey of faith. Indeed, I thank God for them.