My parents met at a USO dance in Boston toward the end of World War II. Mum remembers being smitten with a tall, handsome naval officer in uniform; Dad was sure he had met the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Not long after that, they fell in love and wanted to marry.
Dad came from a devout German Catholic family in Nebraska; Mum was a Riverdale Methodist.
It wasn’t so easy a union to sanction then, for Catholics to wed “outside” of the Roman Catholic Church. Mum was required to make promises, written into their vows, including to have any children born to them brought up in the Catholic Church. She agreed. But that’s just background information.
Both my brother and I grew up as devout, “practicing” Catholics. Dad always took us to Mass; Mum went with us occasionally, but was true to her promise. I even went to parochial school for four years. I often say that I am Catholic in my heart.
What my parents instilled in us was a very strong sense of a respectful and ecumenical regard for all religions, which was not always the norm in those days. They were sincerely respectful and accepting of everyone’s religious beliefs, as well as of those with no religious affiliation at all.
This acceptance and respect that our parents fostered in us toward people of all religions was borne of their love and respect for each other, but it applied to other areas, too, including ethnicity, race, politics and economic situation.
My father went to Mass every Sunday and on holy days of obligation, and many weekdays, as well. He received the holy sacrament of communion often. As he lay on his deathbed, no longer able to swallow, a priest anointed his forehead with blessed oil.
He died, with his rosary beads entwined through his fingers, at Addison Gilbert Hospital (where my brother and I were born). I have the rosary tacked on the wall by my bed.
My mother had predeceased him by several years. Dad told me that he was only thankful that she died first, so that he could be there to take care of her.
My mother took a different route to heaven. She worshipped God in nature. She might not have said it that way, had she been asked. But I know she did, and so do I.
But I pray a lot, too. It’s the best of both those paths that I strive to follow. Both paths give me solace, and I’ve often felt that being a product of a “mixed marriage” has afforded me a sincere belief that the bottom line of both avenues of worship are either so closely related, so closely entwined, that maybe they are the same, but with different names.
In truth, I pray a lot these days, more often than I used to. Perhaps it’s because I’m much closer to the end than to the beginning. Perhaps it’s because my fears are, one after another, morphing into the curiosity, the excitement, of what comes next.
Here’s a little secret that I’ve never shared, and I hold it to be as much truth as folly: A nun in Catholic school once said to me, “Pray to St. Anthony; God is really busy.”
Apparently, I took her advice to heart. St. Anthony is said to be the patron saint of “finding things.” And for as long as I can remember, I’ve directed all my prayers, requests, thanks, fears and emergency needs, as well as the finding of lost items, carefully tailoring them to fit into his job of locating what’s missing.
If this sounds like childish expectation, all I can offer is that he’s been on the job since I was 12. I try not to waste his time; only occasionally do I ask him to find my misplaced purse or keys.
But very often, perhaps daily, I ask him to help me find courage, direction in my life, sincerity, hope, or the gentleness and patience I know lie there, just beyond my frustration or anger, and I never forget to thank him.
I expect the time will come, on my deathbed, when I ask him to find me a good spot in eternity, despite my many human failings. Could it be that he appreciates my faith in him?
My best friend sometimes asks me to intercede for her. “You ask him; he likes you the best,” she’ll say. And I sometimes do that, tacking on a thank you for finding her for my best friend 60 years ago.
Gloucester resident Susan S. Emerson is a regular Times columnist.