It began Good Friday evening. I joined five others in holding crucifixes for our fellow parishioners to venerate during the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion. Parents and their children, teens and twenty-somethings, grandparents and singles, the healthy and the infirmed came forward to give homage to the cross. Within seconds, I found myself drawn to each one who stopped to kiss or touch or bow before the image of the dying Jesus in my hands. Each face bore its own signs of youth and age, joy and sorrow, illness and good health, worry and happiness. Each person, regardless of the years and life experiences they’d endured, radiated a beauty that I cannot explain. It was as though Jesus stood in my place, ignoring his own pain, to acknowledge his appreciation and love for each one who entered into this moment with him. I fought to hold back the tears as I realized that I’d been given a glimpse of God’s love for us in a most tangible way. Afterward, as I returned to my seat, a familiar melody echoed in my memory. You are so beautiful to me… You’re everything I hoped for. You’re everything I need. You are so beautiful to me…* I fell asleep that night humming the melody that simply wouldn’t go away.
Holy Saturday is always an extremely busy day for the good deacon and me and everyone in the parish involved with liturgy preparations, decorating and music. Each year’s RCIA participants make their final commitments to our faith at the Easter Vigil. I admit that by this time Mike and I have grown extremely fond of our RCIA class. For us, this evening is full of joy and some sadness as we send our students off to continue their faith journeys as Catholics. I watched from the back of the church as this year’s liturgy proceeded. Just before the blessing of the Easter water for baptism, we sang the Litany of the Saints. The lovely melody filled the church and our petitions to Mary and to all of the saints filled my heart. What an amazing faith community we have that includes not only we who are here, but also those who’ve made it home to God! I sang, “Pray for us,” with absolute certainly that the saints will usher each of us home to heaven with their prayers. When our cantor Ruth intoned the patron saints of our RCIA Elect, the love I’d encountered on Good Friday returned. You are so beautiful to me… You’re everything I hoped for. You’re everything I need… Once again, the melody filled me up and I received a glimpse of God’s amazing love, this time for Bill, Samantha and Adam, Rachel, Shawn and Sue, Donna, Richard and Kim, Fernando, Cesar, Carol and Denise, Brennan, Dawn, Luanne and Susie –the brave souls who embraced their faith at a time when the world would have them do anything but this. That night, I fell asleep humming that song once again.
On Easter Sunday, when our children and grandchildren arrived, we took a few minutes for pictures before the little ones’ Easter outfits lost their luster. While Mike, Abby, Ellie and Claire posed with their best smiles, Lauren put her head down in serious displeasure. Lauren announced that she didn’t want to smile as she buried her chin into her chest. We eventually settled for four smiles and one determined frown. As we moved on to our Easter egg hunt, I acknowledged just how much I love my family, and the melody crept back into my mind… You are so beautiful to me… You’re everything I hoped for… Once again, that tangible love returned, and I quietly gave thanks that my family and I are loved, in spite of the times that we choose not to smile at one another or in God’s direction.
The morning after Easter, as I prepared to write, I pondered poor Apostle Thomas. It seemed to me that Thomas had been blessed with firsthand experiences of God’s love in the forgiveness and cures that came at the hands of Jesus. Though my persistent melody didn’t ring in his ears, Thomas witnessed divine love firsthand as Jesus transformed the lives of those around him. It occurred to me that perhaps Thomas’s doubt didn’t begin when Peter and the rest told him of Jesus’ resurrection visit. Perhaps Thomas’s doubt took root much earlier as he wondered if the love and forgiveness Jesus so generously dispensed could possibly have been meant for him as well. Before I had the opportunity to admit that I’ve felt this way at times, the phone rang. My sister’s husband had suffered a severe heart attack. Pete’s years’ long battle with cancer took its final toll and he lay dying. While Mike drove us to the hospital, I tried to pray, but the melody returned. You are so beautiful to me… Finally, I realized that these glimpses of God’s amazing love and those persistent lyrics hinted at what was in store for Pete. Though Pete is the first to admit his imperfections, our God is the first to admit to unquenchable love for Pete. Though the next several hours seemed difficult to my sister and the rest of us, Pete’s anticipated arrival brought great joy to those who awaited him. If Pete harbored any doubt, it vanished the moment God welcomed him home. Two millennia ago, God embraced Thomas and dispelled his doubt as well. One day, God will do the same for you and for me.
©2011 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved
*You Are So Beautiful to Me, lyrics by Billy Preston and Bruce Fisher