Wednesday, December 30, 2009

For Thirteen Angels

Posted by Webster 
I was received into the Church in March 2008, so tomorrow I complete my first calendar year as a Catholic. My life has never been so beautiful, so interesting, so filled with surprises—for reasons I’ve attempted to detail in this blog. I know no better way of closing this year than to say thanks to the people without whom I might not be a Catholic today.

The beautiful thing about this list is that each person here was a gift of the Holy Spirit, an angel “out of the blue.” None of them came through any initiative of my own. I did not choose them. If anything, they chose me. So I can take no credit for any of them. This is a pure list of IOU’s. The debt—payable in heaven—is all mine.
  1. My parents—I have written about them individually elsewhere, for example here. Together, they taught us six children values, beginning with the value of prayer and regular attendance at Church. Why do some children have remarkable parents and some bad parents, or none at all? Who chooses our parents for us?
  2. My grandmother, Mary Morrison—She began by making me feel special, as her “oldest grandson.” Then, at the end of her life, she threw down the gauntlet to her entire family and became a Catholic. Why was I the one, of all her six children and twenty-six grandchildren, who picked it up? I did not become a Catholic because of Ammie, but if nothing else, she showed that it was an option. Somewhere there is a photo of her reaching out from behind a security line to touch the hand of Pope John Paul II as he walked past. She looks besotted, like a bobby-soxer at an early Elvis concert. I think some of that enthusiasm for the Church must have passed to me. Who chooses our grandparents for us?
  3. Dr. Harold Bassage—Like my father, the assistant pastor of our Episcopal Church showed with actions (no words were needed) that religious devotion can be a manly thing. His example, with Dad’s, makes me realize that every time I serve at Mass, every time I kneel at Adoration, I may be serving as an example for another young man. Was it only coincidence that Dr. Bassage was a sometime playwright, actor, director—at a time when theater was the profession I thought I would pursue? Who chooses our early religious teachers for us?
  4. Rodney Marriott—I have not written about “Mr. Marriott” before. He was an English teacher at my secondary school, who doubled as one of the three directors of the Dramat, the student theater club. He infected me with an interest in good writing, and in rehearsals he always asked for more, deeper, finer. He made poetry and theater spiritual exercises. Who chooses our most influential schoolteachers for us?
  5. David Hackett—As a freshman in college, I became friends with “Hackett.” We recognized each other as fellow searchers. In those days (1969), our gaze turned eastward, toward Zen, other strains of Buddhism, yoga, the Tao. It was a time of esoteric talk and yarrow stalks. But we were as sincere as two clueless freshmen can be about our shared quest, and sometime during that first year Hackett found his way to a “growth center” in Dublin, New Hampshire. As a result, my life was changed far more than his. Who chooses our schoolmates for us?
  6. Cesareo Pelaez—During my sophomore year, I followed Hackett to the Dublin growth center and met the main man there, whom everyone knew as Cesareo. Our friendship has extended over the four decades since that time, and it has had many complex facets. But two stand out here: First, Cesareo was raised Catholic, intensely so, in pre-Revolutionary Cuba. And even when Catholicism was the farthest thing from his mind or our conversations, it was right there in our midst. Second, Cesareo created a theater business where I discovered my interest in writing. Without him, I would not only not be a Catholic. I would not be a Catholic blogger!! Who chooses our mentors for us?
  7. Katie McNiff Bull—We and our backgrounds are as different as could be. But from the moment Katie began working at the theater business Cesareo had founded, I was as besotted as Ammie with the Pope. Then, before we began dating, Katie‘s brother died suddenly and her mother died slowly, from cancer. And I had a chance to witness true devotion in action: Katie visiting her mother every day, talking and reading to her even when she had lapsed into a coma from the brain tumor that finally killed her. My heart had been right about Katie from the beginning. Now my mind understood why. That Katie was raised Catholic by devout parents played no part in our decision to marry, nor in my decision to convert. But it didn’t hurt. Who chooses our spouses for us?
  8. Our children—My life is unimaginable without Martha and Marian. What parent needs to hear more than that? Who chooses our children for us?
  9. James Martin, SJ—This is the only person on the list I have not met. But without his book, My Life with the Saints, I would not have begun attending Mass in October 2007 or conceived the mad notion of becoming a Catholic. I wrote about this book and its influence on me in my very first post. Who chooses the books that fall in our path?
  10. Fr. David Barnes—I have written elsewhere that if, having read My Life with the Saints and having decided to “give daily Mass a try,” I had walked into the Catholic church across from my office and not found Fr. Barnes, I’m not sure I would have stayed. I can’t imagine a finer priest—a smarter guy, a straighter shooter, a more compassionate confessor, a better friend when a friend is what I need. Who chooses our hometown priest?
  11. Joan Horgan—I enrolled in RCIA one week after I began attending Mass. (It was love at first sight.) Assisting the RCIA teacher, Neil Yetts, was a team of lay people, some of them converts. Joan of Beverly, as I’ve dubbed her in other posts, was a member of the team. As much as anyone Joan has taught me what it is to be a Catholic. Her life has been difficult at times, in marriage, in child-rearing, and most recently in a bout with lung cancer. (Two weeks ago, after a grueling year of chemo, radiation, and dramatic weight loss, she got a clean bill of health!) Yet she seems the happiest person on the planet, and that happiness is founded in faith. I began visiting Joan once a week while she was sick. Now that she’s well again, my visits continue. Since the first day I met her, I have received far more from my friendship with Joan than I could ever put into it. Who chooses such inspiring friends for us?
  12. Ferde Rombola—If you’ve read more than a casual post or two at YIMC Catholic, you know that Ferde has a special place in my personal pantheon. He is my big brother in the Church, who befriended me first when I started going to daily Mass and sitting in the same pew every day, and though I do myself too much honor by saying it probably, he is my best male friend. We watch football together and go on retreat together; we have the occasional drink together and daily communion; we go fishing, we go skiing, and we go to Adoration. Who chooses our best friends for us?
  13. David Hackett—Forty years after I met Hackett (see #5), and thirty-eight years after he disappeared from my life, he reappeared, last spring, “out of the blue,” like all my angels. So Hackett has the unique distinction of two slots on this honor roll. In 1969, we were lapsed Protestants looking east. When we reestablished contact last spring, I found that, like me, he was a Catholic convert. He was the friend who asked me “out of the blue one day, ‘So, Webster, why Catholicism?’” In response, I wrote a few short essays for him and for him alone. Three months later, when the inspiration for this blog hit me like Newton’s falling apple, three of these essays became early posts: this one and this one and this one. Who decides when an angel appears in our lives—and then appears again?
Most of this is probably too personal by half for the casual reader stopping by YIM Catholic. But I’m sure every reader who gets this far can write such a list for themselves. It’s not a bad pursuit this New Year’s. I recommend it. The test of true happiness is gratitude, Chesterton said. I am happy today, and this list of angels is a big part of why.