Not many kids get to hear the story of their own conception. I think given the option, most would prefer to remain in blissful ignorance. For my pre-adolescents, any conversation that even suggests romantic contact between their mom and dad leads to a rhythmic boxing of their own ears while chanting, “I’m not listening,” or, “Too much information.” In many ways, I have sympathy for my kids. Being a child of an article writing, counselor/father has its drawbacks. But, it was just a matter of time before a season dedicated to new life would eventually compel me to reflect upon that precise moment when my children were conceived.
I don’t know what Pope Benedict would have to say about our family’s liturgical lexicon. Based upon our own personal salvation history, Holy Thursday, for us, will forever be known as, “Lovie Day.” It was on a Holy Thursday eighteen years ago, when Lisa finally began to recognize something more than a Platonic, filial love for her fellow choir member, Tom. On that night, great rivers of sanctifying grace were gushing through the Newman Center Chapel pushing Lisa and me closer and closer together. Perhaps someday, some scientist will create a panel, or a battery, or a turbine to capture that kind of divine energy and transform it into electricity. Until then, as Lisa and I discovered, the human heart will have to do.
It would take more than a year for the fruit and flower of a romantic relationship to fully emerge from the seed sown on that night. But invisibly, unmistakably, one timid tendril at a time, a root system began developing that would eventually support a relationship, then a marriage, and then one child, and then another, and then another….
On this past Lovie Day Night, 2009, Lisa and I gathered up our kids and returned to the very same chapel of their spiritual conception. Just like every Sunday, I cajoled my kids into taking a notebook and pen with them to Mass. During the Homily, they were to answer the dual questions, “What did the priest say? How does that make a difference in my life?” And just like every Sunday, my first-born introvert crafted a two-page essay that was at least as good as the deacon’s message. Right there, in black and white, was proof-positive that the power of Lovie Day had made its way into my daughter’s heart and mind.
My extrovert son, on the other hand, is more accustomed to crafting essays with his mouth than with a pen. In stark contrast with his sister, on that night, he would only write a sentence if I poked him with my elbow while pointing to his near-empty page. I poked four times; he wrote four sentences. As I examined John Harry’s nearly empty, tabula rasa notebook, I felt my heart sink just a little. I was afraid that my son was missing out on the grace and power of this sacred night, that eighteen years ago, transformed my life, and created his life.
In this Sunday’s famous passage, the Gospel of John (21: 1-19) recounted how Jesus showed up for his fisherman disciples speaking in a language that a hard-working fisherman could understand. He came with fish, and a charcoal fire, and homemade bread. He then took Peter aside and revealed himself in yet another language, drawing from his lips a three-fold confession of love healing the Good Friday three-fold betrayal. Last Sunday we watched in awe, along with the rest of the disciples, as Jesus arrived with wounds and tangibility for his concrete-operational old friend, Thomas. In yet another section of the same Gospel, the reader sits alongside Mary, a woman accustomed to sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening. For this deeply contemplative woman he revealed himself to her by pronouncing her name in that distinctive way.
Just like eighteen years ago, the services on Holy Thursday, 2009, concluded in a darkened, stripped church. As the choir’s voices fell silent, and we concluded our adoration, my wife and I began gathering up our things to leave. As we prepared to exit the pew, we noticed that our son was not moving with us. He knelt statue-still, unaware of our presence. I waved my wife along to give him some protected time. That’s when I noticed the weeping. “What’s going on buddy?” It seems that, while I was measuring faith by paragraphs on a page, Jesus was busy writing on my son’s heart. What Jesus did for Thomas, for Peter, for the fisherman-disciples, and for Mary too, Jesus did for John Harry. In the darkness of that chapel, Jesus swung back around and showed up for my son.
It is hard to grasp the generosity of God. Just when I think I know His ways…and have mapped out the one reliable way to Jesus, I am always surprised by his ability to take an unexpected route. I suppose that if a book were written to capture all of the unique, and clever ways that Jesus comes to people, the world itself would not be big enough to contain that book. To an introverted thirteen-year-old, he comes as if to Theresa of Avila through writing and reflection. To a writing-averse Fourth grader he comes confessing his love to a little boy in a darkened church.
Never ever bet against Christ’s ability to find just the right time and just the right language to reach out to you or someone you love.