Monday, September 26, 2005


Wayfaring Strangers, Part 23

(Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

Life, Faith, and Death

My grandfather died yesterday after a very painful week. He had a series of "mini-strokes" last weekend, and was unable to talk or get out of bed for the last several days of his life. The only thing he was really able to express was the extent of his physical pain; even being touched was agony. Everyone dreaded it when the people from hospice would come to give him the medical care he needed. Even outside, in the front yard, we could hear him screaming in pain.

When someone dies under those conditions, it certainly makes it easier to see death as a relief. I'm glad his suffering is over.

I've been pretty emotional during Mass for the past week. I suppose that's normal. I've found myself bothered and puzzled by my own thoughts at times. As a new convert to Catholicism (having not even been confirmed or baptized yet), I suppose I have an enthusiasm and a zeal that might be unique to converts. I've come to believe very much in the transubstantiation of the Eucharist during Mass, and at one point I found myself worried for my grandfather's soul because he never received Catholic Eucharist, only protestant communion.

Shame on me. I mean that sincerely. How dare I feel any doubt about my grandfather's salvation?

It really bugs me to see in myself an indication that I could end up being as closed-minded and narrow about my Catholicism as many of the Southern Baptists around me are. I rejected the Southern Baptist faith, and protestant faith in general, because my experiences with it lead me to believe that it was too constricted. I can't pursue Catholicism with the same arrogance that I perceived in the protestant churches I attended. I must not do that. I have to remember that I have that potential, and I have to be on guard against myself.

Yesterday's passage from the gospel really hit home with me:

Christ asked the church elders: "What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, 'Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.' He said in reply, 'I will not,' but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, 'Yes, sir,' but did not go. Which of the two did his father's will?" They answered, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.

It's easy for me to believe I'm doing the Lord's bidding by sitting in church twice a week, crossing myself and praying, saying Rosaries, etc... but if I'm doing all of that with a closed heart, content in my own righteousness, then I am the second son from the parable. I'm telling God that I will live by his bidding, and then I'm failing to carry it out "in the vineyard." If I do that, if I live that way, then people who don't go to church at all but feel love for the people around them and respect them and treat them well are more just in the eyes of God than I am.

Wouldn't it be ironic if I turned my back on the protestant churches of my family because I've perceived them to be closed-minded and hypocritical, and I became a closed-minded and hypocritical Catholic?

My grandfather loved God and tried his best to be a good Christian all of his life. I've said for all of my adult life that if I could be twice the man I am, I'd still not be half the man that he is. I've been in awe of his work ethic, his ingenuity, his honesty and his goodwill for the people around him. He was and is my idea of what a good man should be.

I looked through some old pictures earlier, I wanted to post a picture of my grandfather here at the blog, and I found a couple that I like. I also found a few pictures of myself that made me laugh out loud. Over the years my weight has gone up and down dramatically, and so has the length of my hair.

These thumbnails are clickable, if you care.

Here's a couple of pictures of my grandparents. The black and white picture was taken in the late 60's. The color picture was taken in the early nineties, only a year or so before my grandmother died.

My grandmother was one of the most naturally funny people I've ever known. She never failed to make me laugh out loud. I miss her terribly, and it makes me happy to think that my grandfather has been reunited with her. He loved her so much.

The picture at left is my grandmother with yours-truly. I think I was about 15 in the picture. That's a camera in my hand, and that's Peter Frampton's hair on my head.

Now, just for giggles, a few pictures of me:

This picture is, I think, six or seven years old. That's me and my son. As far as comfort goes, I much prefer to keep my head shaved. Wendy hates it when I do that, though. She says i look like Uncle Fester.

This is the haircut Wendy endorses. This is also the ideal weight that Wendy endorses. I try to maintain both. I fail.

I remember the late '80's as "The MeatLoaf Years." I was the fattest I've ever been, and for some reason I'd decided to let my hair grow out like a dirty hippy. This is what I looked like when I worked in radio. This is why I worked in radio, not television.

Alright, that's enough for now. Thanks to those of you who've left comments and sent e-mail over the past week. Your prayers and kind words are really appreciated.

You have certainly had a variety of looks. Please don't ever let the hippie one re-emerge. The others are perfectly good looking.
I'm so sorry for the loss of your grandpa. I'm sorry he was in such pain, and I am glad his pain is no more.
I just read a book I'd like to recommend. It offers a new perspective on "the church" and how Christians make an impact on this world of ours. It is a little book and a quick read. The author opens some stuff up that I have never learned and I've been in church since I was born. He thinks outside the typical box, and it is really worth the read.

Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith
by Rob Bell

I believe your grandpa is with Jesus now.

I'm sorry to hear about your grandfather. I think a death in the family can be a trying time for new converts. My dh's parents passed away within 6 months of each other when he first converted. It still is difficult for him.

One thing I remind him of is that while the church does declare some people to be a saint, i.e, in Heaven, it has never declared anyone to be in Hell. Not to say that there is no one there, but the Church always holds out hope. We are the only denomination that prays for the dead. I have found that a tremendous comfort.

God Bless you!

Great post. I don't tend to blog as personally as you do, but the recent parallels between events in your life and mine are remarkable. All the best in dealing with the loss of your grandfather.

[Side Note: I linked to you today, FWIW. Keep up the great work.]

and you recently gave me a hard time for MY hair??? So sorry about your loss (sounds like a darn Hallmark card),, whatever I could say has already been said.
My condolences on the loss of your grandfather.

If you didn't say those pics were all you I'd never know; that's wild.

Did you see your blog is a large mammal now? Congrats!
touching, bro. Very touching. You're a good man. Wendy and the kids are blessed.
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