by John Fitzgerald
It was Wednesday, the day the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (R.C.I.A.) meets at my parish. At the start of each session, we engage in a modified Lectio Divina. This past Holy Week, we were reading the Gospel about the two disciples walking to Emmaus. We focused in on how the disciples knew it was Jesus that they had asked “to stay with us.”
As we discussed the passage, a simple question triggered some emotional responses. The question was this: Was there a time in life when you suddenly recognized that Jesus was with you?
On Veterans’ Day weekend a few years back, I was the lector at the 10:30 a.m. Mass and charged with reading the general intercessions. One called for God to help veterans who came home from war broken in body, mind or spirit. I immediately started to think about my long-deceased father: Fitz, as he was known, was a veteran of World War 2.
When I was younger, I watched shows like “Father Knows Best,” “Leave It to Beaver,” “The Ozzie and Harriet Show,” and others that portrayed perfect fathers. Fitz did not fit the mold. He never visited my school, watched me play sports or attended my graduations.
Fitz was a jack of all trades, but an ace of none, and had a terrible time keeping a roof over his family’s head or food on the table. He drank to excess and treated my mother poorly. After his death, many of his friends asked about the properties he owned and investments he had. The truth be known, there were no properties and if there were investments, they were buried with Fitz.
My father never talked about his time in the service during the war. He always walked away saying there was nothing to tell. I would dream up scenarios that had my father in the middle of combat saving hundreds of lives. I believed he didn’t have the heart to be a hero, so I made him one in my mind.
Reading the intercessions that day, I realized my father was one of those broken men. The coincidence of my reading the Prayer of the Faithful, and realizing that I had been very hard on my father, had to be a divine intervention or a sudden realization that Jesus was with me. But it is not enough for the intervention to happen, you and I must be open to receiving the signs and realizing Who has given the signs. That day, I was open to receiving the gift.
Today, my father would have been diagnosed by a doctor as having post-traumatic stress disorder and might have received much-needed treatment. At his wake I found out that his battle station was piloting a landing craft during battle. He was responsible for taking many Marines to their death as they stormed islands in the Pacific. He carried this horror with him his whole life.
My father was the hero I imagined. I wish I knew this earlier, but I am grateful that with some divine intervention, I can understand the man that today I happily call my father. I hope that he has forgiven me. Happy Father’s Day.
Fitzgerald is a parishioner of St. Joan of Arc, Jackson Heights, and a lay pastoral minister.