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Reflecting on the Easter season

Gary Caruso | Thursday, March 13, 2008

For Christians, the upcoming week culminates a period of preparation with a celebration of what defines the soul of Christianity – eight days of remembrance reenacting the jubilance of Palm Sunday, the intimacy of the last supper, the devastation of Good Friday capped by the calm and rebirth of Easter Sunday. It is the most certain time of the liturgical year, the rock upon which Catholics base their faith. Yet, despite such a sturdy foundation, faith only derives one person at a time.

While attending the Latin mass before I entered elementary school, I noticed the smallest details of my surroundings. I knew phrases like “dominus vobiscum,” but had no idea what that meant. Rather, I noticed how long my father prayed while kneeling alone before mass. I wondered why nobody prayed as long as him, sometimes until the priest entered in procession. It took years before I realized that he had lost both of his parents while still in his twenties and that he probably had much to say. Moreover, I could not begin to imagine the prayers he must have said in relation to his World War II service.

Vatican II welcomed Catholics to a new faith by allowing us to speak in our native tongues at mass, thus understanding it. Prior to Pope John XXIII directing the Church into more friendly waters, our parents taught us the basic prayers like the Our Father and Hail Mary. I learned a special prayer after I noticed that my father tipped his hat when we drove past a Catholic church. After asking him what he was doing, my dad taught me to pay reverence to God in front of the church by bowing my head and saying, “Jesus my Lord and my God.”

I vividly recall that nuns seldom taught me prayers. They seemed to be more focused on the process by preparing us for the sacraments. I can still hear Sister Roberta who would severely punish anyone who dare call her Sister “Bobby.” She drilled into us confessional content while pounding her knuckles on the desk. In unison to the beat of her thumping we loudly repeated together, “I kept impure thoughts in my mind. I did impure things.” After learning how to swear like a sailor at Notre Dame, today I still am confused about what impure means.

In 2000, when my father passed away, I again thought of his long prayer sessions prior to mass. One Easter week I decided to pray for his past intentions even though I did not know their content. Surely God would remember those prayers, but would they be heard? Did my father recite a set of traditional prayers or simply speak to his parents? Did my grandparents greet him during his quiet passing after surgery? Eventually I realized that for a religion so grounded in a series of fixed events during Easter week, answers also come one person at a time.

My personal answers evolved through creating my own prayers…sort of like when my dad taught me that special prayer to say when passing by the church. My prayers center around the consecration of bread and wine during mass. As the priest holds the host, I say, “Jesus, my Lord, my God, forgive me of my sins.” When the priest then hoists the chalice of wine, I utter, “Lord, come live in my heart and keep a place for me in your sacred heart.” Those small, quiet gestures focus on my need to fill a void of ersatz faith where the church has failed me.

For all of the surety of Christianity, no one fully prepares us for life’s uncertainties. Notre Dame students were not prepared to face the deaths of two fellow students last month. None of us fully recovers from the passing of our loved ones whether they be close family relatives or even dear pets. We begin the remainder of our lives with an ache in our hearts and a yearning for one more moment together. Nobody learns how to cope prior to a loss, so our personal faiths evolve as time passes.

I sustain myself with the thought that we are only here for as long as we need to be. I learned that by losing my parents. Yet, I did not lose them as early in life as my father lost his, nor have I ever faced the horrors of death that he did in World War II. My only hope can be that he greets me on my deathbed and shares his pre-mass litany. At that time I expect to begin again because of my singular faith.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, is a communications strategist who served as a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column usually appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.