Blessings from unlikely people
By MIKE DALEY
Catholics by nature love blessings. Through them we recognize the beauty and holiness of people, places and things. Father gives them. We receive them. Could it be any other way? Thankfully, yes. As Ive recently come to realize, some of the best blessings are messy and given by the most unlikely people.
Not known for her religious fervor, I was a little surprised at my wifes insistence on attending Mass. She felt a certain obligation this Saturday evening, however. There was going to be a special blessing of expectant mothers. Though shed had a relatively healthy and trouble-free pregnancy up until that point, I guess it never hurt to have a little insurance.
My wife, my daughter, Cara, and I found a seat a little closer up than usual. Ever since our daughters birth, we preferred to sit near the back in case we needed to make a quick getaway. It usually never worked, but its comforting to think this way going in.
A few minutes into Mass, I watched as Cara had her first cracker and a drink of water. Looking a little squeamish, she left my wifes lap and proceeded to sit on mine. She said, My tummy hurts. I didnt dismiss her feelings, nor did I seriously consider what they might foreshadow. I should have known better. Then it happened: She threw up. Not once or twice, but three times. My wife and I looked at each other unprepared for what had just occurred. A parents worst nightmare: appearing incompetent in front of a large crowd of people.
Fortunately, there was a family in the pew in front of us. Cradling her infant and without hesitation, the mother handed us her babys receiving blanket. Knowing what it was, my wife resisted, but the woman insisted. Take it, she said. Ive got tons of others back home. Sheepishly, we thanked her and cleaned up the mess as best we could.
Leaving not a little embarrassed, we felt a sense of regret at having to exit and miss the priestly blessing of our unborn child. I was reassured later that evening though, folding laundry with my wife. As she smoothed the laundered baby blanket, my wife remarked that we had gotten our blessing. You know what, Mike? Even though we missed the priests blessing, that mothers unselfish act was the greatest blessing our unborn child could have received.
I didnt disagree with her. Another blessing came a few weeks later.
Upon entering church, I spied an old friend from college, Fr. Al. Preparing for a retreat, he was attending Mass as a regular parishioner, basking in the relative anonymity it provided. Id roomed right next door to him for two years. We shared a lot of good and bad times together. He presided at the wedding of my wife, June, and I. Though I dont know if I ever told him, Ive considered him in many ways to be a second father to me.
My daughter and I quickly made our way up to his pew, his baldhead serving as our guide. I said, I hope you dont mind being interrupted.
Come on in, he replied.
In the beginning, Cara clung to me, somewhat hesitant to warm up to this stranger. She spent her time reading some of her books and taking drinks of her juice. Eventually, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her inching closer to my friend. Saying nothing, she slowly moved up next to him as if they were father and daughter. Instead of me reaching out and putting my arm around her, Fr. Al did. They spent a few moments in this embrace. I could tell he was deeply touched by her display of friendship and vulnerability. Capturing and sanctifying this moment, without drawing any attention to himself, he made the sign of the cross over her, saying quietly, Dear child of God.
After some time, Cara scooted back to me. I could only smile. Cara acted as if nothing had happened. But something had. The blessing had been given. Fr. Al was so fortunate to have received it.
Sacramentally speaking, Gods grace is much too abundant to be left to those in control. Perhaps it is mothers and children who know best how to intercede on our behalf, asking God to give us strength, healing and life.
Looking back now, I know that I was blessed. As blessings seek to do, God truly looked upon me with favor. If only I were more aware of Gods constant presence in my midst. This gift was a start. Ill take it.
Mike Daley teaches theology at Xavier High School in Cincinnati.
National Catholic Reporter, February 22, 2002