Mom married Tommy Maffeo when I was twelve. He soon adopted me and my sister. That’s how I got my last name.
Tommy hated God. I never knew it because God was rarely mentioned in our home anyway. It wasn’t until I met Jesus in 1972 that I learned not to talk to him about my faith. I’d tried it two or three times and was quickly and severely rebuffed. My father made it very clear he had no use for religion.
I never understood his animosity toward the One I’d grown to love, until I asked my mother for some insight.
Tommy and his brothers and sisters were raised in the Catholic Church. The whole family faithfully attended Mass and supported their local diocese. But when his saintly mother – who raised six children virtually single-handedly – died suddenly, she was unable to receive the Sacrament of Viaticum (the Last Rites). In those days, without the Last Rites, their bishop would not permit her to be buried in a Catholic cemetery – a place considered by every Catholic of the era as ‘Sacred Ground.’
How that devastated the family! It slashed so deeply into their psyche that every one of the children – four sons and two daughters – left the Church. Tragically, in leaving the Church, they also left God because they so closely associated God and their Church so as to be one and the same.
When the bishop refused their saintly mother to be interred in sacred ground, Tom and his siblings consciously or unconsciously transferred their anger against the Church to the One who had nothing to do with the bishop’s merciless decision.
When Tommy died several decades later, he died still bitter and angry at God. He had lived his life convinced that God had refused a proper burial for his beloved mother.
Oh, if only he could have understood that God is NOT synonymous with the Church. And we must never confuse the two. The church is led by and comprised of sinful humans who sometimes make very bad decisions. But God is not that way. He is pure love, and mercy, and compassion, and full of forgiveness to any penitent.
Do you know people who have turned from God’s unfathomable love because of a gut-wrenching experience with the Church? Are YOU such a person? I still grieve for my father because he never knew how much his Father in heaven longed to embrace him and soothe his wounded spirit.
But, now to the real point of my essay:
If YOU are like Tommy, I pray right now as I type these words that your family and friends will not grieve for you because you never came to know how much YOUR Father in heaven longs to embrace and soothe your wounded spirit. And please know this: This God who loves you without measure is only a prayer away.