It is ALIVE!
God meant for your faith to flow with the realness of your life.
Faith and fun can go hand-in-hand.
God smiles when He sees His precious children
and gleefully enjoying the amazing life He created for them.
- Father Arnold, Assumption Parish, Seattle Washington
I grew up in the Catholic Church. I was a Catholic because my Mom and Grandma were Catholics.
That's just what we did. However, since I didn't go to Catholic School and I didn't study Latin, much of the Catholic faith was a mystery to me. In those days, the Bible was in Latin, the songs were in Latin, and quotations were read in Latin. I remember looking at the children my age who did go to school at Assumption Parish and had studied Latin. They seemed to know a secret that was hidden to me.
However, every Saturday morning I went to our Parish Church School to be taught by nuns. I was not a willing participant in this Saturday sojourn to the Parish school. In fact, I hated going there. I was terrified of the nuns hidden in their black habits and mostly somber faces. I was equally terrified of the Priests who seemed to have broken open a code of faith secrets that were alien to me. Most of all, I despised going to confession.
As I knelt down in the Confessional and the screen opened up, just enough so I could see the side profile of the Priest who would hear me recount my sins in great detail, my heart would begin to pound and my skin would begin to sweat. I remember hearing, on many cold and rainy Seattle Saturdays, that there were three places our souls might go when we departed earth. We might go to Heaven. We might go to hell. Or we might go to purgatory. Purgatory, in my memory as a small child, was that in between place of nothingness. Nowhere. Awfulness. Sister Margaret suggested that if we omitted any sins in the Confessional, we might end up in purgatory. I spent many a sleepless Friday night writing down a detailed list of everything I had done wrong, every awful thought I had had, every sin that might keep me from Heaven. When I went into the Confessional, I took my list and dutifully read each item. I always started with...
Oh my Father I am heartfully sorry for having offended Thee
And I confess all my sins expecting Thy just punishment
It has been one week since my last confession.
Here are my sins...
And then with tears racing down my cheeks I fearfully read each item, concluding with
"and for any sins I've forgotten, I am so sorry for those too."
Afterwards the Priest would ask me to pray four "Our Fathers", three "Hail Mary's" and two "Acts of Contrition". Luckily, I was a good memorizer so I could pray them at mock speed so I could go home
to the safety of my bedroom. I thought that being a person of faith was a serious, serious matter. No
smiling, no laughter, no fun.
And then I met Father Arnold...
Before I went into the Confessional on some rare Saturdays, Father Arnold would often walk by and wink at me. He had a sparkle in his eye that told me he was an alive, breathing, normal human being. He always looked like he could start to chuckle any moment. He had laugh lines on his face that looked like the deep valleys my family had visited on vacation trips. He liked us. He liked all of the children from Sister Margaret's class who were waiting in line to go into the Confessional. We liked him too. :)
And he took pity on us and might whisper in our ears something like, "Sister Margaret is a little batty. That's why she hit your hand with that ruler. Pay her no mind." Hearing him say this seemed almost like treason, so we never shared with anyone what Father Arnold had said. One time we heard him laughing so loud out in the hall that we all turned to see what was going on. His laughter sounded like the balm of heaven to our weary ears. He thought loving Jesus was a great thing, a fun thing...something that was joyful!
Until then I never imagined that faith and fun could go hand in hand.
Years later, when I saw the movie "Sister Act", the story line showed real nuns with real emotions,
singing, dancing and expressing real love for God. They reminded me of Father Arnold.
I thought back to Father Arnold and the quotation he had written to me. On a small card. Still kept in my Bible. He told me that Faith and Fun were meant to go together. He also suggested that certainly there were times when faith and sorrow and faith and seriousness were also constant companions, but faith and fun made God smile. I remember it made me smile to imagine God smiling.
Years later, when my faith took a different road from Assumption Parish, and I knew I wouldn't be going back there again to worship, I stopped to see Father Arnold. He was older, but that gleam in his eye was still there. He still winked at me and remembered my name. I told him I had become a Christian, but that some of the early learnings I had about real faith came from the love and kindness he showed me. I told him that he reminded me of what I hoped Jesus would be like, when I saw Him one day, face-to-face in Heaven. I told Him that I wasn't scared about purgatory any more and that I talked to God now, all on my own...all the time. I'd decided that I didn't need a Priest to do that for me. I also told him that if I ever did need a Priest to intercede with God on my behalf, I'd pick him to do it. I told him that his smile and laugh meant the world to me. He smiled, hugged me and whispered, "Linda Marie, God loves you and so do I." I gave him a huge hug and ran out of the church to the waiting car where my Mom sat nervously, wondering why I had to tell Father Arnold I was leaving (she was an avoider of any possible conflict), and my Grandma was in the back seat, praying the Rosary for my soul.
Just recently, I accidentally came across a You Tube offering that showed a Priest, Father Ray Kelly, singing to a couple he was about to marry. It took my breath away. While Father Arnold has since "Gone Home," this Priest on You Tube is the spitting image of him. He has that same twinkle. He brings faith and fun together. Watching this made me laugh, and it made me cry. If Father Arnold was here to see this, it would put a big old grin on His face.