My Father and the Communion of Saints | National Catholic Register
“Every human being is destined to die. But death is not the last word. Death, the mystery of the Assumption of the Virgin assures us… is the passage to eternal happiness reserved for those who labor for truth and justice and do their utmost to follow Christ. —Pope Saint John Paul II
On January 10, my father died in the arms of the Catholic Church — embraced by Confession, Holy Communion, Anointing of the Sick, and Apostolic Forgiveness. The fact that my father received such graces was a powerful and hopeful consolation. It also helped me understand the Communion of Saints in a new and glorious way.
My father grew up Protestant but converted in his early twenties. During the RCIA course, my father asked the priest how he could know that the Catholic Church was the one and only true Church. My father never forgot the priest’s Socratic answer: “How many Protestants have the stigmata?”
This question inspired my father to a lifelong fascination with those saints who bore the wounds of Our Lord’s Passion. Since his passage to eternal life, I believe that my father, Bruce Thomas Clark, can now fall on his knees to touch the very wounds of Christ.
But as Jesus shows us weeping for Lazarus, there is no contradiction between tears of pain and tears of hope in the Resurrection. Hope relates to my father, for whom we pray that eternal happiness has already begun by seeing the face of God. Grief is about us – the friends and family of the Church Militant left behind as we look forward to membership in the Church Triumphant.
In the days that followed, there were several occasions when I got into the habit of picking up the phone to call my dad… only to stop, remembering that he was gone. This is not the first time I have gone through this exercise of intuitively seeking the wisdom of a loved one, only to remember that they are gone.
In recent years, I have lost the wisest friends, especially the priests in my life: Father Constantin Belisarius, Father Frank Papa, Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro. And now I sadly add my father to the list. During this past Christmas season, I have frequently seen signs and posters that read, “The wise seek him always. That may be true, but I have witnessed a deeper reality: the wisest men have found it.
My dad was a special forces soldier in Vietnam and one of his favorite movies was The green berets. At the end of this film, a little boy discovers that his adoptive father has been killed in action. With tears in his eyes, the little boy turns to the character of John Wayne and says, “What’s going to happen… what’s going to happen to me?” now?”
I’m 51, but I ask myself the same question – even if it sounds more like “Where am I going to turn to for wisdom now?”
But ironically, my father — and all those priests — have already answered it for me. I can still turn to them. It is said that if parents do their job well, they become obsolete. It’s absurd. If they do their job well, they become irreplaceable, but also ubiquitous. My father taught me well, as did those wise priests. Or at least they gave me a good start.
And the same can be said of the Communion of Saints, of those men and women I have never even met. I can still ask for the wisdom of Saint Augustine, Saint Athanasius, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Catherine of Siena and the whole communion of saints. As we progress through the years, it is increasingly important that we befriend them and seek wisdom from them. To turn to the Communion of Saints is to turn to a group of friends. It is powerfully exercising the virtues of faith, hope and charity.
I will say prayers for my father’s soul until I meet him in Heaven; however, I have immense confidence that he, and all the priests I have mentioned, are already among the Communion of Saints. But if I somehow had the ability to ask my father just one more question in this life, he could answer with the words Whittaker Chambers once wrote to his children.
I lead you, not through cool pine forests, but in a narrow defile between bare and steep rocks from where, in the shadow, things unroll and slide. It will be dark. But, at the end, if I have led you correctly, you will distinguish three crosses, two of which hang from the thieves. I would have taken you to Golgotha — the place of the skulls. This is the meaning of travel. Before you understand, I may not be here, my hands may have slipped from yours. It won’t matter. Because when you understand what you see, you will no longer be children. You will know that life is pain, that each of us always hangs on our own cross. And when you know that this is true of every man, woman and child on earth, you will be wise.
Thank you dad.