Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Long-awaited Homecoming

They were an unlikely pair--Merric, built like a football linebacker tested in the rough neighborhoods of Philadelphia, and Grayson, sickly, gaunt with pained halting steps. Yet, Merric, for all his swagger chose the fragile Grayson for his sponsor. I watched the two of them huddled together at the RCIA retreat...Grayson reclining in his special chair with eyes closed and Merric in intense concentration speaking in low tones. Merric glanced up at me, sensing that I was looking at him. Whatever expression that he read on my face triggered a deep ho-ho laugh from him. I turned away to give them back their privacy to complete the task that I had given all the retreatants.

Later, Merric came up behind me and gave me a bone-crushing hug as he lifted me off the ground. "I'm so happy," he said into my hair. I swiveled around after he put me back down and peered into his face.

"Took you long enough," I teased. Again he answered in the Santa laugh that I'd come to love, eyes alight with bliss. Outside may have been cold and grey, but here standing before this giant of a man, I was dazzled by his smile.

It was a decade-long conversion with so much reluctance and unwillingness to overcome preconceived notions. But he faithfully came with his Catholic wife and children, self-consciously stepping aside for others to pass to receive Communion, Sunday after Sunday, year after year. I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving for all the saints' and angels' prayers offered on his behalf. And in a few short hours would be his homecoming.

A few weeks earlier, at the Rite of Election, I spoke to his wife and squeezed her hand telling her how happy I was that Merric was finally coming into the Church. She burst into tears and said, "You have no idea."

Then at the Easter Vigil, just a few minutes before midnight, he finally received the Body and Blood of Our Lord. He crossed himself and looked up at the crucifix. There were tears in his eyes.

At the reception afterwards, I could hear his booming laughter above all the din. I wondered how long before he returned to his normal intimidating persona. A couple of days ago, we drove past each other in the street. When he recognized me, he gave me that transfigured smile and I knew that he'd not yet climbed down from the mountain.

Welcome home, Merric. Enjoy the feast!

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