Today is Sunday of the Fourth Week of Easter. Most of my life I never thought of this day in that way. Of course I celebrated Easter, but after that, life, even life in the church, went back to a normal pace. One of the criticisms I had of Catholics in the past was that they focused so much on Good Friday and Jesus on the Cross, but did not give Easter its proper attention. Imagine my surprise when I learned that there is an Octave of Easter, so that Easter and the next seven days are like Easter all over again. And then there are seven weeks of Easter tide all the way up to Pentecost Sunday. This morning as I turned to the Liturgy of the Hours for my devotional time the hymn was “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” by Charles Wesley. Yes, sometimes we are victims of our misconceptions.
I share this as I return to the last part of 2013 and the intensification of the challenge that God would place before me: are you really serious about Jesus’ prayer that we all be one, even as He and the Father are one?
It was October 2013. The Trinity Grace Church parish in Washington Heights had reached the 18-month stage of existence. The one-year anniversary was a high point, but following that there were the normal and persistent struggles that a church plant goes through. As a pastor I was seeking how to lead the parish forward. Over the summer I began to seriously consider adopting the cell church model for our congregation. I connected with a leading expert on cell churches to ask him to coach me on a monthly basis.
On Sunday, October 13, Charlotte’s mom suffered a heart attack and by the following Sunday, October 20, my mother-in-law passed away. The next morning Charlotte’s dad came out of his bedroom and sat down with three of his children and me. We could tell there was something heavy on his heart that he needed to express. He talked about faith and how he and his wife had sought to love and follow God and love Jesus. He expressed how important their Catholic faith was to them. The statement that challenged us both, especially Charlotte was when he said that her mother loved Jesus just as she did.
He expressed sadness and confusion over why faith seemed to be such a divisive issue in the family instead of something that drew us together. As he spoke I began to regret all the wasted opportunities to affirm them in their faith and find commonality with them. His was a gentle rebuke, but I was convicted that I had discounted the genuineness of their faith in the Catholic tradition. Yet I had stated often that I wouldn’t rule out that there were real Christians in the Catholic Church, not because of the church, but in spite of it.
Suddenly my preconceived notions were being held up to the light of the experience of someone who was asking me why I held that view. I had no idea at that time where this would lead, but I knew I owed it to my wife’s parents to take a serious look at their faith and give my father-in-law the courtesy I would to another Christian brother.