After the Shalom years it was quite sometime before I became comfortable with the church again. Eventually we began attending mass at our home parish in San Dimas. My wife regularly attended mass, while I did so occasionally. Although the Church itself was pleasing and actually reminded me a little of OLG and the pastor Fr. Brooks was quite amicable, I just wasn’t feeling it, but I was trying.
We wanted our daughter to attend school there but we learned in talking to Fr. Brooks that the kindergarten program was nearly full and they were going to be drawing names to fill the few remaining seat. I remember asked father if there was anything we could do like volunteer hours, community service, etc to ensure her a spot. He said he really didn’t think so and we’d just have to take our chances with the lottery. We continued talking for awhile and when the subject of our past parish came up Fr. Brooks smiled broadly. It seems he was quite familiar with OLG, Fr. Aldo, Shalom and my old friend Bob. Ultimately he told me to simply get a letter from Bob recommending my daughter and he would see what he could do. I secured the letter and a week before the drawing for the remaining seats, we were informed that my daughter was in. I didn’t feel too great about playing politics, but she was in and that’s what mattered.whatever works.
Things went well for a couple of years and we were somewhat active in the parish, but then as my daughter was about to enter the second grade there was a change of pastors. Our new pastor Fr. Mayer was quite a contrast from Fr. Brooks. He was your typical, Irish priest. His holier than thou arrogance was detestable. I can honestly say I did not care for the man. I thought it best to simply avoid him. Since I didn’t attend mass all that often it was easy.
In the spring my daughter was preparing for her First Holy Communion. On the evening of her first confession we were at the church and I encouraged her to do a face to face on the altar rather than using the confessional. As she stood in line i could tell that she was nervous. When her turn came she began to cry. I went up to calm her and before you know it I was telling her “just watch me honey, I’ll show how easy it is.” The young priest from Damien who was hearing confession had been watching the whole incident. I walked up and explained to him that I hadn’t prepared for confession and was doing it to reassure my daughter. He said he understood and invited me to sit. My confession that night reminded so much of my mountain retreat confession. It was like having a conversation with a good friend. When we were finished he told me that although I was still searching and wasn’t attending mass regularly God had a plan for me and wasn’t letting me go. It was deja vu! The other priest had said nearly the same thing all those years before. It was uncanny!
Two weeks later I arrived home from school to find my wife and both kids crying. I thought someone had died. Apparently the principal of the school had called to let us know that although my daughter was a student there, Fr. Mayer had not accepted my son into the kindergarten program, but we could try again next year. There was no reason given. The principal felt awful about it and wanted to personally tell us before the standard form letter arrived. I was beside myself! We immediately jumped in the car and went to the rectory to see Fr. Mayer. Now that was a historic meeting. He did not want to meet with us because he had a meeting he needed to attend at seven. I was very insistent so the secretary went back to ask him again. She returned a few minutes later and said that father would see us, but only for a few minutes. She then escorted us into his office to wait.
He kept us waiting a good ten minutes before he walked in. No greeting just an arrogant ” I’ve only got a few minutes I have an important meeting. ” He already knew why we were there and tossed a pamphlet, (yes tossed) across the desk towards me and sat down in a huff. “Page 28 rule seven,” he said. I picked up the booklet and turned to the page ans smiled. I looked up at him and said, I guess I should have known this was a money thing, not using my weekly envelopes cost my son a spot in kindergarten.” He quickly reached over and took the book from me, hastily scanned the page and told me rule nine. That parish rule had to do with attending mass regularly. Well it turned ugly real fast. He was shouting at me, I was shouting back, my wife was playing the peacemaker, my kids were crying. It was bad. real bad.
When filling out the application for kindergarten I had answered the question about attending mass truthfully. My wife and kids attend every week, I attend only occasionally. I guess I should have lied, just like back in Fr. Dugan’s confessional. Needless to say Mayer was late for his meeting. We had a quite a meeting. It went on for nearly an hour. We discussed everything from honesty, to church politics, to the young priest I’d gone to confession with the week before who told me that my search was okay. He wanted his name so he could set him straight. The meeting finally ended when father told me he would judge my mass attendance and my son could probably start the first grade. As we filed out I stopped at the door and looked back at him as he sat behind the desk stewing. “so you’re going to judge my attendance huh,” I said mockingly, “Well in the end someone will be judging you too.” He said nothing, he only stared. I shook my head and left his office wondering how these men ever became priests.
Obviously this started another stay away from church period in my life. Oh I went for a few weeks and made sure it was a mass Mayer was saying. I’d sit near the front so I was sure he could see me. Whenever we were standing and went to sit down I would remain standing for a few seconds after everyone was seated as sort of a look at me, I’m here! gesture. I soon tired of that game and stopped going to church altogether. My son was still accepted into the first grade. I knew he would be.
From then until the whole Build the Dream Scheme there were a few bright spots The brightest of course being Fr. Peter Dennis, an outstanding priest and a very courageous man. During his time at the church things were good. There were other associate pastors who were also outstanding, but the memory of two arrogant Irishmen still eats at me.
I hope I will continue to attend weekly mass this time around. I’m older now and a little bit wiser. My skin is a little thicker too. I’m not as easily offended. I know that if I want my life to be complete God must be a part of it and I should honor the Father by attending mass. No promise, but I found my way back yet again. God must really have His hand on me. Maybe this time around He’s got a tighter hold. I really hope so…
Just a thought…
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