This past weekend I was back in my hometown to celebrate a wedding and a birthday. I needed to go to Church Sunday morning. The default location was St. Ignatius, the Church I grew up in. My parents still attend there, and it would be a chance to visit with them for a bit. This time, however, I decided to do something different. I was not baptized at St. Ignatius but at St. Clare, and my family attended there until I was in second grade. Since I had not been there since I was a second grader, I thought it would be interesting to visit.
While approaching the church and school buildings, it struck me how small everything appeared. Things are magnified to a child’s eyes, and my memory was a child’s memory. Then I noticed the front steps. I recalled an old photograph of my family standing on those steps with a baby. The baby was me at my baptism. I haven’t seen that photo in years, but I remember it. And I remember the steps.
Upon entering the church a flood of memories hit me. It all started to come back. Except for the scale of things, I felt like I was looking through my six-year-old eyes. The sights, the sounds and the aroma were familiar and welcoming. It was like a reunion with a long lost relative. As I took in the details it occurred to me that more than forty years had left so much unchanged. The corner stone read “1914.” The building was almost one hundred years old. I was baptized there near its mid-century period. I ran my hand along the railing that I could barely reach as a child.
Meanwhile, I was helping my wife juggle two-year-old twins and trying not to disrupt the Mass. I had to carry my daughter to the back of the church to settle her down. I paced back and forth while she gradually fell asleep. Then I noticed the statue of St. Clare off to the side. I gazed at her for a while and my eyes were drawn to the focal point of the monstrance she was holding. When the priest lifted up the Holy Eucharist, it really hit me. All those years that statue had been standing there holding that monstrance. I had left, but she had not. Yet, it was only a fraction of the time that Christ had been steadfastly present in the tabernacle of that church and in every Catholic Church for two thousand years. He stayed with us, like He stayed with the travelers on the road to Emmaus, present in the Blessed Sacrament.
Jesus said to my heart, “You were baptized here, Thomas. This is where you became my own. When you left My Church, I awaited your return with open arms. I have always been here for you, even when you didn’t care. Though you may leave me, I will never leave you nor forsake you. I love you, and I am happy you finally came home to Me.” Then, I felt the warmth of my daughter asleep in my arms, and I knew the same promise was for her and her brother. “I will not leave you orphans. I am with you until the end of the age.”