This past Sunday, this particular hymn – #151 in the Korean Catholic hymn book – brought me to tears during mass.
Dad was a lovely singer. The sound of his singing hymns is one of the most vivid memories of my faith life.
The ritual of going to mass every Sunday was a given when I was growing up. Every Sunday, my younger brother and I would fidget and try to stifle the giggles that would come out of nowhere – you know how it is: when you know you can’t laugh, the stupidest things set you off. But even as a child, even when I couldn’t appreciate the mass, I knew my dad’s singing was special. When he sang, people listened. Many of their friends – and even strangers – commented on his beautiful singing.
I am far from being a “good Catholic,” but my faith has been strong enough to always guide me back from difficult times. Wherever I was – even away from home – I could find a church, walk in, sit down, say a prayer or sing a hymn, and walk back towards peace. After I left home for college, an 8 hour car ride away from home, my parents wrote me a letter saying, “Let’s meet in mass every Sunday.” Well, there was no way a college freshman was going to get up every Sunday to go to mass (even at a Catholic college). Later, I thought about all the Sunday mornings I wasn’t at mass and wondered if Mom and Dad could feel that I was not there with them and if it had saddened them.
After many years of absence – we were very good “Christmas & Easter Catholics” – my husband and I returned to church with our children. We went back to the same Korean Catholic church where my husband became a Catholic, the same church where we got married, the same church where we baptized our children, and the same church where we said our funeral mass for Dad 7 years ago.
The Sunday mass has become a family affair once again. It is a ritual that Mom and I can share most weeks, sometimes exchanging knowing glances during a particularly meaningful homily. Those Sunday mornings when I feel that I’m really present – not thinking about the grocery list and not worrying about the papers that need to be graded – I think I can hear Dad’s singing. So, finally, we are meeting in mass every Sunday.
While “the Church” is complicated and even controversial – for me and for many others – sometimes the strength of my faith just boils down to the faint memory of my dad’s singing and the act of sitting in the pew with Mom. And that is certainly not complicated or controversial. It’s rather simple, real, and beautiful.