Sunday, March 3, 2024 Mar 3, 2024
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Cover Story

Keeping the Faith

A sleeping baby and other reasons to skip church.
By Tim Rogers |

It is a short drive from our house to church, and yet by the time we arrived, our baby girl had fallen soundly asleep, as only babies can on quick car trips. She’s 1 now. We pulled into the parking lot, running a bit late, as always, and My Fair Lady and I turned in our seats to see The Girl sacked out in her car seat, her head lolling to the side.

Our son started Sunday school this year, and because it runs concurrently with Mass, and because my mother teaches it, they’d left the house early, in her car, in the interest of punctuality. The plan was to regroup afterward and go eat at Dickey’s. The Boy likes Dickey’s. They’ve got free soft-serve ice cream.

The problem was, The Girl had been battling an ear infection. If we rousted her for Mass, she’d miss some much-needed Z’s. In hushed tones, with the engine still idling, My Fair Lady and I debated our course of action.

“I guess we don’t have a choice,” she said at last.

“We’re doing it for the child,” I said. “God would totally understand.” I put the car in gear. “But what about Father Gus? You know my mother will ask about him.”

Our pastor at Saint Bernard’s, the Rev. August Melito, a youthful 69 years old, had taken a turn for the worse. My throat tightens just thinking about him. At first the doctors had told Father Gus he’d had a minor stroke. The vision in his left eye would eventually return, and he’d make a full recovery. Then, the following Sunday, Father Gus told us he had a brain tumor. It was already slowing his speech, affecting the entire left side of his body, causing him to lean. “But then I’ve always leaned to the left,” he said. And we all chuckled through our tears.

The biopsy had been scheduled for earlier in the week. My mother would want an update on his condition.

My Fair Lady gave it some thought. “We’ll say, ‘We didn’t hear the update.’ Because that won’t be a lie,” she said.

“That’s good,” I said. “Or we could say, ‘They must have given the update when we were outside with The Girl.’ Because that won’t be a lie either.”

We agreed that cutting Mass was one thing, but cutting Mass and then lying about it was something else altogether—especially when the lie would involve the failing health of a beloved priest.

We went to Starbucks. MFL bought coffees, muffins, and a newspaper. We cracked the sunroof to let in cool air, took care not to rustle the paper too loudly as we spread it across our laps, and settled in for what should have been an idyllic Mass ditching.

I guess “irony” is the word. The front-page that Sunday was filled with news about the sexual abuse scandal in the Fort Worth Diocese. We sat in the car and read about sick acts committed by vile men—outdone only by those priests who protected them. It read too much like what we’d learned about our own diocese, here in Dallas.

This was our Catholic Church. The Church in which we’d gotten married. The Church into which we’d baptized our son and daughter. The Church that now turned our stomachs. This was our Catholic Church?

We tried to talk about our revulsion, about a friend of ours who had recently left the Church for this very reason, but having to whisper made it difficult. And what was there to say, really? My Fair Lady said of our son, “I don’t ever want him to be an altar boy,” which seemed at once hysterical and utterly within reason.

I think the rustling of the newspaper did finally wake The Girl. When we looked into the backseat, she was sucking her thumb, and a smile spread behind her perfect little fist. Anyway, our stolen hour was up, and it was time to leave.

When we got back to Saint Bernard’s, Mass and Sunday school were both letting out. People milled about in the courtyard between the church and the school. Children chased each other in the brown lawn. I looked for Father Gus, but he wasn’t standing where he always does after Mass, greeting parishioners. I thought about the line my wife and I had jokingly rehearsed to answer my mother’s inevitable question. But by then my heart wasn’t in it.

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