I was born in Indianapolis Indiana, but before I knew what was happening my father was killed in the Korean War. My mom was a “single mom” and I had no brothers or sisters. I often wonder how she did all that she did. She was an amazing woman and I didn’t realize it for many years. She had been raised in a home where her father was Christian Science and her mother was part time Lutheran and part time Jehovah’s Witness. So she must have been religiously confused. But after my dad died she moved in with his parents. They were Methodists and I think they were some of the best Christians I ever knew. They lived their faith in daily life. I remember sitting in their home and watching Bishop Fulton Sheen on television (black and white, of course). At the end my grandfather would say “Well, he’s a Catholic but he sure makes a lot of sense!” My grandmother would laugh at him. His sister had married a Catholic and had converted. He liked to joke about it, but both of them had a lot of respect for the Catholic Church. My mother’s parents, on the other hand, were not fond of the Catholic Church at all and were very outspoken about it.
We moved to California when I was about three years old. My first night in California was at my mother’s sister’s home in South Gate, which is about 15 miles from downtown Los Angeles and about 5 miles from where I live now. I don’t remember this, but my mother told me a story about when I was very young. We were out shopping for groceries when I saw a person of Mexican descent for the first time. The woman saw me staring at her. I had never seen anyone like that before and my mom said that I looked afraid. She said the woman smiled at me and I still didn’t know what to do. My mom said that she told me “Don’t worry. This woman is Mexican. The only difference between Mexicans and us is that they have better food.” The woman laughed and they began to talk and became friends.
I think this is one of the things about my mother that I remember most fondly. She simply liked people. During the Watts Riots in the 1960s we lived next to the riot area in the city of Lynwood. My mom would drive and pick up African American people who needed to get to work but were afraid to try to get through our all white and Hispanic neighborhood. She put them in the back of her car and told them to slouch down and she drove them to work. She knew there were differences between people of different ethnic groups, but she saw people mostly as humans. I grew up with those values myself. I know that there are differences between people and I am very glad there are. I sometimes say “I sure am glad that not everyone is like me! The world would be horrible!”
Christ sees us this way, I am sure. He knows that we are all different, whether the difference is physical, mental, emotional or any other thing. But we are all called to be His brothers and sisters, children of our Heavenly Father. This is why He came into the world, to unite us in His Grace as one family made up of all kinds of people.
So, what do we have to do to become part of that family? Well, I think that’s the wrong question. The question is really “What do we get to do in response to His Call (Vocation) to be a Christian?” We get to receive God’s Grace (love) and then give it away freely to other people. This isn’t a burden that is heavy; it’s a task that is joyful and light.
My mom taught me a lot of lessons. One of them was at the end of her life. I became a Catholic when I was 21. She became a Catholic when she was 54, only ten days before she died of cancer. But that was a lesson well learned. It’s never too late to simply give one’s life to Christ. No matter what our former way of life has been, whether we are good and nice people or whether we are sinners who are ashamed of our lives. Those are differences that can be healed and washed away by the Blood of Christ in Baptism and Eucharist.
I really hope that Heaven is full of a lot of different kinds of people too, but all united in the Love of God, rejoicing in the differences and rejoicing in the ecstatic love of Him who has saved us and the love of everyone who has been saved.