Among thousands at papal Mass, all I could see was my family

     Priests helped Pope Francis administer Communion to thousands of Catholics who attended Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    Priests helped Pope Francis administer Communion to thousands of Catholics who attended Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    I’m not Catholic, and I strongly disagree with many of the Roman church’s stances, particularly on LGBT issues. So why did I cry like a baby watching the pope consecrate the bread and wine of Communion for a great mass of humanity in Philadelphia on Sunday?

    I’m not Catholic, and I strongly disagree with many of the Roman church’s stances, particularly on LGBT issues. One of my two sons is gay. I believe intolerant stances by influential institutions empower bigots everywhere, and thus threaten my own flesh and blood.

    So why did I cry like a baby watching the pope consecrate the bread and wine of Communion for a great mass of humanity in Philadelphia on Sunday?

    Part of it was the Communion hymns, hymns I’ve sung a thousand times in my own Lutheran congregation, St. Paul’s of Hainesport, N.J. But the music, while divine, does not wholly explain what I was feeling, sitting in my cubicle among my friends at work.

    I suppose my own religious background can lend some light. My searching mother exposed me to whatever spiritual “answer” she found during her own difficult life. This “answer” changed frequently, and one time mom took me to a nice lady who read my past lives and declared me perfect. (This knowledge, BTW, is a great help when you are 13.)

    I was immersion baptized after what felt like being born again. I honestly can’t remember whether this came before or after being declared perfect by the gentle woman in her garage.

    After college, I became an agnostic who was afraid to use the other “a” word.

    But when it came time to raise my two boys, my wife, Cindy, and I decided to do so in her tradition, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It is a decision I have never regretted.

    For virtually every Sunday of their lives, my sons took Communion from the hand of the same pastor, the Rev. David Jost. The vestments he wore were often green, the color Pope Francis donned for the Mass on Sunday.

    I had found the well of my tears.

    As easily more than 100,000 people reached out to receive the host on the Parkway, I saw my own family rise and walk in procession toward the Communion rail at St. Paul’s. I felt my hands go to the shoulders of one of my sons in front of me and gently massage them as we walked forward. (Each year, my hands had to rise a little higher.) I imagined the gentle brush of my wife’s knee next to mine as we knelt together week after week, month after month, year after year.

    Suddenly, only three other people were present with me for my Communion on Sunday — the same three people who will always be with me when my soul is fed by the bread and the wine.

    Amen.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.