Epiphany at the meat counter

They say that you can never go home again. While this may indeed be true, I am fortunate to still have a sliver of my childhood left. My father still lives in same house where I grew up and where he has lived now for almost 50 years. Every time I go home to visit my dad I am amazed at this one small part of my life, which has remained substantially the same over the passing years. It is a simple yet profound blessing in my life.

Of course, the neighborhood has changed significantly since my father first moved there. In 1970, my parents were the youngest couple on the block. Today, my dad is the oldest. My father is very active, remarkably healthy into his 80s, and still works full-time in a career that he loves. He is very independent – and likes it that way, thank you. But every time I go home, I am faced with two seemingly contradictory realities. Time has miraculously stood still in the home where I grew up. And yet, relentlessly, it has moved on.

Now, we Italians have elevated shopping for food at grocery stores to a quasi-religious rite. My father has continued the tradition of his ancestors by shopping at many grocery stores weekly for the stated reason to save money. In reality, he does it for entertainment. And so, every time I go home, there are always excursions to local groceries to shop for food. For example, during a recent visit my father and I were going for a walk around the neighborhood and we were passing by the local grocer. Inevitably, he wanted to go in to “shop for just a few things” because “things were on sale.” Of course. I readily complied and besides, over the past year, I have begun to develop a strange attraction to shopping for groceries myself. How rather … odd.

Into the store we went. I remembered it well from my childhood, but in recent years it has been transformed. It has gone “upscale” and caters to people in their 30s and 40s who are into organic cuisine, natural ingredients, large empty homes and dual incomes. No paper or plastic here — cloth bags only, please. My father went to one side of the store to order some sliced Italian meats, and I went to look at some overpriced chocolates. And then, after shopping for a few minutes, I happened to look up. I noticed the figure of a person I thought I recognized at the other side of the store. What I saw was a rather short, elderly gentleman standing at the meat counter. And after a moment of confusion and then shock, I finally realized — it was my father.

This is the most introspective time of the year. We have just celebrated All Saints and All Souls. The leaves are off the trees, the wind is blowing them through the fields and streets, and the weather has turned colder. The end of the year is near — we see the signs all around us. Winter is coming.

One of the blessings of our Catholic faith is the riches of the liturgical year and its similarity to the cycle of our lives. As nature slowly goes dormant, we spiritually turn inwards. It is during this season of introspection that I urge us all to ponder the passing of time. Now is the time to say and do the things that we have been putting off for too long.

Perhaps we need to ask for forgiveness from God or to forgive our neighbor. Maybe we need to finally get help for that addiction in our lives, or to start talking to God in prayer again. Jesus, our Lord, Savior, and divine friend, is passing by. Now is the acceptable time to do the things we know we need to do – and to follow him.

Every time I go home to visit my dad, things are the same. It is so comforting. And yet increasingly so, things have changed. God remains the same, but this present world, in its present form, is passing away. Time is passing, flowing like a river that never stops unto eternity. Now is the time and season for all of us to grasp the grace of the present moment. And to recognize, with searing honesty, that it is later than it seems.

Fr. Girotti, who serves as vicar for canonical services and associate moderator of the Curia, is author of “A Shepherd Tends His Flock.”