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James T. KeaneJune 21, 2023
Photo by Stefan Kunze, photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for the Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga

You can find today’s readings here.

Jesus said to his disciples:
"When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door,
and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (Mt 6:5-6)

Today would have been my father’s 91st birthday. He died three years ago, long past the pull-date for any Keane male in history. He told us once his mother had briefly considered at his birth naming him after the famous Jesuit saint whose feast day is also today, but thought it too much a burden to saddle a kid with a name like Aloysius. I think he wouldn’t have minded sharing his birthday with the feast of St. Thomas More, who was canonized when my father was three and whose feast day is tomorrow.

During most of the years he and my mother were raising their brood of eight children, they worked at home; he was a television comedy writer, a reality that spared him from having to engage too regularly with a lot of the practical details of life that he wasn’t all that great at, including driving. Part of our family lore is a weekday morning when he packed us all into the car for the drive to St. Finbar School and promptly drove us to Safeway.

Today’s readings remind me of another side of my father: a man who took Jesus’ admonition seriously, who made his prayer a private conversation between himself and God.

Another distinct memory I have is of those occasional afternoons when he would pick us up from school. He would announce we were stopping in to the neighboring church, and then he would sit in the darkness just a few rows from the tabernacle. We were free to roam about the church as long as we were quiet and no one else was around, but he would just sit quietly in prayer for 10 or 15 minutes, then stand up without a word and lead us out to the car. I remember vividly the details: how dim the lighting was, how vast the empty church; how ferocious Saint Finbar’s statue looked in its alcove; how mysterious was the red candle whose light announced the True Presence; how silent and still my father could be.

What was he praying for? What was he thinking? He wouldn’t have answered if asked. That church was for a few minutes his chance to “go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” Despite obviously being a deeply religious man, he was not demonstrative or public in his prayer life. Hearing him say the rosary aloud was a hilarious experience—he hurtled through the rote prayers at a thousand miles an hour. And yet on those occasions in the dim afternoons at St. Finbar, there was no doubt in my mind that his prayer was a profound and important part of his life.

I would be thinking of him today anyway, even if the Gospel did not fit him so perfectly. Our memories as a family are largely of him as a storyteller, a wit, someone whose life was immersed in words, whether writing comedy or, as he decided to do in retirement, researching and writing a biography of St. Thomas More. But today’s readings remind me of another side of him: A man who took Jesus’ admonition seriously, who made his prayer a private conversation between himself and God.

Was there a lesson he was also teaching his children by taking them into that church on the regular? Sure. But it was the same lesson we hear today: Pray often and make your prayer a personal one. Your Father still sees you.

More: Scripture

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