In the Catholic Church, today is the feast day of St. Jude. It is also my godmother’s birthday. While looking through folders yesterday, I discovered one of the many cards she sent me during her lifetime. Every birthday, Easter and Christmas and in between, she sent cards filled with little keepsakes of Scripture, offering blessings and love. She would not let me forget her love, or God’s love, for me.
God has given me many gifts and she is one of my favorites. As a child, my mother arranged for my baptism but did not know anyone who could stand up as a godparent. My father was Baptist as were his friends. Father Donald Timone, then parochial vicar of Holy Rosary Parish in the Bronx, N.Y., knew the right one — Paula Retcho. Without knowing much more than a little girl needs a godmother, she stepped forward. What a gift she was and continued to be throughout her lifetime.
Paula’s home, as her heart, was open and welcoming. A Charismatic Catholic, one time she invited me to a weekend conference at Yankee Stadium in the South Bronx. It was a short trip from Washington where I worked at the time. I didn’t know much about the Charismatic movement but Paula was so enthusiastic about the event I had to go.
Friends of friends needing a place to stay that weekend filled Paula’s basement. After all, we were brothers and sisters — children of God. We were all one. It was a weekend of song and Word; hugging people I didn’t know who were moved by Spirit to speak in tongues. I didn’t know my Church had Pentecostals! Can you imagine Yankee Stadium reverberating with words of love and not incivility for an umpire? What an experience. Overwhelmed but renewed, I returned to Washington and found a prayer group to further my renewal.
Along with sharing faith, Paula shared her secret to the perfect sauce and mouth-watering eggplant Parmigiana. I developed my love for and appreciation of Italian food at her family’s table. Yesterday, in my kitchen, sauce simmered, giving off aromatic hints of garlic and oregano. The flavors melded overnight into the promise of perfect sauce that will make my pasta sing. I honor her birthday not just by serving pasta today but through the love in the preparation of the ingredients.
My godmother was love. Paula loved and welcomed everyone regardless of color, race, faith belief or social status. She knew no differences. She shared herself, whatever she had. What an incredible gift to a child — to see someone who lived what we were always taught, to love one another.
I will forever hold the gift of Paula in my heart. I will love and bless each person, the ones I meet and the ones I will never meet. I’ll even love and bless the prickly ones. OK. It takes me a little more time and effort to love and bless the prickly ones, but love and bless I do. I realize that prickly is just a side of myself that needs more love, because, after all, we are one. Tanti auguri Paula.