So there I was, rummaging through a box of old photographs, looking for something to post on the Facebook page for folks who grew up in Totowa.

One of the photos I found showed my father, in casual civilian clothes, standing between two younger men in uniform

a soldier on the left and a Marine on the right.

Dad, who was beaming at the camera as if these were his own sons, had an arm around the shoulders of each of them.

I recognized both of the servicemen; both had been close friends of our family. I figured the picture had been taken in our back yard around 1944.

I had seen that picture many times, but this time I was transfixed by my father’s face.

As I stared at him, his features familiar although younger than I can remember, I realized how much I didn’t know about him.

It’s not that we were a distant family; in fact, because we lived above our grocery store, I probably saw more of my father than most children see of theirs.

It’s more that I took him for granted, thought I knew as much as I needed to know, never dreamed that he would die at 64.

Now that it’s too late, I want to know things about him as a high school track star, as manager of a semi-pro baseball team, as a member of an auto club called The Flying Squadron, as a defense worker during World War II, as a volunteer fireman, as a Catholic, as a Republican, as a worrier, as a dreamer, as my mother’s husband

as my father, for heaven’s sake.

There’s no point in brooding about it, but it is an object lesson in human relationships, a lesson about being really present to those around me.

And it has occurred to me while I’ve been ruminating over that picture that this kind of experience also provides an analogy for spiritual life

for my relationship with Jesus.

There was a lot of conversation in my relationship with my father

but clearly it went only so far, and Dad’s natural shyness may have played a part in that, too.

There is also a lot of conversation in my relationship with Jesus, and much of it covers and re-covers familiar territory.

That conversation, on my part, is respectful, even devout, but it might serve the same purpose as my conversation with my father if it puts off indefinitely anything more expansive, anything deeper between us.

I can count on Jesus “being there;” he won’t abruptly leave me, as my father unwillingly did.

But the incomplete nature of my relationship with my dad makes me aware that there is more to do in my relationship with my Lord, such as acknowledging what he is calling me to be and how I intend to respond.

Pope Benedict XVI emphasized that our faith, at its core, consists of an encounter with a person, a real person, with whom each of us has a unique relationship.

If I want to take that relationship further than rituals and rote prayers have taken it so far, I know that Jesus won’t be shy about playing his part.

I know I can count on his “being there,” but I also know that I don’t have forever to be there too.