The Second Third, Week 3: Faith and Family

Blogger’s Note: The whole idea behind these “Second Third” posts can be found here. I’ve had multiple half-baked ideas for posts these past few weeks, but this one jumped to the forefront after reading Prairie Father’s latest post. Kudos, Father Tyler, for sparking this. The choice between two goods is the very definition of a dilemma, don’t you think?

Here at the beginning of my Second Third, I’ve gotten more comfortable with a me I never thought I’d be: a church guy. You know, a weekly worshipper, and more than that: a known quantity in the gathering space after Mass, a meet-n-greeter, a volunteer. One of those guys…

This is somewhat surprising. I was raised a good Catholic in every way except the church-on-Sunday way (so-called “old-fashioned” morals and values, but aside from a brief stint my late elementary years, no Mass or catechesis), then went on to study evolutionary anthropology, which was generally an atheist discipline. Thankfully I had just enough churching and manners to not drive Jodi away entirely when we first met. She brought me around.

The funny thing is, I got along with all sorts of people in school, but didn’t necessarily fit in anywhere. I was a poor athlete, and Coach asked me to help the first-stringers study for their exams. My bearded and be-hatted dad drove the mule to town now and again; that and my square tendencies caused even some of my closest friends to contemplate my Amish-ness. In college, too, I was square and old-fashioned, never an outcast, but never A-list. Friends were surprised when I went to South Dakota to sell western boots, and floored when I came back talking marriage and kids. These were not Ivy League aspirations — at least, not in the near-term.

Jodi brought this baptized Catholic back to the church. A number of good priests — good friends — inspired me and advised me to follow my doubts and questions. Even my dad, who does not share my faith, has never discouraged me from seeking and finding.

So I’ve searched and searched for people like me. Michigan to Connecticut to South Dakota to Michigan again, and finally to St. Michael Catholic Church in St. Michael, Minnesota. I have family in Michigan, family I miss terribly. But I have brothers and sisters here, too, and each week, each Sunday, it gets harder to imagine living anyplace else.

In early October, I had the opportunity to meet my dad on the Tahquamenon River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to fish on our old houseboat. I could get just Friday and Monday off from work: drive all day Friday, sleep Friday night, and head up the river at first light on Saturday to the fishing hole. The boat landing was a couple hours downstream from our fishing hole, and the closest Catholic church was 40 minutes from the landing, and offered just two Masses: 5 p.m. Saturday or 9 a.m. Sunday.

Either we’d have to pull up our anchor after lunch on Saturday, go to church, and sleep ashore again, then resume fishing mid-morning Sunday, or we’d have to pull anchor a couple hours before sundown on Saturday, sleep ashore at the landing, then drive into church Sunday morning. We’d get back to the fishing hole in early afternoon and get a couple hours of fishing in before we needed to head back to landing, since I’d need to leave first thing Monday to make it home.

I prayed on it, talked to a friends, and decided it was important to spend this time with Dad, even if it meant missing Mass. I further resolved to spend time Sunday praying the rosary and reading scripture — and to receive the sacrament of Confession before Mass the following Sunday.

I had a great weekend with Dad, a great Sunday, and honestly never felt far from God. But all weekend, when I thought about missing Mass, a little pang would shoot through my chest. For the first time, it wasn’t so much guilt for missing Mass…it was missing Mass. Longing for it.

How weird is that? I thought.

I did go to Confession the following Saturday, and another good priest told me he thought it was important that I spend time with my dad, but reminded me that if I truly believe, then I must also understand that attending and actually praying the Mass is the most powerful thing I can do for anyone I love. More food for thought.

In Matthew Chapter 12 is a passage that used to trouble me. Jesus is with his disciples, and he is told that his mother and brothers wish to speak with him: But he said in reply to the one who told him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” — Mt 12:48-50

I think I’m beginning to understand. So in my Second Third, I’m embracing my inner Church guy, and working to balance our family by blood and our family in the Body. I can love both — and I should if I am to love either one well.

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