Blogger’s Note: This is the latest in a collection of daily posts outlining my journey to the Sacred Heart over the past year or more. See an overview and links to past posts here.
Yesterday was Father’s Day. Providentially my re-consecration readings in 33 Days to Morning Glory were focused on Mary’s gradual discovery of her vocation not just to be the mother of Jesus, but the mother of the whole Church and all Christians. The book drew my attention to one scripture passage in particular, Matthew 12:46-50.
While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him. Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.” 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.”
Fr. Gaitley explains that, among other things, this passage indicates the primacy of spiritual realities over physical realities, and in particular, spiritual parenthood over natural parenthood. Although the focus of his writing was Mary, on Father’s Day I couldn’t help but think in terms of St. Joseph and spiritual fatherhood.
Movies like The Nativity Story do a wonderful job of illustrating Joseph’s godliness and manly virtues—but also speculate (like I sometimes do) that it might have been daunting to be the foster father of God’s own son. According to Fr. Gaitley’s commentary, however, St. Joseph was every bit Jesus’ father: the one who raised Him in the world and in the faith to be a man of virtue, honor, and obedience to His Father in heaven.
And of course that got me thinking of my own spiritual fathers—not only my natural father, but the many good priests who have led me back to and deeper in the faith—as well as my spiritual children: my five biological children, my godchildren and those I’ve been blessed to sponsor in the sacrament of Confirmation, the children of certain close friends—and of course, my Poland family.
I’ve shared a bit in past posts about my Poland daughters, but never really explained how I came to adopt them (or they, me).
- Somewhat selfishly, I agreed to be one of the adult leaders for the World Youth Day trip to Poland so I could accompany my son Gabe and get to visit my maternal homeland.
- From a more pragmatic standpoint, a couple of families Jodi and I know asked if I would be…officially?…legally?…responsible for their daughters while we were overseas. The girls would not be in my small group (which was appropriately all guys), but if anything happened, I signed a travel document that said I would be the person with their authorization to make necessary decisions on their behalf.
- Providentially, when we arrived in Poland, I had the distinction of having familiarized myself with the itinerary and culture and knowing just enough Polish to earn points for trying before falling back into English. This led the rest of group–especially the female leaders—to assume I knew what I was doing. (It also led to a running joke, in which someone would ask me a question, and me and several of my guys in unison with me would answer, “I don’t know; I’ve NEVER BEEN HERE BEFORE!”) As a result, anytime we had free time, we often found most of girls in our group tagging along with me and my group of guys.
- In terms of the title “Poland Dad” itself: Olivia was probably the first to call me dad while we were there, probaby in the context of an eyeroll and “Yes, dad,” after I gave her a bad time about something. Megan may have been the first to refer to me as “Poland Dad,” but I think Grace is generally credited with it because while we were over there, she was the most vocal, frequent, and public about it. (She still is.)
It was a joke at first, until one evening I was eating with a group of the ladies, and they started asking me questions: about how I met my wife, how I knew she was the one, that sort of thing. So I told them. (I love those stories.)
But by the end of the trip, they didn’t say they loved the stories. They said they loved me. Which was good—because I love them, too. It was never about the stories. It was about sharing my heart with them, in hopes that that they would recognize the beauty, dignity, and worth of their own.
The Holy Spirit—the love and life of the Holy Trinity—was moving through and among us in Poland, and it has continued to do so. The following November, five of my Poland daughters surprised me for my birthday by showing up at my house and taking me out to dinner and a walk along the river in Minneapolis and St. Paul. We had a Poland reunion the following August, before several of the young women left for college—and a few of us exchanged letters last fall and winter.
Then tragedy struck late in the winter, when one of our number died following a ski accident. I remember standing in the church at Bethany’s wake and holding one of my Poland girls tightly as she wept on my shoulder. I remember talking and praying and reminiscing and laughing with them before and after the funeral, and promising to get us all back together again. Several of us did in late May, and hopefully we will again before the fall.
I wrote about Bethany and our Poland family at that time and won’t recount it again. I said all I can in these two posts:
- Who Is my Family?: also includes Poland memories and a brief account of my birthday dinner with the ladies
- What I Couldn’t Say: also includes a beautiful reflection by St. Francis de Sales, if you’ve been following my earlier posts in this series
How does all this tie into my journey to the Sacred Heart? First of all, this is not the first time that making a concerted effort to love a group have teens had led to an explosion of the love of God in my life — not to mention spiritual offspring. (I’m talking about you, youth-groupers from St. Michael in Remus!) From the moment we opened our hearts to each other in Poland, this spiritual family has been teaching each other to love as God loves, and with the loss of Bethany, we learned that Jesus’ loving heart is also truly a suffering heart.
Additionally, learning of Bethany’s devotion to St. Faustina and Divine Mercy was my first real inkling that the holy Polish nun is actively working in our parish and in my life these past several months. More on that soon—perhaps tomorrow.
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Father in Heaven, thank you not only for my natural children, but all the spiritual children you’ve entrusted to me, and for the spiritual fathers and mothers you’ve provided for my natural offspring. Make us worthy of your trust—create in us a loving, beating, bleeding heart like your Son’s.
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto thine. Amen.