Rising to the Occasion

This post ran in the Ascension Sunday edition of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin, the weekend of May 28-29. Another note: My mother and my sister are both practicing Catholics these days…my bride sets a good example!

On this Ascension Sunday, I want to share with you a different sort of rising. Many of you know I didn’t grow up in the Catholic Church. I didn’t grow up in any church to speak of, aside from a brief period in the mid-1980s when my mother brought to St. Joseph the Worker in Beal City, Michigan, to be instructed in the catechism and receive our first Holy Communion from kindly old Father Hart.

Mom grew up in a Polish Catholic farm family. Dad was her next-door neighbor, of no particular faith; his grandmother shared Bible stories and values with him, but though he saw the sense in it, he has never claimed to be a believer. When I met my bride, I guess I was just Catholic enough—that brief period as a kid, plus a few dozen Catholic Masses and weddings, made enough of an impression that I could hold my own alongside her on Sunday mornings. And I was thoroughly smitten, so Jesus had His opening. He took full advantage.

Our kids, to date, are all practicing Catholics. Three have left the nest; our youngest son Trevor graduated on Wednesday from Holy Spirit Academy in Monticello, leaving just Lily, who is finishing fourth grade at the parish school. We’d love to take credit for their spiritual well-being, and to a certain extent, we can, I suppose: Our older kids tell us they new the faith was real to us; Sunday Mass was a priority, and we never complained about going, even on vacation.

But beyond that, this community fosters faith. Our children have had opportunities to experience genuine encounters with the Lord, in Adoration and the sacraments; in camps, trips, and other events; and in older teens and adults, who make modeling discipleship for other people’s kids a priority.

And disciples foster disciples: My kids followed us to church, but then followed their adult and teen mentors to Core Team, paying their faith forward by leading events for the next crop of grade- and middle-schoolers. From there, our oldest son and daughter went to the University of Mary in Bismarck; our second son went to NET Ministries for the past four years and is discerning religious life—and last week, our senior, Trevor, got his formal acceptance to St. John Vianney Seminary to begin undergraduate studies this fall for priesthood.

I read once that the role of a Catholic parent is to connect as many lines as possible from God to our children, so that, when God tugs, they feel it. We cannot make them believe or stay faithful—we can only do our best and offer them back to God. Will Gabe take vows and Trevor be ordained? Who knows—but when I grew up, neither possibility ever crossed my mind. And our other three kids are pursuing the faith and their vocations with the same courage and vigor, pursuing the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in marriage, family, and university life.

Years ago, our former associate, Father Nathan LaLiberte, told me that our kids reach so much higher toward the heavens that we do because they are standing on our shoulders. I imagine them stretching up from Jodi and me, but the two of us also stretching us from our folks, and so on. Thank you, Lord, for making us so fruitful—and when they reach You, permit them to reach down and pull us up, too. Amen!

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