I want to share what my husband is sharing at our parish this weekend, because I’m so proud of him, because I think he has a fantastic story to tell, and because I know some of my family will enjoy reading it.
Several weeks ago, I got a call from Vince ____ with the Stewardship Council. He asked me if I would mind giving a lay witness testimony today. My first reaction was, did that many people already turn them down? But after I gathered what he was asking, I told him I wasn’t sure, being at the ripe old age of 25, I was experienced enough to talk. And then Vince told me “you don’t have to be old to be a Steward of the Church.” So now, for the only time in this talk, I’ll say, I’ll come back to that.
Back in September one evening, I was on my way out the door to Perpetual Adoration at St. John’s, and I was looking for something to read or think about while in front of the Blessed Sacrament. My beautiful and ever accommodating wife, Maggie handed me a book and said, “I don’t think you’ve read this one in a while.” I looked at the book, and it was John Paul II’s Letter to Families. This struck me as curious. I had never really read the entire book. I bought it three years ago when Maggie and I were going through our pre-marital counseling. We were visiting with her priest, Fr Mason, when he recommended it, telling me that it was an essential read for any Catholic ready to start a family. But like many philosophers, John Paul II wrote in such a thought provoking style that I would have to stop reading at the end of each section and think about what he said. I put the book down several times, and eventually stopped picking it up. Anyway, I went to Adoration with my rosary and Letter to Families. Something that John Paul II said on the first page of the Letter, quoted from his previous encyclical Redemptor Hominis, reached out and smacked me in the face. “Man is the way of the Church.” This simple phrase made finishing the book this time a breeze. The entire Letter, which is truly a must read for any parent, talks about the importance of the Domestic Church. While everyone’s experience growing up is different, my experience was based on my Domestic Church. So I’d like to share some defining moments in my life that gave me the desire to be active in our Parish.
When I was 8 years old, I received my first Holy Communion. I remember it very well for a number of reasons. First, my mom was one of my First Communion teachers. Second, because when I made it to the Altar to receive the Eucharist, the priest had to remind me “this is not a time to fool around.” Another reason why I remember it well is because it was in Italy. My dad was an Air Force Fighter Pilot, and we were stationed at a NATO base in Naples. And because I had the good fortune of living in Italy, the second time I received Holy Communion was during a Mass said by John Paul II. It was pretty neat. It was also convenient for me to have a trilingual mother who was able to get the Holy Father’s attention and talk him into giving me a special blessing. At that time, of course, I didn’t realize that this would be a moment I would remember the rest of my life. I also didn’t realize that this would be when I would really start my journey with Catholicism.
When I was 10 years old, I was living in Adana, Turkey. My family and I went to a small chapel that was located on the Air Base. There were probably no more than 50 families that attended Mass regularly; which made it easy for me to become part of the Church. I already had 2 years of Altar Serving experience under my belt, so that was the natural place for me to fit in. My mom was my R.E. teacher, as well as my brother’s Confirmation teacher, and the R.E. coordinator. My dad was the Altar Server coordinator, served on the Parish Council, and provided free steak and wine for our priest at least once a week. This was the time when I started to love going to Mass. I loved going to a place where I knew everyone around, knew the priest, but mostly felt that I played an important role in our community as an Altar Server. When it came time for confirmation that year, I was asked to serve. It made sense because my oldest brother was being confirmed. I met the Bishop just before Mass started. His name was Bishop Rourke. After I had told him my name he asked, “Do you know what the symbol of St. Mark is?” And I replied “a Lion.” And he said “that’s right. Grow with the loyalty and Faith of a Lion.” Then he gathered the Altar Servers in the back and explained to us the privilege we had to serve the Mass, and how invaluable our service was. In retrospect, he just as easily could have used the wall to lean his Crosier on, but he used me instead. And I felt pretty good about that.
When I was 16 years old, my family had just moved to an even more exotic location, Enid, Oklahoma, and I was preparing for my own Confirmation. By this time, I was an Altar Server Coordinator for our Parish, my mom was the Parish Coordinator, and my dad was the Parish Council President. Our priest, Fr. Sanchez, was a regular visitor of our house and started to refer to me as “Fr. Mark” in an attempt to ease me into the idea of going to the seminary. During this time, I started to study the Catechism like I hadn’t studied it before… meaning, on my own. There I met my best friend, Colin. He was my neighbor, classmate, and was the other Altar Server Coordinator. I have to admit, I started studying our faith because I got frustrated when I couldn’t respond quicker than Colin during R.E. classes. Learning more about Catholicism became a competition for us, and who would go into the Seminary would eventually be the grand prize. He won. When time came for my Confirmation, my mom treated me like any of her other students. She made sure I had a sponsor, made sure I knew why I chose St. Peter as my Confirmation Saint, and told me that my report on him was “okay.” She arranged the Bishop come meet all of us who were to be Confirmed. It was Bishop Rourke. He knew my mom pretty well, and knew that I was her son. He walked in and smiled at me and said, “Mark, right? Faith of a Lion.” I can only assume my mom coached him, but I didn’t ask her, because she was already in the Sanctuary. I knew I would remember that day as my Confirmation day, and I thought I knew what that really meant, and how important it was. But it didn’t really strike me until the Bishop touched my cheek, and I walked back to my pew and saw that my mom was crying.
A few years later, when I was in college at OSU, I was asked to come speak during a Confirmation retreat that my mom had planned. They asked me to talk about the temptations of a college student living away from home on a college campus. They also asked me to find a suitable female counterpart who could relate better to the girls in the group. I had two people in mind. They were both Catholic, and both from Enid. And they were both busy. A week before the retreat I was scrambling to find someone who had the knowledge and courage to speak to a group of kids in a Parish that they had likely never been to. As we live in the time of the internet, my brother had just met “some Catholic girl” online, and was itching for an excuse to meet her in person. He told me that he could arrange her to give the talk with me, on the condition that I give her his number and talk her into a lunch date with him. As it turned out, I met the girl, was impressed with her ability to give good Catholic answers to some tough questions, and married her three and a half years later.
The most recent event in my life that defines my faith happened back in January of this year. Maggie and I took a “belated” honeymoon trip to Spain and Italy. Conveniently, my aunt is a nun in Madrid, Spain, and could hook us up with a pretty sweet deal. She was able to give us a place to stay in Madrid, Assisi, and Rome. She also has a friend working at the Vatican who was able to get us “courtside” tickets to the general audience with the Pope for the Wednesday we would be in Rome. Since we were vacationing in January, and the Holy Father gets cold easily, the general audience was to be held in the Pope Paul VI room next to the Basilica of St. Peter. On January 13th, we were ushered into the huge room and found our seats near the front.
Looking around the room, I sensed a sudden familiarity with something from my past. Then I realized that it was the same room in which I had met Pope John Paul II when I was 8 years old. So there I was, 24 years old my wife next to me with our first child on the way, in the same room in which my faith journey had begun. And I could even remember where I was sitting when my mom pushed me into the aisle with Pope John Paul II to make sure that I was able to see him. This gave me the sudden realization of why the Lord put me in that room again. My experiences growing up were special because my parents made them special. Growing up, I was active in the Parish because my parents were active in the Parish. I had a desire to grow in my faith because my parents taught me that desire. Their example is what gives me the desire to take an active role in the Parish and to become an example for my children. The same desire led Maggie and I to become RockSolid volunteers and the Young Adult Coordinators. “You don’t have to be old to be a Steward of the Church”. It doesn’t matter that I’m young or that I have a job and have to work on weekends, or that I have obligations taking time and energy outside of the Church. As John Paul II writes in his Letter to Families, “a person goes forth from the family in order to realize in a new family unit his vocation in life”. It is time for me to grow from what I learned from my parents and teach my children the same. And on this Stewardship Renewal Weekend, it is time for Maggie and I to assess our commitments of time, talent, and treasure to the parish and fill out our commitment card.
My parents raised me in a Domestic Church built on the love of Christ, the love of our Parish no matter where it was, and the love of our family. Now it’s my turn.
Time for us to head back to the church. Two masses down, two more to go!