After doing my treadmill workout, I sat on the couch with my oldest son so we could go over some World Literature questions. We read through the poems, discussed them and, as happens many times in my homeschooling experience, we ended up on an entirely different topic.
The poems were of a religious nature, but as we took the stanzas apart together he said with a sigh, “I am really worried what the world will be like for my kids. Things are only getting worse. I cannot even imagine it years from now, Mom.” A flashback sent me to a strikingly similar discussion with my own mother over twenty years before.
Halfway through my college career my mom and dad visited me at school. As I lay on their bed in the hotel room my mother carefully asked if there were any young men that I was particularly interested in. “After all, this is a really Catholic college…this would be a great place to meet a Godly man to marry.” My response alarmed her.
“Mom, being Catholic is going to be against the law within the next two decades. I am NOT raising kids in this world so they can be persecuted or so they can forfeit their faith in hopes of an easier life in this world. I prefer to have a crush on a guy I would never date, makes life a little interesting and I don’t have to worry about marriage and family.” I stated this very matter-of-factly as if she should be impressed with my two years of college wisdom.
Mom was more than a little irked. “Kay, we did not raise you to live in fear! God has a plan for your life, your job is to find out what that plan is and live it the best way you can. Good grief! When I was a teen our country was at war, my friends were being drafted and dying on beaches in France and Japan. I married nine years after World War II ended but I married a soldier for crying out loud! I knew full well what could happen to him, to us and our family but I also lived in faith. And hope! Christ said whoever loved Him would pick up his cross and follow Him…he didn’t say ‘Hey, everything will be dandy if you come over here’ – he said it would be challenging, but He also said He’d be with you. I knew I would rather be with Him in a tough spot than without Him anywhere else. Kay, don’t miss the joy for fear of the sorrow.”
My mother’s words were remembered but put away in a file I hoped to ignore. Almost two years later, as my last semester in college began, something happened. That boy I had met freshmen year – the one who annoyed me with his indifference to detail when planning a dorm party; the one who seemed to wear a sign that boldly said “slacker”; the one I had absolutely nothing in common with and merely put up with since we both were heads of different campus organizations – kept popping up. Can a woman be angry and interested all at once?
It was so subtle. Can I sit next to you? Would it be okay if I walked you back to your dorm? What Mass are you attending? Oh, look…we have Christian Marriage class together, what a coincidence! You have a big family? So do I. You love being Irish? Me, too!
We spent weeks getting to know each other at meals, taking long walks, talking on the phone and had recently attended the Valentine dance together. One thing led to another and one cool February evening we sat outside my dorm and this young man asked to officially date me. I looked away and said, “No.” He seemed surprised, why shouldn’t he be? I had led him to believe I was open to such a question. When faced with reality and what my own fears were, I chose the latter.
The heavy silence was interrupted when a tennis ball from the nearby court practically landed in his lap. Rolling the ball in his hands for a few moments he finally spoke, “Well, I guess the ball is in your court now.” He handed me the ball and walked slowly back to his dorm.
Even my roommate was stunned when I returned and told her. “I think you should date him so you can say you had a well rounded college career.” She teased trying to make me laugh. It did not work. Unable to sleep I headed for Adoration. No big “aha” moment, no private revelation on what I should do with my life, just silence and resting in Christ’s presence.
The next day I met with my backup spiritual director (mine was spending the year at the Austrian campus). I explained my dilemma and he nodded as he listened. “Pat, eh? Yes, I know him. He hit Fr. Mike in the head with a tennis ball playing doubles. Are you planning to date him or play tennis with him? I would not suggest tennis…but I see no reason to avoid dating. Guarding your heart does not mean hiding it, Kay. Pray for peace with your decision – when you are at peace either confirm you are not going to date him, or give him a yes.”
My roommate heartily agreed with Father’s advice. “Personally, I think you are going to marry him.” She stated seriously. That is what I truly feared.
Every time I saw him around campus, in class or in passing it was painful. It took a little bit of time but I finally realized I needed to give him a YES. I took the tennis ball he had given me, wrapped it in paper and wrote a note saying: “I look forward to explaining the meaning of this gift at your earliest possible convenience.” I then placed it in his campus mailbox. He met me after work that evening and we talked as he walked me to my dorm. I will never forget the first time he took my hand. The fear that haunted me gave way to something I did not expect: strength. When you find God’s plan for your life, you will also find courage.
Four months later we were engaged, a year after that we were married, seventeen months later this same oldest son was born.
“Josh, if I had listened to my fears you would not be here. The reason Christ came to us as a baby is because babies are the most perfect sign of HOPE!” Josh sat on the couch thinking about how much he loves babies, how he cannot wait to have baby girls of his own. He takes seriously the path to being a Godly man and I can see in his seventeen year old eyes the concern of a future father and husband.
“Your job is to find God’s plan for your life, Josh. He will get you through all the trials and permeate all the joys. And when life seems sad or overwhelming, go find someone with a baby and offer to hold him or her – in the face of a baby you see only hope. The world that the first Apostles were sent into was not much different than our own, but they had courage because their hope was in Christ.”
As I spoke I realized I was speaking to myself as much as to him. How frustrated I have become with our world! What was my last confession about? “Father, is there nothing sacred, nothing holy, nothing pure that is not trashed and dragged through the mud then held up as justifiable on this entire earth? I am just so sick of it all. How am I supposed to raise Godly children in a world where it is fast becoming illegal to do so?”
His response was my penance: “Kay, I want you to say one Hail Mary for each of your children and spend some time looking upon the Blessed Mother and asking her to intercede for you as a mother.” That is it?! I thanked him and headed for the church more than a little disappointed. No butt kicking, no penance that would make me reflect on the blessings in my life, no pontificating on how the Catholic Church has endured 2,000 years of man’s inhumanity to man and will survive until the end of time. Seriously, I expected a little more from a feisty JPII priesty boy.
I said my prayers for each of my children, sat back down and looked upon the Blessed Mother. It was then something dawned on me….things I had told my own children came to mind. Mary, the Mother of God, was fourteen when she gave her Fiat to God – she knew full well that in doing so she faced a possible death sentence by stoning. She knew suffering would come and she still said yes! Our Lady trusted God’s plan even though she could not see it all. She had to live through Good Friday (and boy did she!) to fully experience Easter Sunday. The Blessed Mother was the first and best disciple.
Saying yes to God is opening oneself to suffering, but it is not pointless suffering however much it may feel that way at times. If I am to teach my children to embrace their faith, I must do the same. The fears that nag me – will my husband be fired for simply being a Christian? Will my children be so enamored of the world when they leave home that they ditch their faith for what others deem “fun and acceptable”? How would I handle a child rebelling against all we raised them to know and believe? What will happen to our Catholic faith when so many bishops fail to lead on moral issues? How can a government slaughter its own citizenry then label those who would protect the unborn as terrorists? Will my children even be allowed to raise their children in the faith? – have nagged generations before me. As I look at my high school age son I feel my mother looking at him through me.
Son, you will be challenged and our church will continue to face persecution. There is a very good reason the phrase “Be not afraid” is in the Bible 365 times – every day we must remember we are a people of hope, not fear. Would you rather be persecuted for standing with God or be comfortable by ignoring Him? Me? I think I’d rather be in a tough spot with Him, than anywhere else without Him.