A Vignette From a Priest’s Heart...
Let’s call him “David.” He grew up in Philly, he had two brothers and one sister. They were a close family. He was a tight-end on the football teams in high school and college. In other words he was big enough to block and fast enough to run a pattern. He and his siblings always had this feeling that their parents knew more about their antics than they let on. There was, however, one non-negotiable in his family: No matter what time you came home or what you had done on Saturday night the whole family went to Mass at 8 a.m. Sunday. There were no exceptions and some Sundays it wasn’t pretty. David’s father would have it no other way.
When college rolled around David studied Construction Management. He still played football and, on occasion, went to Mass. There was no dad nor any siblings to pull him out of bed. One day, on a whim, he applied for a mission trip to Latin America. He fell in love with the families he stayed with. They were sustenance farmers who worked in the sun and the rain for $5 a day to feed their families. Their example made him think about what he valued and it changed him. He saw how much their faith sustained these simple people and he began to wonder.
When he came back to school David never missed Mass again, although he and the friends he brought preferred attending the 9 p.m. Sunday Mass. Eventually he joined the Campus Ministry men’s group and enjoyed their flag football games, weekend retreats and all night prayer vigils. They also held each other accountable, like brothers would. David appreciated that and took no offense when a brother in the group challenged him.
When he graduated he got a job in his field in Washington, DC (they are always building something there) and attended Mass at St. Patrick’s near his apartment. Sadly, the music was not like college and the preaching was not like college and the church was not filled with young people he knew, so he said to himself, “I’ll skip Mass just this once.” One day while he was walking home from work, to his surprise and without any forethought, he ran up the stairs to St. Patrick’s and walked in. It had been a year and a half since he had walked in a church. A few days later I got a phone call. “I screwed up,” David said. “I thought my faith meant a lot more to me than it did. When the excitement of Campus Ministry was taken away I dropped the ball. My faith was not as real as I thought.” David went to confession some place in town and then he came over to campus. We talked about his options and I gave him some leads on Catholic young adult groups in the District and at the University of Maryland. He went to Theology on Tap and met people like himself and he was back. Eventually he saw a girl he had dated in high school and it clicked.
Twenty-five years later, two weeks ago, I received a call. “Hi Father, it’s David...Do you remember me?” I responded, “Of course I do goofball, we had a great time on the mission trip in Panama.”
“You aren’t going to believe it,” he continued. “I have my own construction company and I have 50 employees.” I told him I wasn’t surprised at all. Most of his football teammates did the same thing and are very successful lawyers, doctors and even police officers. I always felt they kind of tried to hide just how smart they were. He told me his kids are 12, 11 and 8; the oldest two are boys and the little one is his princess. It was so good to hear from him. As the conversation was ending and we finished our Hail Mary (I always end phone chats with my kids with a Hail Mary) before he said goodbye he said, “By the way Father, we never miss 8 a.m. Mass, no matter what. Even when we travel, Mass is and always will be a part of our lives.” Great to hear, David, thanks for the call.
Many no longer attend Mass because of the pandemic but for a long time they still kept Sunday holy by praying and watching the live stream. Now the number of people who do so continues to drop. Some people just sleep in on Sundays and there is no space for God or prayer at all in their lives and the lives of their families. The beautiful community moments we shared in Visitation Hall are gone for now and it is so apparent how much they meant to many of us.
Like David, many of us thought that our faith meant more to us but when the habit of keeping holy the sabbath left, when many of the safety nets which helped us remain faithful were taken away, some floundered.
Don’t worry, God never gives up on us. He always calls you to come home. Just walk in the door. May this second Lent in the pandemic be that moment when we begin anew to know, love and serve our Lord day in and day out.
This week I encourage you to do two things to live this Lent as God would have us do.
- Please try your best to make a sacred spot in your home. Maybe it will be with a cross or a candle or some purple cloth. This little sacred space will remind you of God’s love and God’s call. If you are willing please take a picture of your sacred space and we will publish them with or without your name, as you wish. If you need a crucifix or small statue, pick one up in the Notre Dame shop.
- I would also encourage you to share with your family the penitential practices you hope to accomplish during Lent. Sharing them with others always helps us remain faithful to them. When we dedicate more time to prayer, when we give up something of value out of love for God, it helps us open our hearts to Him. That’s why we try to do special things during this sacred season.