We all have one, at least one, often many.
For me there's the journey as a human, as an adult, as a wife, a mother, and definitely as one of God's children — as a Catholic.
I used to dislike that term as it relates to faith — journey. I thought it was so cliché (I am a very practical person and a "journey" was a physical thing). But I have come to realize that being on a faith journey means you haven't stopped growing in faith. If we have arrived at our destination, we get comfortable, and we stop advancing, stop growing. But, if we view our faith life as a journey, we continue to seek God, continue to move on toward the final destination, heaven. Our faith journey should continue until we no longer breathe.
This story is that of my faith journey as it has intersected with my son's and his fianceé's journeys, and how this commingling of faith journeys is helping to make my own fuller. I am hopeful that, especially if you are the mother or father of an adult child in the Church, this story will give you great hope.
My son Joshua's journey started over 22 years ago when he was conceived in a caring, faithful marriage, and born into a loving Catholic family. As his parents, relatively young in our own faith journeys, my husband and I, of course, had no idea what God's plans were for our little son. We did not know that when he was just a tiny boy, a tiny girl was born to a family in a small town nearby, a girl who would, one day, be his intended, his beloved. As she is not yet part of our family, for this article I shall call her Lucy.
In parallel universes they grew, both children of God, both raised in a Christian faith. Until our son was almost a grown man, a senior in high school, he did not even know Lucy. They began dating, introduced by a mutual friend, though he was at an all-boys school, and she was at a school 30 miles away. They didn't see each other very often, but they grew close and fell in love.
Lucy began to visit our home more frequently, and on rare occasions (and under very strict supervision), she sometimes stayed over on a weekend night. When our son first asked if she could stay for a night, I was very opposed: it didn't seem right. I have been accused of being a bit too old-fashioned, but it seemed geographical distance between the two was better, for their own sakes. But God knew better and He softened my heart.
When they were both students at the university near our hometown, Lucy came to stay a little more frequently, and when she stayed on a Saturday she always went to Mass with our family on Sunday morning. She seemed to "take to it" and even told Joshua that she "feels closer to God at Mass," compared to the Presbyterian church in which she was baptized and confirmed. As a mother, I was gladdened that she felt at home in our parish, at Mass, and I knew the reason she felt closer to God at Mass was the True Presence.
Though my mother's heart had hope, as any Catholic mother hopes to keep her child in the Church, we never counseled Lucy about becoming a Catholic. I firmly believe in the saying "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink."
As the mother of young adult Catholics, I know children often need to choose the Church for themselves in order to really grow in their faith. (I won't say I didn't pray, however, and St. Monica heard from me often.) We just continued to take Lucy to Mass with us, discussing parts of the Mass and the homily afterward at lunch, and had discussions about the Catholic Church and our beliefs.
After the two had dated for a couple of years, our son's sweetheart told me she had every intention of spending the rest of her life with him. Soon after, she told me she was going to look into converting to Catholicism.
They became engaged in the spring of this year, and when Lucy moved to campus this past fall, she enrolled in RCIA classes at the campus Newman Center (Catholic churches or ministries at secular universities around the world). She asked me to be her sponsor, and I gladly agreed, but the Newman Center had a policy of assigning a student in the community to be primary sponsor for each inquirer (as candidates or catechumens are called early in RCIA).
I had decided that though I was not her primary sponsor, I would go to Mass with her and attend the meetings, just so I could get an idea of what was being taught, thinking I would be her "filter" of sorts, correcting any untruths I felt she was being taught. I never imagined (pride — a deadly sin) that I would be affected personally, or that my own heart would begin to change.
Several weeks ago, we spent the weekend at a retreat preparing for the Rite of Welcome. All but one of the candidates/catechumens are college students, one a med student, and all of the sponsors, except for me, are students. The majority of the team members are students as well, and the RCIA director is just out of college herself — a young bunch from my perspective.
The time spent with these young people has been very enlightening. I was once a college student, but I don't remember being quite so "put together." Though some of the candidates are quiet, and keep their thoughts to themselves for the most part, many of them are quite learned and ready to debate...Chesterton, St. Augustine, Tolkein ideology. Some quoted scripture like bible scholars, instructed others in praying the Liturgy of the Hours. They are quite remarkable for a small group of college students from a Midwestern state university.
It was at the Mass of the Rite Of Welcome, however, that I was really struck, as a mother, by the collective Catholicity of a group of college students at a secular university. I was not at all prepared to see hundreds of college students gather for a Sunday Mass in the middle of winter.
Many gathered to sing, or play instruments, several were lectors, ushers, and all were congregants. They participated in the Mass, singing, praying, listening, receiving the Eucharist.
It was during Communion that I was sincerely touched. After receiving the Eucharist, I sat forward in my chair (no kneelers) and prayed, and as my head was bent down, and I began to finish my prayers, I started watching the shoes walking past my aisle chair. Trendy boots, colored Converse tennis shoes, beat-up loafers — they were the feet of young adults, some away from home for the first time, some getting close to true adulthood and faced with graduation and job-hunting. All different, but all still very young, and all assisting at Mass voluntarily, not under the encouraging, or even sometimes reproachful, eye of mother or father.
Their free will allowed them to do anything during that hour or so required of Mass, but here they were, celebrating sacred worship with each other, most strangers in that vast institution.
What I want to say here is that these are your children. You have led them to this water, this sacred water, and they drink. They drink of their own accord, their own choice. They choose the Church, not because it is your will for them, but because they love God. You have shown them His love and they freely reach for it. What a gloriously moving concept.
As a student at this same university, I also celebrated Mass, in this same place, but somehow I never saw it as my choice then, though it certainly was. Looking through the eyes of a mother, however, I know the choices our children make are often not the ones we would choose now, having experienced what we have. We have wise eyes now, and we see that some choices make our lives better, some make them much more difficult.
Seeing these beautiful students through wise eyes, and knowing that no one could force them to be there had they not wanted to be there, was incredibly moving and gave me great hope for the future. Fellow Catholic mothers, fathers, be glad, good and and faithful servants, you have served your Father well.
Copyright 2014 Barbara Stein
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