Carrying the Son to the Father
Hello everyone! I want to thank the Father’s Club for this incredible honor of speaking to all of you this morning. I really consider this an honor because being a husband and a father are two of the greatest joys of my life. I especially want to thank my wife, Colleen, for being the best friend I have ever had but I also want to thank her for giving me the two best sons in the world, Brendan and Daniel. It has been an incredibly blessed journey raising them over the last 22 years. I also want to thank my Mom and Dad for setting an incredible example for me and showing me how to follow Christ.
My Mom and Dad showered my sisters and I with love. They worked together to guide my sisters and I in our faith and supported us in all that we did. My wife, Colleen, and I have striven t o give that same example to our sons. So, what did I learn from my parents? I was the only son smack dab in the middle of two sisters. My dad certainly loved my sisters but I did feel like I got some special time with him since I was the only son. Sunday mornings were very special to me. Growing up, my Dad was not Catholic. He became Catholic two summers ago at the age of 80. But, the majority of his life he belonged to the Methodist church and I would often get up on Sunday mornings and attend the 9:00 a.m. service with him. Then we would come home and wait for my mom and sisters to get ready for the 12:00 Mass. While we were waiting, we would watch the Hour of Power with the Rev. Dr. Robert Schuler on TV. It was a VERY religious Sunday morning. But I distinctly remember enjoying this time because I was with my Dad. But, more importantly, it showed me the importance of practicing one’s faith and spending time in a faith community. I remember what it felt like to walk into Church and feel at home. Whether it was the Methodist Church or the Catholic Church, I felt connected. I felt like I was home. The familiarity of the music, seeing the same people week after week, but, more importantly, knowing that we were all there for one singular purpose, our faith in God. My parents gave me that gift. As I look back on it, I am immensely grateful to my parents for this ecumenical faith experience. As I grew older, I became even more aware of the importance of respecting other faith backgrounds and seeing what unites us rather than what divides us. This awareness remains with me to this day.
My dad was a teacher, so in the summers he would work odd jobs. Those jobs included driving a bookmobile for the local recreation department. Essentially, it was a library on wheels, and he would take me with him when he drove it from playground to playground. He worked at a haberdashery. I wish we were in person because I would love to see if anyone knows what that is. Oh well, it is a really fancy word for a men’s clothing store. My father actually prided himself on his fashion sense. He would often wear red plaid pants with white dress shoes. That’s a pretty bold move. I am not that bold and I did not adopt any of his fashion sense. My father also worked at a local lake renting out paddleboats and canoes. He would take me with him sometimes and I would spend all day on the lake. I really treasure those times that we had together.
“Because I should not be sitting in my office doing paperwork when my son is down the hall playing basketball. I should be down there watching him play.” Later in my dad’s teaching career, he took on the role of principal in the same school that I attended. I didn’t really enjoy having him as my principal., but, none the less, my dad served in that role for six years. Eventually, he decided to go back to teaching. The words that I just read were part of a conversation I overheard my dad have with one of his colleagues when they asked him why he was stepping down as principal. His response made a profound impact on me and it will always stick with me. I have always tried to do the same for my sons, to be present to them, in good times and in bad.
Now, you may be wondering about the title of my talk: Carrying the Son to the Father. Well, it came from an experience I had recently on a retreat with some of our students here at Ignatius. We were on the Emmaus retreat down in the Cuyahoga Valley. The Emmaus retreat is a two-day hiking retreat. On the first day, we were hiking back from the Brandywine Falls and we were heading down these very steep steps. I was leading the group and as I looked ahead I saw this person coming towards us. Now the steps were very narrow and there was not much room, certainly not enough room for someone to pass. Well, never the less, this individual was coming through, so I turned back toward the students to tell them to move over. As this individual got closer to me, I realized that he was carrying someone. As he got even closer, I realized that he was carrying his grown, handicapped son. Now, mind you, this individual was at least 10-15 years older than me (which would put him in his 60’s) and these steps were very steep. It was no simple task! It was truly an act of love, a sacrifice. I looked back at the boys and they were simply in awe. As we continued down the steps, I began to hear them talking about this encounter. So when we got to an open space, I stopped and allowed the group to discuss the sacred moment they had just witnessed. The responses were amazing. They truly recognized this a God moment, as God intervening and saying, “This is how we love.”
As fathers, love is not always expressed in hugs and words. But love is expressed in acts and sacrifices and time spent with our loved ones. It is expressed in challenging conversations and, sometimes, tough love, helping our children deal with disappointment, hurt or loss. Over the last several months, we have all experienced a lot of loss. Some have experienced the loss of loved ones and the loss of jobs. Our children have gone through the loss of sports seasons, proms, graduations, summer mission trips, retreats, and many more. But, as parents, we sat with them in their frustration and hurt and carried them through this. Though it certainly is not easy , I have no doubt that our faith gives us a greater strength and courage to respond to these moments of challenge. My parents gave me that gift and my wife and I have made it a priority to help our sons grow in their relationship with Christ and to make that relationship a critical part of their life.
I remember being very angry at the beginning of the pandemic. I remember just asking God, “What is this all about? Why?” Well, I am part of a men’s faith sharing group at my parish and, early on in the quarantine, we had a meeting on a Saturday morning via Zoom and I was sharing my frustration with the group and I completely lost perspective. That is, until one of the other guys in the group said, “Ed, are you even trying to see the blessings in all of this? Don’t you have both Brendan and Daniel at home? Aren’t both you and Colleen at home with them? Can’t you see this as a gift of time?” Wow! I really felt like an idiot. He was completely right. How did I not see that? So, not that everything was perfect, but from that point on I really strived to value and cherish the time we had together. And, having that perspective, allowed me to better walk with my sons through their many losses. Rather than sitting with them in despair, we worked to pick each other up and to see the opportunities right in front of us. The opportunities to look beyond ourselves and to see the impact that we can have on others. To realize that we are not in this alone and to gain strength and awareness from a greater sense of solidarity in our attitudes and actions. Sometimes our kids teach us more than we teach them.
The greatest gift for me during this pandemic was the time with my family. We had dinner together every night during the initial quarantine. Despite the fact that we were not able to gather for Eucharist around the table of the Lord, we had the gift of a different kind of Eucharist, a different meal of thanksgiving. In the Eucharist, we are nourished, we are strengthened. Well, my family and I found nourishment in our dinners together as we shared our frustrations and our joys, as we shared in laughter and appreciated just being together. This pandemic gave me a greater appreciation for the gift of my family.
It’s not easy being parents today. It certainly isn’t. That’s why we need faith, that’s why we need the Eucharist. We need to be strengthened and nourished by the example and words of Christ, but we also need to be connected to each other. Our children may not always enjoy attending Mass. They may not always see religion as cool or relevant or really making a difference in their lives, but we must give them that gift of faith. That gift of faith will help them get through these challenging times. It will help them deal with their losses, deal with the challenges of feeling disconnected when they are forced to go to school virtually and when they are not able to spend time with their friends. I have encountered many students this year who are struggling with these losses and are having a difficult time seeing the positive. A gift of faith will help them have greater respect for themselves and others, especially in this time when so many feel lost on the margins. If we guide our children in their faith, we can call them to a greater awareness of seeing all as children of God who have dignity and worth, thus helping them to see that dignity and worth within themselves.
I recently completed a 30-day retreat with the men’s group at my parish that I mentioned earlier. The retreat challenged us to look at our various roles as son, father, husband, and friend. Each day provided a reflection and some days the reflections were pretty challenging. They made you take an honest look at your imperfections. The real challenge, however, was sharing these imperfections with your partner in the retreat. This really held you accountable to truly enter into the retreat and not simply go through the motions. It really called us to take an honest look at ourselves and our relationship with God. At the end of the retreat, we gathered together to share our experiences. The men in the group ranged in age from 25 to 60. The reactions were pretty amazing. One of the men who was in his 50s said, “Wow! I really wish I had this when I was in my teens and twenties. Maybe I would not have been such an idiot.” Another guy said, “I’m glad I have this now, because I don’t know what I would have done with it when I was in my teens.” My response to all of that is, “God meets us where we are, when we are. He is always reaching out to us and is ready for us when we are ready for him. However, we cannot respond if we don’t have the gift of faith.” Let’s be thankful we have that gift and let’s do all we can to give it to those we love as we do our best to Carry our Sons to the Father.