Dad made his passage to the next life at 1:18 am this morning, with Mom, Katy & Jeff & I present. It was a peaceful, awe-inspiring time. His breaths became shorter and less pronounced, in the way that the lapping waves on the shore — after the wake of a passing ship — become less pronounced and then fade entirely. His ship is now creating a wake in other waters.
On July 26, 1970, at the church of Saint John the Baptist in Excelsior, Minnesota, the Rev. Vincent O’Connor poured water over my forehead and baptized me in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
I’ve decided to make a point of celebrating the anniversary of my baptism. I guess Pope John Paul II thought this sort of thing was a good idea, as did a fourth-century saint:
We should celebrate the day of our baptism as we do our birthday! All Christians should reflect on the meaning and importance of their own baptism. – John Paul II, 1/12/1997
The first Christians had great spiritual celebrations on the anniversary of their baptism, which was the day of their dedication, the day on which they were consecrated to God. They took no notice of their birthday, for at birth we are not children of God, but rather children of Adam. So they celebrated the day on which they were made children of God, the day of their baptism. – Saint Caesarius of Arles (470-543 AD)
My mom is amazing. I’m the youngest of ten kids, and somehow she saved a box of various items from my baptism! I was digging through my books the other day and stumbled across all of this memorabilia… baptismal cards printed for the occasion; cards from godparents, family and friends; a telegram from my uncle; a burlap banner, complete with bright orange and green felt letters proclaiming a groovy Gospel message; a family Christmas card that was created after the event… My parents had the event filmed on Super 8 film and recorded on audio tape as well.
I have the script my parents wrote for the occasion (that’s right, they scripted the liturgy)… apparently it involved most of my nine brothers and sisters. And I have been given to understand that Fr. O’Connor played guitar during the celebration.
It was a tandem baptism, shared with good friends of our family, the Regans. Bobby Regan and I were both born around the same time, so the families decided to celebrate the baptisms together.
I was particularly moved by some of the notes I found among the archives:
from my godparents:
Dearest little Clayton,
We are so happy to be your godparents, and through you to reaffirm that we’ll go “one more round, mankind.” Your parents are beauties and you are blessed as they are blessed. Much love, Gordy & Grace
May he grow in wisdom, grace and age and be worthy of his earthly and heavenly family. Bob and Helen
from one of my aunts:
Dear Mary, Jim and children:
Thank you for a very wonderful day. It was an insight to generous, selfless, meaningful Christian lives. Gratefully, Pat and Gen
from a friend of the family:
Dear Mary and Jim,
Clayton has really come into a beautiful and loving Christian fellowship. He is a very lucky young man to have been received so well into his new community. John and I felt it an honor to be a part of your special day. Thank you for all the “giving” you have sent our way. Love in your family! Cynthia O’Halloran
and then the telegram from my uncle:
Stumbling across all of this is quite humbling. It’s hard to know how to express gratitude for such a great gift, given to me even before there was any way of responding. It reminds me of the very gratuity of God, the great economist of the heart… who doesn’t measure, or wait for any kind of response.
In his Letter to Families, John Paul II wrote profound things about the family as the lasting “horizon of one’s existence” and the relationship between human life and life in God:
It is for themselves that married couples want children; in children they see the crowning of their own love for each other. They want children for the family, as a priceless gift. This is quite understandable. Nonetheless, in conjugal love and in paternal and maternal love we should find inscribed the same truth about man which the Council expressed in a clear and concise way in its statement that God “willed man for his own sake.” It is thus necessary that the will of the parents should be in harmony with the will of God. They must want the new human creature in the same way as the Creator wants him: “for himself.” Our human will is always and inevitably subject to the law of time and change. The divine will, on the other hand, is eternal. As we read in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jer 1:5). The geneaology of the person is thus united with the eternity of God, and only then with human fatherhood and motherhood, which are realized in time. At the moment of conception itself, man is already destined to eternity in God. – Letter to Families, paragraph 9
All I can say is that I am very grateful for my parents. It would have been easy for them to have seen a tenth child simply as a burden or another mouth to feed. But instead they chose to see it as an occasion of joy and hope, and left all of these reminders behind for me to discover later.
So here’s to forty-five years of life in my earthly family, and in the family of the Trinity!
In the wake of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision regarding marriage, I’m re-posting a link to a blog post I wrote ten years ago about what works — and what doesn’t — when in dialogue about hotly contested issues:
I’m aware that the Church’s teaching about sex and marriage is not received as “good news” by many in the homosexual community. And my personal view is that the Church has not been very effective in demonstrating how her teaching does not oppress, but actually liberates the person with same-sex attractions. To do so, I think the conversation has to shift from the sinfulness of certain acts to the question of what, intrinsically, a sin is (missing the mark) and how the activity in question misses the mark. It has to address the question: what is the goodness, truth and beauty of striving toward that mark? Sin has become such a loaded word, carrying a heavy emotional payload not because of what it means, but because of the way it is sometimes used, as leverage over and against other people, as a spiritual trump card of sorts in an argument. It would be helpful to move beyond this way of talking about sin, which is surely not producing much in the way of fruitful dialogue.
Several years ago, shortly after my Dad died, one of my sisters initiated a Christmas letter from my siblings to my mom, and it turned out to be a great way of honoring her. I think, with our Dad’s loss fresh in our minds, we realized that we didn’t want to wait until she was gone to send up some words of appreciation.
Here’s the idea as my sister presented it. She collected our letters, which were based on the following format:
- Identify the top 2 things you like most about mom and why they’re meaningful to you. Add up to 3 more areas that you admire or like about her, (optional)
- When you think of mom, you think of __________(from 2 words to 2 sentences)
- Two important things that mom has taught you. (Can be more) This can be by her example as well, etc.
- Most important gift mom has given you.
- Favorite day, moment or memories with her (this is not limited but can expand as far as you’d like- beyond just one moment, day, experience too)
- Funniest or silliest memory of her (laughable moment/s).
- Your hopes, prayers or dreams for her now-what you would hope she will have/experience, related to her fulfillment.
- (Optional) One thing she doesn’t know about you that you’d like to her to know (it can be anything, silly or serious-the point is sharing something here with her that she doesn’t know yet know about you or your life, that you’d like her to know).
- Thanking her for … (Personal thanks for whatever comes to mind) (Some of these things may overlap but that’s fine).
A sampling of the responses from my nine brothers and sisters is posted here.
My own contribution:
The two things I most appreciate about Mom: her generosity and her receptivity. She defines what it means to be recklessly large-hearted, and fearless of the pain that might come from making herself so vulnerable. And by receptive I mean welcoming, not in any formal, dutiful way… but genuinely ready to open herself to whoever would present themselves to her. And then there’s her sense of humor, generally self-deprecating but always alive to the incongruities of life and all that is inherently silly… without caving in to the temptation of being ironic or sarcastic in any form.
Like last Christmas Eve, when she and I spent a good hour traversing back and forth across Clark Fork looking for the Holy Grail of plumbing: a toilet plunger for the overflowing facility at Sacred Heart.
When I think of Mom, I think of lilies of the valley and sailboats, two things she’s fond of. Mom is like those delicate, fragrant flowers that change the whole aroma of the place without drawing attention to themselves, and like a sail open to wherever the Spirit might blow, and constantly tacking to see where the Wind might want to lead next. I think that’s how she taught me the value of discernment: testing everything, and keeping what is good.
Favorite memories include the lunches we shared together at the Burger King at Vine Hill and Highway 7, when I was in junior high school. I was just attending the junior high on a part-time basis, spending the rest of my time homeschooling. Generally, a bus would pick me up midday to take me to East Junior High. But from time to time, Mom would offer to drive me, so that we could have lunch together. It was just as the era of Home Covenant School ended, and during these undivided times shared with Mom, I felt I was getting to know her all over again.
My hope and prayer is that in this particular chapter in her life, she can look back with satisfaction on all of the artistry she has co-created — not the least the family she raised and nurtured with Dad — and look forward to all the new expressions of creative love that she has within her, waiting to be revealed in the days to come. She’s an artist of the human heart, with a canvas that has stretched as far as the eye can see… and a lot farther, I’m sure. There are realms of that canvas for her to revisit, and others to explore for the first time.
So I hope she’ll hop on her pontoon sailboat, so to speak, find the Wind like the expert sailor that she is, and set the course anew each day… touring that entire canvas, that whole work of art that is her life. It’s going to be a joy to watch.
“On March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the Day of Life is celebrated in many countries. For this reason, twenty years ago, Saint John Paul II on this date signed the Encyclical Evangelium vitae. To celebrate this anniversary, many members of the Movement for Life are in the Square today. In Evangelium vitae the family occupies a central place, insofar as it is the womb of human life. The words of my venerable Predecessor remind us that the human couple was blessed by God from the beginning to form a community of love and life, to which He entrusted the mission of procreation. Christian spouses, celebrating the Sacrament of Matrimony, open themselves to honor this benediction, with the grace of God, for all of life. The Church, for her part, is solemnly committed to the care of the family that results from it, as a gift of God for her own life, in good fortune and in bad: the bond between the Church and the family is sacred and inviolable. The Church, as a mother, never abandons the family, even when it is disheartened, wounded, and mortified in so many ways; it will always do everything to seek to cure and heal it, to invite it to conversion and to reconcile it with the Lord.
So then, if this is the task, it appears clear how much prayer the Church needs in order to be up to fulfilling this mission at all times! A prayer full of love for the family and for life. A prayer that knows how to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to suffer with those who suffer.
So here is what I, with my collaborators, have thought to propose today: to renew the prayer for the Synod of the Bishops on the family. We are taking up this commitment again next October, when the ordinary Assembly of the Synod, dedicated to the family, will take place. I would like for this prayer, and the whole Synod journey, to be animated by the compassion of the Good Shepherd for His flock, especially for persons and families that, for different reasons, are “troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36). So, sustained and animated by the grace of God, the Church can be ever more committed, and ever more united, in the witness of the truth of the love of God and of His mercy for the families of the world, excluding none, whether within or outside the flock. I ask you, please, to not neglect your prayer. All of us – the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, priests, religious, lay faithful – we are all called to pray for the Synod. There is need of this, not of chatter! I also invite those who feel far away, or who are not accustomed to do so, to pray. This prayer for the Synod on the Family is for the good of everyone….. I invite you to hold on to it and keep it with you, so that in the coming months you can recite it often, with holy insistence, as Jesus has asked us. Now, let us say it together.”
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
In you we contemplate
The splendor of true love,
We turn to you with confidence.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
Make our families, also,
Places of communion and cenacles of prayer,
Authentic schools of the Gospel,
And little domestic Churches.
Holy Family of Nazareth
May our families never more experience
Violence, isolation, and division:
May anyone who was wounded or scandalized
Rapidly experience consolation and healing.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
May the upcoming Synod of Bishops
Re-awaken in all an awareness
Of the sacred character and inviolability of the family,
Its beauty in the project of God.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
Hear and answer our prayer. Amen.
Source: Vatican Radio