Sunday, August 11, 2013

My Inheritance

It was such a touching surprise last evening when, after Mass, a gentleman from Morrisonville introduced himself; he used to work at the mill with my grandfather...

   Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time    

I’ve been thinking a lot lately
about my grandparents—
my mother’s parents,
who’ve been gone for more than 25 years now.
Because they were the first to bring me
to the Franklin County Fair.
I remember the hour-long trip 
from Plattsburgh to Malone:
sitting between them on top of the armrest 
in the front seat.
(No doubt, while not yet illegal, 
it was a bad idea even then…)
I remember watching the horse races—
a favorite pastime of my grandfather.
And I remember sitting 
in the grandstand for a concert;
it’s taken me most of the week
to recall who was performing: Boxcar Willie.

My grandparents were big into outings,
whether it was their near-nightly trips to Bingo,
or seasonal trips to fairs or to visit out-of-town relatives.
But what they visited more than anything were churches.
While their home parish was St. Alexander’s in Morrisonville,
I suspect they knew the Mass schedule
for most every church in the North Country.
And they particularly loved to visit shrines—big and small—
wherever they could find them
across northern New York, Vermont, and Québec.
Their house was chock-full of statues and holy cards and prayer books
brought back as sacred souvenirs;
I remember examining them all very closely,
allowing me to be on pilgrimage with them
even if I couldn’t go on the trip.

I think of my grandparents now, not only because of the Fair,
but because Monday will be the thirteenth anniversary
of my ordination as a priest.
My grandparents didn’t live to see that day,
(not from a seat in the cathedral, at least),
but they certainly had a significant part to play in my coming to it.
Along with so many others in those formative years of my youth,
they are responsible for passing on the faith I have today—
a far richer inheritance than any worldly wealth
they would never be able to leave me.
Not preachy or pushy, by example much more than through words,
they taught me that my duties to God—such as Sunday Mass—
were not burdens to be checked off my to-do list;
they were the things which would make sense of all the rest.
Because going to church wasn’t made out to be a chore,
religion seemed quite natural and normal—even fun—
and the elements of our Catholic faith quickly captured my imagination.
But above all, in my grandparents love for me,
I experienced something of God’s love for me.
And because I trusted them,
and I could clearly see that they found God to be trustworthy,
I learned the essence of what it means to believe.

The eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews—
from which this Sunday’s long second reading is taken—
is, in essence, a roll call of heroes of faith.
Biblical figures—like Abraham and Sarah, mentioned by name—
are held up as examples of people who took God at his word,
even when his lofty promises of good things to come
seemed at odds with the weighty challenges of the here and now.
Faith—we’re told—is the substance of what is hoped for
and proof of things not seen.
Hebrews presents us with this inspiring list
lest we forget that we’re surrounded
by so great a cloud of witnesses.  (Heb 12:1)

Upon whose shoulders does your faith stand?
Who gets some of the credit—in ways either great or small—
for the fact that you’re sitting here in this church today?
Whether they’re living or deceased,
we ought to make known to them our gratitude
for such a surpassing gift.

And what about our duty to do the same for others?
Being Catholic isn’t simply about me and Jesus.
We’re part of a vast network,
reaching out across the continents today
and reaching back across the centuries to the Saints of old.
I wouldn’t be here at the altar,
and you wouldn’t be here in the pews,
if it weren’t for generations before us handing on this faith.
Are we doing the same for generations to come?

The Lord’s chosen people firmly believed
that God would rescue them, though they knew not how.
And Christ—we believe—will come again in glory,
though we know not when.
Faith—you see—is living in expectation of the unexpected.
The Lord typically keeps his promises in rather surprising ways.
And the most surprising of all
is that he leaves so much up to us:
depending on us to safeguard and pass on this heritage of faith.
(Hey—just look at who he picks to be his priests…)
At Baptism, God plants in our souls the capability of believing—
an openness to trust in him and him alone.
But only we can activate that gift of faith:
only we can unleash its power to change our lives—and the world.
And so we need to imitate the Master’s example,
who waits at table on his faithful servants;
we need to set out a bountiful and vibrant feast of faith
on which our children and grandchildren,
our coworkers and neighbors, can feed their souls.

Maybe all my grandparents’ travels
were an expression of their true desire:
for a better homeland, a heavenly one.
And while they did not live to see 
their grandson’s ordination,
I can only hope they joyfully greeted it from afar.

Praise God for such heroes of faith!
Praise God for all who have helped us to believe!


David Munson said...

What a touching story! It sounds like you really had great times with your grandparents. I can see why you’re so fond of them. I’m sure that wherever they are, they are proud of what their grandson has become.

David Munson

Fr. Joe said...

Thanks, David!