April 11, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Mom and Dad were truly my teachers in life and in faith

April is my most sentimental month. All the signs of new life begin to iarrive. It also happens to be the month of my birthday.

This year, I will celebrate my 70th birthday and my 21st year as a bishop. It is still true, every year gets shorter!

I have figured out why I am not particularly excited about celebrating birthdays like I used to be. The years are coming around too quickly, and there is more to do in God’s vineyard. The opportunities are countless, and the time seems so short. Birthdays are a timely reminder that God is in charge.

The other day, a friend said that when we are young we look forward to birthdays because we want to be older. Now we celebrate our birthday because we are grateful to be here.

It really is not so much a matter of fearing death, although for a while despite my faith that may have been a factor. Now I peacefully and confidently believe that life in eternity will be even better and will last forever. At the same time, I pray for more time to repent and make amends for my sins so that my years of purgation are as few as possible!

Birthdays usually begin with an early morning call from my brother and

sister-in-law, followed shortly by calls from friends like my Saint Meinrad classmate, Benedictine Father Gregory Chamberlin.

These phone calls make it even easier to remember my early life-roots in prayer. Needless to say, my prayer is laced with thoughts of my Mom and Dad, who are surely in heaven.

The older I get and the more I experience in life, the more grateful I am for the blessings of having such a wonderful family. Mom and Dad were truly my teachers in life and in faith. With afterthought, I would say they may have taught me more by the way they lived than by what they told me.

Even in his last days, after Dad had pretty well lost his ability to remember things, when I would say a Mass at home with him, he knew the responses to every prayer and responded vigorously.

Before he needed nursing care, when I would visit him at home, I would sometimes sleep in later than he did. Inevitably, I would hear him say his morning prayers out loud, the same prayers that he and Mom and my brother and I said together at the breakfast table. Those kinds of family practices affect us deeply and forever.

Mom and Dad were active in our local parish apostolate in Jasper long before the word “collaboration” in ministry became popular. They offered generous leadership in parish organizations and projects, all the while wondering and worrying if they had the ability to do the job. While he could still go, especially after retirement, Dad was a regular visitor to shut-ins. Mom taught at Holy Family School (for very little) until failing health took its toll.

She was a regular reader of the diocesan weekly newspaper. If Dad was, he never said much about it. But Mom used to comment on Evansville Bishop Henry Grimmelsman’s weekly column, a memory that motivated me to agree to write a column when I became a bishop.

These and many other thoughts remind me of how much our family environment equips us for our life of faith, and does so in simple ways.

For you parents who wonder how much influence you have on your children, I can tell you that many a time I resisted (or acted like I was ignoring) Mom and Dad’s supervision of my life and faith. But it made its mark, and I am eternally grateful.

Memories of my seminary and monastery roots could fill books. At age 21, the monastery at Saint Meinrad became my new home for life, I thought. I did spend most of the next 30 years there, and loved it from the first day that I entered the seminary.

Two challenges from my parents served me well in learning to live in a community of like-minded men. Mom taught me never to claim privileges for myself that every other person in the group could not claim. She reminded me that I am no better or more privileged than the next person for we are all God’s children.

And Dad drummed into my head that “a job worth doing is worth doing well.” But most of all, my parents taught me to pray and to be willing to serve. They did so until they could do no more.

As I look to the future, I pray that I might emulate the humility, generosity and serenity of my Mom and Dad. I am so conscious of the gift that my brother and I received. I hope this encourages you parents. †

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