April 30, 2021

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Easter Vigils to remember

Sean GallagherI was 17 when I experienced an Easter Vigil for the first time. It was a moment in my life that I’ll never forget.

In the spring of 1988, I went on a spring break trip to Italy sponsored by the Latin Club of Shelbyville High School, where I was a student. The trip happened to fall during Holy Week.

Several high schools from across the country participated in the trip, which was organized by a Catholic high school in Philadelphia.

We arrived in Rome on Good Friday. On Holy Saturday morning, the Philadelphia group announced that it had received at the last minute several tickets to the Easter Vigil to be celebrated at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. They offered them to anyone who wanted them.

I immediately accepted one, even though I didn’t know at the time the significance and liturgical richness of the Easter Vigil.

It was powerful to worship with Pope John Paul II (who shook my hand while processing out of the basilica after the liturgy) and thousands of worshipers from around the world. Some 33 years later, my memories of that moment remain sharp.

But my recollection of a more modest Easter Vigil celebrated earlier this month at Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis will surpass those 1988 memories in my heart and mind.

That’s because it was the first Easter Vigil for my 16-year-old son Raphael.

On Palm Sunday evening, he asked me, wholly on his own, if he could attend the Easter Vigil. I gave my approval right away. Raphael ended up assisting as an altar server.

As a father who deeply loves the Catholic faith and tries (however imperfectly) to make it the center of my life, Raphael’s request made me happier than I can say.

Watching him assist at this most holy of liturgies in a cassock and surplice in the sanctuary and lighting tapers of people in the congregation was beautiful.

It was a small fulfilment of dreams that my wife Cindy and I have had since we had Raphael baptized as an infant. Here he was, a growing young man asking wholly on his own to take part in and assist with a liturgy replete with beauty, but also one that the Church does not obligate the faithful to attend.

When Raphael was baptized, Cindy and I freely took on the sacred task of forming him in the faith.

Speaking for myself, I know that I often fail in this duty in one way or another pretty much on a daily basis. But the dreams of our son—and his four brothers—freely embracing the faith has never faded. Neither has the grace of God, which is the source of any good that comes from my life as a father.

As much as I already cherish the memory of Raphael taking part in the Easter Vigil, I remain sober in knowing that he certainly isn’t at the end of his journey of faith. He continues to need the support of Cindy and me and so many others to help him get where God is calling him to be.

All parents have dreams for their children that they hold in their hearts from the time they are infants. There’s no greater dream for us who are Catholic parents than to see our children fully embrace the faith that will lead them to be with God forever in heaven.

Rejoice with the joy of the risen Christ when you catch a glimpse of such a wonderful dream coming true. †

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