Giving the gift of my family

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The World Day of Prayer for Vocations is April 26.

Tracy Murphy is a wife, mother and once communications professional for the Church now serving as a stay-at-home mom.

When my toddler son was an infant, I began a little prayer tradition.

As bedtime draws near, he and I cuddle in the dark, slowly rocking together as I softly sing three Hail Marys in his ear. Then, as I lay him in his crib and whisper to him how much God, his daddy and I love him, I pray a silent prayer of my own:

Oh Jesus, please protect my sweet, precious baby. Please bring him safely to the morning. But should you choose to bring him home to you, please, oh Lord, give me the strength to bear the loss, and the faith to see your eternal kingdom.

I cherish this prayer, even as it sometimes frightens me, for it causes me to daily ponder that which Our Blessed Mother so beautifully embraced: that our greatest joy and deepest peace as parents will come when we entrust our children to the loving will of Our Father.

I have learned much in recent years of this mysterious truth.

I am the oldest of five children. In 2009, my sister Angela (whose religious name is Sister Mary Servant of the Cross) entered the Servants of the Lord and Virgin of Matara missionary community. Several years later, her twin, my brother Andy entered their “twin” order of priests, the Institute of the Incarnate Word (IVE). God willing, Sister Servant will profess final vows in 2016, and Brother Andy will be ordained a missionary priest in 2019.

I can now say with all sincerity that our family is overjoyed and blessed beyond words by the twins’ “YES” to the Lord’s will for their lives. We have been forever changed by their gift, and could not imagine them walking any other path.

It is difficult to admit we didn’t always feel this way. Shouldn’t every faithful Catholic celebrate the gift of a religious vocation to the Church?

Yes. But the reality is that just as Joseph and Mary experienced “great anxiety” at the sudden loss of their 12-year-old son in the temple, we may also struggle with the disorienting loss of our own loved ones, particularly when they are “lost” to the piercing beauty of the Cross and all that its mission entails.

In the first few years after the twins’ entry into the convent and seminary, my entire family struggled. We mourned their inaccessibility. We mourned their detachment. We even mourned their future, which would assuredly pull them to faraway and potentially dangerous missionary lands. It was a very hard transition for all of us.

It is so tempting to grasp onto our children and our families. To a certain extent, it is natural and good for us to shield one another. Even Mary and Joseph went to great lengths to protect the Child Jesus, and they undoubtedly loved him with at least the same intensity with which we love our own children.

But the fact of the matter is this: they knew from day one that their son belonged to the Father. And when the time came, Mary gave him up to the Way of the Cross. She consecrated him as a baby in the temple, and she walked with him every single day, all the way to his crucifixion.

Certainly, death and martyrdom are very rare callings, and I join all mothers in praying that we, and our children, be spared this painful sword. But whether our children are called to the vocation of marriage or that of consecrated life, we can be certain of this: they will know suffering in the path God has for them. But only there will they will discover abundant joy and the greatest of peace.

We are called—as parents, as siblings, and as Christians—to surrender our lives and our loved ones in total consecration to the Way of the Cross, and to pray for absolute conviction in the many blessings promised to those who choose this path.

As we continue this Year of the Consecrated Life, may every father, mother, brother and sister pray for the courage to love the Lord so completely, that we are willing to surrender everything, and everyone, to his holy will.

COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

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The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.