The other Friday night I helped shovel lackluster chicken nuggets (GF so no surprise there) and carrot sticks into the mouths of my young before we jumped in the car to head downtown, fighting wrong way rush hour traffic into the city. (I don’t know what constitutes a good Friday night for you, but I’ll just leave that on the table for your next date night consideration.)
Our destination was the basement of Denver’s beautiful cathedral, where we met up with dozens of our friends, several more dozens of their children, and a handful of our favorite priests and religious brothers, members of a relatively young religious order, the Servants of Christ Jesus.
I’ve written about them before because they’ve been around just a little bit longer than we have, as a family. (I even had the privilege of teasing out some of the common threads between our two vocations in a piece I wrote synthesizing the master thesis penned by their newest ordained priest.) And because they are actually a pretty significant component of what we’re trying to do, as a family.
We’re trying to raise saints.
I first heard Fr. John Ignatius use that phrase in a talk by the same name, given in a parish hall to a handful of young couples with brand new babies and toddlers. I had one baby in arms and one in utero at that time, and I remember looking a little disbelievingly at the squirming blonde head on my lap and wondering when – if ever – the stuff he was talking about would apply to us.
One line in particular stood out to me in particular, perhaps because you can take the girl out of the party scene but you can’t, well, you know… but it was this: Catholics throw the best parties. The biggest feasts. You want your children to grow up knowing this… recognizing it from what they have lived and seen played out in your family and in the larger community you’re building around them.
I’m paraphrasing because it was at least 5 years ago, but the concept of our Faith being incarnate and tangible, not only in the liturgy and in the way we worship together, but also in the way we recreate and celebrate together, touched me deeply. And it thrilled me to think that I could help my children understand the richness and the beauty of Catholicism by throwing great parties.
I’m not talking here about cake toppers and printables, or about elaborate tables with perfectly-seasoned ethnic food representing whomever’s feast day it might be (though if you’ve got a Hobby Lobby loyalty card and you aren’t afraid to use it, power to you!)
I’m talking here more about cultivating a deeply-rooted and life-giving community of like minded families and friends, and of freely welcoming people into that profound experience of belonging.
Of having your kids excited about so-and-so’s birthday party, yes, but also knowing that we’re going to be praying over that child as a community before the candles are blown out on the cake.
To have had the experience at least once (I’m told it becomes more possible – not easier, but more possible – when they’re a little older) of watching the candlelit sanctuary explode into light with the rising strains of the Alleluia during the Easter Vigil Mass, and then spilling out into the parking lot with plastic cups of champagne (or apple cider) and streamers and platters and platters of cookies and celebrating because He is Risen. And of not only intellectually knowing that, but also feeling it in their hearts and in their imaginations.
And oh, how I want them to remember the hours we spent around the dinner table with men in white collars and black habits, (and sisters too! though we haven’t found our nun niche quite yet) sharing stories and plates of spaghetti and highlights from our week, bantering over politics and sports and news and life. And woven throughout it all, an awareness of the Lord’s presence, an unconscious sprinkling of theology that has nothing to do with lectures and classrooms and everything to do with a living witness of the Faith.
So that’s why we made our way into the basement of the Cathedral that evening, stepping into what could have easily been mistaken for a preschool co-op with dozens of children scattered in rows of seats and dotting the center aisle.
Guitar chords rang out as Br. Peter led the group in praise and worship, and then deep toddler reverence (which is louder and more, ah, intense than regular reverence) fell upon our little group as Fr. John processed in with Jesus in the monstrance.
While Fr. knelt at the end of our time of Adoration to sing the Divine Praises, little knees bent around him (and some full body toddler sprawling was also in play, because it might have been bedtime or maybe just some really charismatic 2 year olds), and somebody captured this:
That’s what we’re trying to do here. Point them to Him.
And these good men are helping lead us along the way, pointing us towards Jesus, bringing Him to us in the sacraments, and knitting our community together in worship and play.
If any of us do, in fact, succeed at raising saints, it will only be by the grace of God.
Thankfully, He hasn’t left us totally to our own devices. I am so grateful for our community here in Denver, and I am also painfully aware that it is all too unique. My prayer is that as the New Evangelization grows and matures, and as the first line of those of us who were formed in it go out into the world and the larger Church to serve, this will not be a crazy, off-the-beaten path thing. That other cities around the world will have this kind of community, even while society is secularizing all around us.
That we would find one another, grasp hands, and then invite someone in. And then do it agin. And again.
May we be bold enough to attempt raising saints. (And may God grant us ALL the graces and the resources we need to make at least a good college try.)