Kaitlyn Lenne Daughter of God and natural-born teacher
Firstly, Happy Father's Day to all the men out there that have supported, loved, and cared for loved ones! Whether you are a father or not, I welcome you to reflect on your paternal influences throughout your life as I reflect on mine.
My dad has always been there for me from cutting my hair when I was younger and picking me up when my car breaks down. He has taught me how to drive, change a tire, make the perfect gravy for dinner, and, most importantly, give of yourself to those surrounding me. He has always been a person of giving. When volunteering his time to help build houses to serving food at the local homeless shelter, he always taught us that giving is better than receiving. And let me tell you that this makes it extremely difficult to give him gifts for the holidays! We always have to bug him to make a list when, in reality, the ultimate gift was a quiet day without my sisters and I annoying him with SpongeBob SquarePants quotes.
Now, I will say many of the presents he got for his birthday or Christmas were pretty predictable. There are endless ties, coffee cups, tools, and all of your typical "dad" gifts. I think his list got more creative after I gave him a "Jar of Nothing" because that is what he said he wanted, nothing. It was quite literally an empty jar. I don't know if he loved that gift as much as I did, but he still has it on his shelf, so I think that says something (maybe a reminder to be careful what you wish for?)! It is hard to give someone a thoughtful gift when he gives the best gift every day, the gift of unconditional love. No matter what I do, he is always there to (loudly) support me!
Come this Father's Day, I have had the chance to reflect on all the gifts I have given him. It makes me wonder, what do you give to a father who has given you everything? How does a simple tie or coffee cup compare to the gift of life? How does a simple, "Happy Father's Day" honor all that he has done for me? Whether you have a father figure on earth or not, you do have the best one of all, in Heaven. God, our Father in Heaven, is the perfect Father and the best gift we have been given. He helps us up when we fall short, welcomes us home with open arms, and most importantly, loves us unconditionally.
A perfect example of a father's love is in the gospel Luke 15:17-24, The Prodigal Son.
"Coming to his senses the youngest son thought, 'How many of my Father's hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my Father and I shall say to him, "Father, I have sinned against Heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers."' So he got up and went back to his Father. While he was still a long way off, his Father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.' But his Father ordered his servants, 'Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.' "
"He ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him." The Father didn't roll his eyes or turn his son away. He simply welcomed him home. He did what our Holy Father does for us time and time again, he welcomes us home even when we feel like we should be banished. The younger son was shocked by his Father's reaction. Why would my Father take me back after all I have done against him? Why does he love me after seeing who I became? If you had the opportunity to ask the Father in that story what the best gift he has ever received was, it wouldn't be a tie or coffee cup. It would be when his son came home. Wouldn't that be the best gift you could give God today, simply just coming home? With all that has been happening in our world today, you might not physically be able to visit him in his house this Sunday. However, the beautiful gift he has given you is that he has made you the Church. God is ever-present in and around you. Wherever you find yourself today, that ground is holy. When you center yourself towards God, your very life is an act of worshiping him. Every time you mention his name, you are home.
This right here shows us what fatherly love is. Our Holy Father sees us for who we truly are, and still, we are invited to the holy feast. When it comes to giving gifts, God gave the best one to you. He gave his only son over to be crucified for your sake. Now I don't know about you, but if that is what he gave you as a present, what kind of present can you give him to top that? In the hustle of your day, find a moment to thank Our Heavenly Father for the many gifts he has given us every day and think, what can I give him for Father's Day?
This Father's Day, let us be grateful for: -Our fathers, by birth or adoption, who love us and support us through life. -Our church leaders, who take on the paternal role of guiding us through life. -God, our Father, who will always teach justly and grant us boundless mercy. May you always remember the best gift is not always wrapped in a box with a cute little bow. Sometimes the best gift of all is love. May God bless us all and help us to lead with love!
Catherine Smith Student of the New Evangelization and Theological Studies
This past August, I loaded my tiny car up with all the possessions I own to road trip across the country. Leaving Illinois and my entire “village” of family and friends behind, I responded to a call that the Lord placed on my heart to move to Denver, Colorado. After just two weeks of living in the mile-high city, the chaplain of my graduate school invited me on a Saturday morning hike. Responding “yes” to his email, I had no idea the impact this day in the mountains would have on my spiritual life.
At 3:30 am, my roommates and I crawled out of bed, chugged coffee, grabbed our gear, and set off for the mountains with the rest of the crew. As we pulled up to the trailhead of Mount Flora around 5:30, we had a 6-mile hike ahead of us. I realized quickly into our journey that I was still not acclimated to the altitude of Colorado, had not packed enough clothing for warmth, did not bring enough water or snacks, and was far more out of shape than I thought. When I signed up for a 6-mile hike, I never took the time to research that we would end at a 13,132-foot elevation. This hike was about to humble me greatly.
About a half-hour into the hike, I had to take a break almost every three steps so I could try to breathe without wheezing noises. The trail to the top consisted of a “narrow path,” forcing us to walk in a single file line throughout the majority of the hike. I hardly spoke to anyone in the group, partially due to being in single file, but mostly because I was afraid of passing out if I tried to talk, breathe, and walk all at the same. It was so windy throughout the hike that my lips dried up, my fingers went numb, and I was just cold. I overall believe my many embarrassing moments throughout this hike could land me a front-page spot in the “Hiking for Dummies” manual on what you should not do when summiting a mountain. After hiking for a long time, I saw what I thought was Mount Flora’s summit. As I made it over the hill, I saw… a false peak. As we passed over the false summit and saw the correct peak ahead of us this time, I finally recognized how many other people were very slowly inching forward in our hike as well. We were struggling together.
After an hour and a half climb, seeing the top filled me with so much relief. The sun was shining, and everyone was smiling. My climb to the top of Mount Flora entailed a deep and personal reflection of whether my legs would work after the day came to an end. Additionally, my time standing on the summit of my first “13’er” in Colorado consisted of a deep and personal reflection of my journey with the Lord. We sat on the top of the mountain for about an hour in prayer with a view that genuinely took my breath away (it also could have been the altitude that left me with no breath… I’ll leave that up to you to decide). All the mental and physical struggles that I endured while hiking Mount Flora culminated in great awe and wonder at the Lord’s Creation. “It was worth it,” I kept thinking to myself. I sat at the top of the mountain recognizing the analogy for my life in Christ, striving to climb the mountain toward holiness. This humbling, but beautiful hike was beginning to change the way I understand my journey towards Heaven.
As I began the hike unprepared, slightly humiliated, exhausted, and filled with second guesses of whether the hike was “worth it,” I started my life in Christ, feeling like I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The darkness of a 5:30 am hike compares to the darkness of my heart when Jesus first began to call me to deeper communion with Him. The lack of snacks and water I packed compares to the lack of daily prayer, sacramental nourishment, and formation I began with as my conversion towards discipleship initially sparked. My struggles throughout the hike relate to the countless struggles I have endured in choices to let go of many sins, attachments, and worldly desires that have clouded my desire for the Lord. The “narrow path” we hiked relates to the moments in my life I have had to sacrifice things to walk on the narrow path that God desires for each of us (Mt 7:13-14; Lk 13:23-25).
The false summit we encountered compares to moments where I have pridefully believed I “arrived” at holiness or rid myself of an unhealthy attachment… only to realize the smallness of myself compared to the perfection, I am called to (Mt 5:48); when I sin or fall again. Looking in front and behind me to see the rest of the crew all struggling together helped me recognize the communal life we share as Christians in this pilgrimage home. We strive together, and we summit together. This is the beauty of the Body of Christ. There are so many moments throughout my hike on Mount Flora where I see the Lord at work in my heart to show me that the scraped knees, wheezing instead of breathing, numb fingers, and so much more relate to our childlike climb back to the Father’s arms. We struggle much, especially at certain stages of the journey, but we trust that He is with us, and we trust the challenging climb will someday end.
Throughout my hike, I had a deep desire to summit the mountain regardless of if it took me all day. In the same way, the hope I have for Heaven makes every struggle and sacrifice worth the journey because I trust that the summit will be worth it. One of the most significant battles we face in our spiritual hike with the Lord is having the longing and determination to continue moving forward amidst the narrow path, the trials, and the moments where we fall. This desire and confidence must be put at the forefront of our minds to stand back up after falling, even though our legs feel like they might give out, and embrace the path towards Heaven, which is the fulfillment of our hearts deepest longing (CCC 1023).
As I continue to hike Colorado mountains, I look back on my first intense hike with gratitude for the prayerful reflection it has given to my soul and the humility it has taught me about my spiritual life’s progress. In continuing to hike the mountain of life here on earth, my day on Mount Flora helps me to remember that one day the summit of Heaven will come. May the Lord increase our desire for intimacy with Him in this life and for eternity with Him after. May our false summits, side aches from the lack of oxygen, struggles along the way, and moments of deep humility aid in our sanctification and journey towards Heaven.
Let us pray for the grace to keep climbing! Verso l’alto!
friar Ian Bremar, OFM Conv. Pastoral Associate for University Ministry
Alone on Mount Horeb, having fled for his life from Jezebel and her forces, the voice of the Lord comes to the prophet Elijah and asks, “Why are you here?” (1 Kings 19:9, 13).
When I was first discerning a vocation to the Conventual Franciscan friars, Bro. Tim Unser gave me Chapter 19 from 1 Kings to read and reflect upon. At that time I was only nineteen years old - still a teenager - and charmed by the image of God coming to Elijah, not in the wind, earthquake, or fire, but in the small whispering sound. I don’t think I contemplated much on why I was there on retreat with a vocation director. Rather, I was struck that God does not always communicate in grand or obvious ways. It was a comfort to me, for though I felt called to the Franciscans and wanted to become a religious brother, there were no ostentatious signs pointing me in that direction from on high. Perhaps only a still, quiet voice. Yet the question, "Why are you here?", would plague my mind both consciously and subconsciously throughout my time in formation.
Cut to seven years later - the summer before I would profess solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as a Friar Minor Conventual. I was landing back in San Antonio, TX after five weeks of studying Spanish in Costa Rica. Just a few days later I was going to take yet another flight, this time for a pilgrimage to Italy. Standing in the airport terminal ladened with bags and hundreds of strangers passing by, an overwhelming thought crossed my mind: It feels like so much of my life has been an effort to get away. Away from what, I couldn’t tell you, but unlike Elijah, I at least knew I wasn’t fleeing Jezebel’s soldiers. On pilgrimage, though, that familiar query, "Why are you here?", resurfaced and leaned its annoying head on my shoulder.
As friars all preparing to profess solemn vows our pilgrimage group dove into our Franciscan heritage, soaking in the sites significant to our founder and cherished by the saints of our order - Rome, Greccio, La Verna, Rivo Torto, and of course Assisi. We visited breath-taking shrines and humble chapels, and every place filled me with joy and a deeper intimacy with St. Francis and Jesus, our Lord and brother. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t admit that perhaps the most savored part of the experience was all the delectable Italian food. But I was there for more than just sacred sites and sumptuous fare. I was searching. Though final profession was less than two months away, I was hoping that some excursion to one of St. Francis’ beloved sanctuaries would affirm that I was where I was supposed to be, that I was indeed called to be a friar, and that I would have some sense as to why.
On one such outing we were given the entire afternoon to hike about the Carceri on Mt. Subasio above Assisi. The natural grottos among the forest were favored places of hermitage for Francis and the early friars. I preferred these opportunities when we were expected to be alone for prayer and reflection, and finding a resting spot on the trail, I cracked open my Bible and ate my sack lunch. I turned to the passage Bro. Tim had given me on my discernment retreat seven years prior, the one I had already chosen to have read at my solemn profession: 1 Kings 19.
I was once again amused by the angel imploring Elijah to eat. Food had always been a significant feature of my Franciscan experience, and this pilgrimage was no exception. I also realized that not once but twice in the chapter a heavenly voice asks Elijah why he is there, and this especially resonated with me. Deep within my soul, I had been asking myself that same question throughout the pilgrimage. The prophet responds on both occasions that he fled because of persecution for his fidelity to the Lord. I wasn’t being persecuted, but I was reminded of that haunting notion that came to me at the airport between these two trips abroad. So much of my life had felt like an effort to get away. More questions ran through my mind. Had I been running from something? A dysfunctional family? The world? Myself? And where was I going, anyway? How was I being called to minister as a friar? I wrestled with some of these questions, but I also recognized that the whole pilgrimage had seemed like a metaphor for my vocational journey. I go where I am led, not knowing what I’ll do or what I’ll find. As for a small whispering sound, like Elijah’s experience on Mt. Horeb, something akin to that was yet to come.
A few days later I ventured to the Bosco di San Francesco, a forest just beyond the wall near the Basilica of St. Francis. I had expectations. For one, and this is embarrassing to confess, but I kind of thought being a friar would allow me to enter the forest grounds free of charge - or at least with a discount. I thought the trek alone through the woods would be full of gorgeous views and fill me with profound insights about my vocation. And I assumed that the trail would be circular, ending where it began. But I was wrong on nearly all accounts. Indeed, I paid full price, and admittedly the forest and olive groves, though lovely, were not especially spectacular. Nevertheless, onward I walked in the misty July humidity. Surely the trail would wind itself around. But no. It just kept going down the hill, and I kept getting farther and farther away from the city of Assisi, breathless and sweaty.
At last I came upon the ruined walls that had once surrounded a monastery, and waiting at the end of the road was a little chapel - the Church of Santa Croce. I had journeyed all that way and knew I would have to trudge all the way back uphill in order to return. Though time was short, I had to go inside the chapel. It would be my only reward for all my efforts. I knelt down in the quiet nave of this tiny and nondescript church. The only bit of artwork in the sparse sanctuary was a fresco of the Blessed Mother and St. Helena gesturing to an empty cross.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little dejected. All that hiking, all that time, and I still had to do it all over again in reverse to get back. I breathed in deeply, sighed, and looked up at that cross. Of course it would be a cross. What could be more appropriate? I didn’t have much time to pray there, as I needed to return to the pilgrimage group for vespers. If I had so much wanted an answer to all the doubts and qualms I had about being a friar, the plain and simple cross had to be it, and there probably could be nothing better. This was not a Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus kind of theophany, but maybe it was that small, whispering sound.
As I hiked back up the hill to Assisi, I mulled over that modest little church and fresco. It was a sobering return trip. I felt a little bit like the disillusioned, young Francis as depicted in the statue perched across from the basilica. Nothing about this excursion met my expectations. (I didn’t even get a discount.) But God seemed to be telling me to let go of my expectations - expectations for grandeur, for answers and insights, and even for life experiences to make sense. If we follow Christ, whether as religious or laity, we follow him to the cross, which is the ultimate “letting go,” the utmost self-emptying.
Upon much later reflection on Elijah, I noticed that after the theophany on Mt. Horeb the prophet slowly fades from the larger narrative of 1 & 2 Kings. Like John the Baptist, he must decrease despite his zeal for the Lord. And as I think more about that question which had plagued my mind - “Why are you here?” - and the only semblance of answer I got in that barren sanctuary at the end of a lengthy trail, I don’t think that question matters so much. Our vocations in life are not really about us, but if we follow our call to its greatest end we will encounter the cross in some form or other, and with grace we’ll fade away and let Christ be all in all.