As we were driving into Indiana last night, it was after the sun had went down over the horizon, but the colorful splendor of its’ setting was filling the western sky with a beautiful, warm glow. There were clouds overhead, but there was a break just before the horizon, almost as if a curtain was being dropped on the day. As we continued towards Indianapolis – towards home – the curtain of clouds kept dropping lower and lower, but the glow of the setting sun still shown a little until when we got home.
It was as if God was lifting up the curtain, peaking under, making sure we were making it home OK, until when we got off at the 116th Street exit, he let the curtain fall on this pilgrimage as if to say, welcome home. Job well done, my good and faithful servant.
Because thats what this pilgrimage took – faith. We sacrificed time off work, time off school, the comforts of home and our comfortable little lives and we went into something completely unknown, and something bigger and more amazing than we ever could have imagined. I had so much anxiety leaving for this trip last Sunday, but I had the faith that God had given us the special graces to get this far, that we need to execute – and finish the job – as he would give us some more special graces along the way. We had to have faith that everything would go according to God’s plan, and when you get this many people together, for such a high-profile event in a high-profile city, a lot can happen, and there are so many variables.
I thought back to that early morning Mass last Sunday, and Father Ted’s humbling homily on contrition. As my wife, son, mother and I embarked on this pilgrimage, spending many days together, and then descending into Philadelphia with thousands of other families for this conference of families, learning about what the Catholic family, the Christian family life should be, and hearing this from the many great speakers and ultimately Pope Francis – it became clear that this week was all about seeking forgiveness from others and forgiving others and extending mercy towards others.
And as we learned this week – those “others” begin with our families.
This is what I thought about over the course of 11 hours in the car yesterday, as we returned home. This is what I pondered as I marveled over that sunset that guided us home. But even though I had a lot of time to think – I still can’t quite find the words to explain what we experienced this past week in Philadelphia. I don’t think the words exists in the English language. Maybe they do in Greek or Latin, or some other language, but I am unable to find a word that ultimately comes across what I am feeling from this trip. I think the only one that comes to mind is – divine.
The pilgrimage was divine, because I don’t know how else to explain it. This week, with all the logistics and crowds and anxiety transitioned into something more amazing with each passing day. It was as if the grace of each day compounded upon the previous, and by the time we got to the Papal visit and Sunday Mass – we were truly experiencing a little bit of Heaven on Earth. For two hours, myself, my family, and 1 million other people knew what it was like to be in Heaven. The responding and singing and praising of the faithful in unison, the group of nuns behind us saying prayers prior to Mass. The beautiful, angelic music, and the solemn, but piercing silence – I have never, ever felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as I did on Sunday, and I continue to feel it’s radiance.
I hope it never leaves. I yearn for more. And maybe that was the point of all this. No, not maybe. That was the point of all this. This is why God brought us here – my family and me – to experience His glory in all His splendor, as good as we could on earth. And it wasn’t in some formal setting or in some prestigious location, it was with the people – people like you and me, and families like us, from around the world. This is why I love our faith. This is why I love the Catholic church – because nothing, and I mean nothing, brings people together like our faith does, like God’s grace does. To receive the Eucharist – that’s Jesus Christ – with 1 million other people in a public display of love and peace and consecrated through a man such as Pope Francis, and to see the love and affection with which Pope Francis looks upon anyone he encounters is a pure and graceful blessing.
It was this Mass, and this experience of seeing how Pope Francis brings the love out of everyone that was the final tool that really brought this entire week together. It extracted everything out of us that we learned and heard over the course of the conference, and put it into perspective on how we as families, and we as communities, and we as a society need to live. That through it all, even “through letting the plates fly, and the headaches of children in family life” as Pope Francis said, we must constantly have contrite hearts, and forgive those around us – those closest to us.
We shouldn’t let the day end and still be angry, and to paraphrase Pope Francis in his homily, we need to take a step back and examine one thing – how we talk to one another. How do we talk to our families? Do we shout? Do we yell? Do we give in to the temptation to simply explode and fly off the handle? Or do we simply talk? Do we talk to our families, and do we treat them with the love and respect that they do deserve? Do we encounter our families as if we are encountering God? Because we are encountering God in our family. He is the foundation, the walls, the roof, and the mortar that holds us all together, that shelters us, and protects us from the cold and the wind and the rain. This is what a family is – whether it’s a married couple, a family of 3, or a family of 16. How we treat each other in the family, shapes the world.
This is what I learned. This is what I experienced. If we treated our families with this love and respect, and we as husbands and wives seek to live out the Sacrament of Marriage and use the grace we have been given, and we center our families around Christ, and we teach our kids to love our faith and Jesus and that they can turn to Him for help – we can literally shape society. At the very least, we can help each other live a life of devotion and love towards God and get each other to Heaven. That is our goal, and it’s through the family where we do this.
We can each be a story of reversal, where we can make the choice to reverse our course in life and seek a path for ourselves and our family that is guided towards Christ. And whenever we get off track and are going backwards, we always have that compass to help us reverse course and get back on track.
Along the way, we need to waste time with our kids. Waste it with our spouses. Stop worrying about the distractions in life, or all the things we have to do, and stop worrying about our kids being left behind if they aren’t in the highest level of classes or sports leagues – just let them be kids. And be with them. We as parents, as adults, need to let go of our pride and ambitions and desires and simply be with our kids. That’s what they want. Our time. Put family time first.
We need to pray with our families – together. At night, around the table(yes in public restaurants), and at brief times throughout the day. It can be a simple one sentence prayer walking out the door before putting the kids on the bus or before going to work. This helps us as adults stay focused and it sets an example for our kids.
All of this helps the family – all of our families – become “what we are”. We are so much more in God’s eyes, and he designed us with so much more in mind. We just need to seek His guidance on how to realize our potential as a family.
And we need to let our family be a living Bible. We must set the example, and through this example is how we evangelize in this new evangelization. People will notice. People want more. People want to be inspired to be better people, and have better families. It is our greater responsibility as Catholics and as Christians to walk the walk and show people that we are proud of our love for Christ, and we are not afraid to show it. We need to let God love us, and then we need to extend His love for us through how we treat others.
This all happens through our families and how our families interact with the world through our relationships in school, parish ministries, community involvement, and our work.
We need to pray for each other to make this happen. We need to pray for God to help one another, and we need to ask him to help our families and other families around us.
I am so thankful for this experience, and that my wife Kristy, my son Joseph and I got to attend this World Meeting of Families. I am so thankful that my Mom got to tag along and experience the Papal Visit and Mass on Sunday. I know that Joseph got a lot out of this, more than he will let on, and I can only hope and pray that the things we all learned we can take and practice in our daily lives, and teach and share with others.
We will never forget this pilgrimage and I know the effects of it will stay with us for the rest of our lives. And so as God drew the curtain on this adventure last evening when we returned home, he raised the curtain on a new adventure today where we can live His message and set forth on our mission – the message that the Family is Fully Alive, and that the Love of the Family is Our Mission. We all have this mission.
Thank you Philadelphia for such a wonderful experience, and thank you all for reading.
And thanks be to God for seeing us through this.