When we walked in the door of the small town parish we were a bit late. Mass hadn't started yet, but we barely had time to get in our seat before it did. It was an unpretentious parish that we sometimes visit nearby when our schedule is hectic. It is not our home parish, but it is close, orthodox, reverent and simple.
As we tiptoed in the door an elderly usher stepped in our path and smiled, "Would you three be willing to take up the gifts this morning?" I hesitated, "Well sure, but we are not members here and we are not really dressed for the honor." He said, "That's OK, we'd like you to present the gifts this morning." The profoundness of this request did not strick me until later. We went in and sat down.
During the collection we stepped to the back of the church and put ourselves in position to process forward with the bread and wine. As I looked up at the altar I was struck again by God's mercy on our family. At that very moment, on Pentecost Sunday 2007, we were celebrating the birthday of the Church, but for us it was even more personal. This was our 13th Anniversary of being received into the Catholic Church. We had been received into full communion with the Church on Pentecost Sunday 1994. So this morning, Janet and I and all our kids turned 13 years old as Catholics.
I was impressed that the Lord had remembered and used this bent-over gentleman to offer us the honor of taking up the gifts for our Lord and the Church that morning. I looked up the long isle and stared at the altar. I was deeply moved. It is the altar of sacrifice, the table of the banquet meal, the center of our life together — and the place where our family had the most cosmic, eternal and profound event to ever impact our lives.
At the altar of a Catholic Church 13 years ago some of us were baptized, all of us received confirmation (except little Emily who was only 2 years old at the time), and we received the Body and Blood of our Lord for the first time. Needless to say we were all in tears.
(Picture to left: Our reception into the Catholic Church with Fr. Ed Fride presiding. In the picture I am holding Emily as she is being baptized. Charlotte is right behind me, Jesse behind her and Janet and Cindy behind him. This took place at Christ the King in Ann Arbor Michigan on Pentecost Sunday, May 22, 1994. In many ways, it was best day of our lives and certainly no decision Janet and I have made together has had such a lasting impact on us and our family.)
Yesterday as I walked up the isle with my faithful wife Janet and our daughter Emily (now 15) I was again overcome with emotion. "Thank you Lord for making me a Catholic — and my whole family! As I present this bread and wine to you and it is placed on your altar as an offering, so I give all my life, my thoughts, my family, my time, my talents, my failings, my achievement, my ALL to you. Please take it and turn it into yourself. Mold us into saints and a family that brings glory to you!"
By the time we reached the priest in the front I had again placed my whole life on the Altar, I had renewed my devotion to Our Lord and his Church. Inwardly I had a beautiful moment of joy and ecstacy. I was a Catholic and overjoyed again with that reality.
God knew were we were coming to that little parish yesterday morning. He remembered what happened thirteen years ago! He wanted us to know he remembered so he had the little man stop us as we entered the church. God gave us a small birthday gift in that gentle usher and the privelege of offering ourselves again on His Altar.
When we came into the Church our family numbered six (Janet, myself, Cindy, Jesse, Charlotte and little Emily). Today our family numbers fourteen (son-in-law Ben with Dominic, Damian, and Gianna; daughter-in-law Anna with Joshua, Maria Faustina, and Samuel). Look what God got started :-) and what a great day to celebrate.