Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A True Father: Remembering Fr. Mac and The Reason I'm Still Catholic

A dear companion has passed away.  Father Joseph McNally, (Fr. Mac) a retired priest for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, is sharing in THE great reward after his recent battle with brain cancer.  In Fr. Rick's words from a text to me today, "Father Mac went home to heaven.  The angels welcome another saint."

When I was sharing this news with my fourth graders, since we've been praying for him for the last few weeks, I almost started tearing up right there.  It's amazing to have such emotion (especially me, who isn't all that emotional in public) over a man I haven't seen for a few years.  I can say nothing other than "Father" is the truest word for him.

Fr. Mac was our priest during my entire childhood at St. Barnabas parish on the south side of Indianapolis.  Ask any kid who went to Barnabas in those years:

1. He was always in a good mood
2. He was Irish--like REALLY Irish--and ended every Mass with the Irish Blessing.
3. His birthday was on Leap Day--which was just cool.
4.  He read "The Polar Express" as the Christmas homily every year.

My parents were involved in several committees during those years and when he called our house and I answered, he would always exclaim, "Erica!" with such delight--I can still hear it. I will always remember his smile when seeing MY face. He really lived what Jesus preached on, "Let the children come to me."  It was like I was his favorite.

He retired right about the time I went to college, so for me, St. Barnabas Parish and Fr. Mac can never be separated. (He was there 12-13 years?)

As a college student, I was hit hard with challenges to a faith I was, to be honest, pretty lukewarm about.  Being raised in a predominantly Catholic environment, no one ever questioned my faith, or the reasons for what I valued.  A lot of my life, to that point, was spent living to impress and follow the rules.

That all changed in college and I had TONS of people who not only questioned for themselves the meaning of religion, but the Catholic religion in particular.  In moments when I was losing the battle and Catholicism just didn't make any sense, I always remembered my mom and Fr. Mac and their certainty.

Were they crazy?  Were they leading me astray?  Those two were the most intelligent and faithful in my life and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they loved me and wanted my happiness.  My mom and Fr. Mac's example forced me to not just settle for what others were trying to persuade, but to go research the faith myself.  So, I did.  And, by the grace of God, here I am.  I love being Catholic.  I know it's the Truth.  I know I'm fully myself in adhering to the teachings of the Church.

But without this priest and my mom teaching us at home, I would have given up and fallen prey to the tides of popular opinion and thought.

In college, during a period of renewed love for my Catholic faith,  I wrote Fr. Mac a long letter telling him about my life and just how grateful I was for his service to me.  After that point, we wrote each other Christmas cards every year.  I'm so thankful today that I took the time to do that when I was twenty.

Into my adult life, Fr. Mac and I would have those "coincidental" meetings at some random daily Mass and he would take my left hand, see if it had a ring on it, and then say, "I want to be the priest at your wedding when you get married."  He was always very adamant about that. :)  When that day finally comes, I'm guaranteed he'll be there, just not exactly in the way I was picturing!

I'm just one of the thousands that can testify to Fr. Mac's joy and certainty in front of life.  What grace to live in such a way that you delight when you see're not calculating what they might be approaching you with. You aren't already presuming what the conversation might be like. You're just simply rejoicing in the presence of another.  Fr. Mac loved Christ and Christ that came to Him in the people he served...and He wanted everyone to know God's love.

Now that I'm not a kid, I realize that Fr. Mac wasn't perfect, but what a relief that we don't have to be perfect to still point others to what is true.  I'm amazed by how God can take an unmarried childless man and make him a father.  For me, still unmarried, it gives me great hope to see what can be generated by virginity and service to God.  NOTHING is impossible for God.

We love you, Fr. Mac and I'm speaking for many when I say we can't wait to see you again!

Visitation and Funeral both at St. Barnabas.  Friday, October 12th: Vigil Service 7:30pm
Saturday, October 13th: Funeral 10am with burial and reception following.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Belated Reflections of a Godmother and Aunt

August 3rd, 2012: Garrett Matthew Heinekamp entered our world!  He was a beautiful, healthy baby with solid pair of lungs and a sweetness you couldn't get enough of!

I was so happy to be able to babysit him at two weeks old one Saturday afternoon where it was just him and I.  He never wanted to be put down, so we just chilled and watched chick flicks (sorry, buddy) while he slept on my chest all afternoon.  It. Was. Awesome.

There's something about a baby and his dependence on you that makes life so simple and beautiful.  I even was reflecting on Jesus and how He came in that little baby form--God totally helpless but eventual Savior of the World and Master of My Heart.

September 30, 2012: Garrett Matthew entered the world AGAIN, in a totally new way--wiped clean of original sin and forever chosen by God by the Sacrament of Baptism.  The Catholic Church has Sacraments as a tangible sign of an invisible grace (or at least that's what the 4th grade religion textbook says) I got a taste of that this past Sunday at Garrett's Baptism, while standing with his parents and Godfather as the Godmother.

The Rite of Baptism that was used at this ceremony was particularly beautiful, explaining the reasons for my brother and sister-in-law to choose to have Garrett baptized at such a young age and also the meaning of Godparents--as a support to the child and his parents throughout his Christian walk.

Will, Garrett, and I: Proud Godparents of a Precious Baby Boy!
At one point, the words of the prayer went something like this: "Parents and Godparents, you have agreed to raise your child in the light of Faith..."

Wait.  Back up. YOUR child?  This kid is Matt and Allison's...I just give him back when he's screaming bloody murder.  But, it very intentionally was written as "YOUR child" addressing both parents and godparents.  With God's grace and help, I saw kind of the immensity of what I was standing up and proclaiming.  First, that I myself believed in the Holy Catholic Church, my renunciation of sin, and my own personal commitment to live by God's commandments.  Moreover, I was agreeing in a solemn promise to promote the same for Garrett..whether physically or spiritually.

So naturally, I started crying...which is a little embarrassing when you're in front of everyone...

Why? I've always given God a lot of crap for not giving me a husband or a family in the time that I've wanted it.  And suddenly, I realized this was it.  My golden opportunity.  A child of my own, in a sense.  No, I'm DEFINITELY not getting up for 3 am feedings and I don't bear any responsibility for Garrett's physical needs, but something that Garrett really needs also is someone praying for him.  And in this small way, praying for Garrett blesses me abundantly in return and deepens my relationship with God.

Garrett's life and his Baptism have already taught me chapters about God's love for me.  He's inviting me to take praying for Garrett (and others in my life) seriously, because it's REAL and forms a relationship with Him. In a very minute way, God is acknowledging my heart's longing to be a mom.  Moreover, I learned that being a Godmother isn't just for the day of the Baptism--it's a lifelong commitment and one that I never want to forget!

I'm first praying prayers of Thanksgiving that Garrett has two wonderful parents who seek the best for their lives and their kids' lives.  I'm thankful for his extended family and how close most of us live by him.  I pray for Garrett's little heart, that it will always be open to God's beauty.  That God will give him lots of friends to help him along the path.  That he'll find an occupation he loves and find meaning in.  And mostly, that he will always know he's infinitely loved by God--much better than we could ever love him.

At only two months old, Garrett Matthew has truly blessed and enriched my life.  If nothing else, this is the dignity and meaning of human life.  No matter how small or how seemingly insignificant, God uses all of us as signs of something more.  I've also seen the power of Sacraments to really change you to the core.  Sure, we can see these things as simply formalities, but then, we're missing the best part!  Sacraments reveal hidden mysteries through "boring" rites, if we're paying attention.

Garrett, I'm sorry it took me two months to blog about you, my little Godson, but you were SUCH a blessing, it took me awhile to process!  Know that I've taken a daily commitment to praying for you and your  walk with God!  I love you always and will be as much a part of your life as you'll let me! :)