Sunday, August 20, 2017

Heavenly helpers

     My Uncle Dave, my Moms brother and a Catholic priest, was an emormous influence on my life. Many a week did I spend reading through books he would have nonchalantly left on a counter for 'anyone interested' while I was growing up. They were mostly spiritual classics and lives of the saints. In grammar school we moved into the same parish he was stationed and each Saturday he led my girlfriends and me in devotion to the rosary through the sodality he ran. In High School he was the chaplain at Sacred Heart Academy, my philosphy teacher, and he also took me to Lourdes and Paris. a few years later, just after my dad had died, he took me on a trip to Medjugorje where I met my Freddy. To say he was formative in my life is putting it mildly.

     Story has it that he was born into the first Little Flower parish in Brooklyn, NY soon after St. Therese was canonized. When my grandmother Ellen Graham Farley gave birth, the nuns told her he would have a vocation to the priesthood. My grandmother had great devotion to St Therese all through her life, as did my own mom. My grandmother prayed for my uncles vocation particularly to the Little Flower.  If ever my mom was particulalry worried about something, she would pray to the Little Flower, St Therese,  and she'd sometimes take out an envelope and give it to you to place under your pillow during the novena prayers. Inside the envelope were the petals of a rose that my grandmother had recieved after praying a novena to St Therese in answer to prayer for my Uncles vocation.

     As a child I was fascinated by that envelope, though I only saw it a few times, as it was precious to my Mom. I can still see the beautiful handwriting belonging to my grandmother in my minds eye, and I can feel the temptation to open it and look at the flowers that were sent as a heavenly sign. I do not know where that envelope went after my Mom passed away, but I hope one of my siblings has it.  St Therese has remained a favorite saint for all of my siblings and for me as well. My sisters all have her name in one form or another either at birth, or in conformation. She's a reliable  family go-to. A regular in all our family litanies. Saints are like that sometimes, they choose you long before you choose them.

     My John-Paul headed off to the minor seminary today. He is many years away from making a decision to the priesthood, but one large step closer than he was yesterday. This isn't a huge surprise for anyone who knows JP. We've had inklings of it since he was about seven. John-Paul was the last child in our family that my Uncle Dave baptized. John-Pauls middle name is David in his honor. My Mom  and my uncle were both thrilled when they found we chose John-Paul as his name, though Fred and I argued about it. My obstinate Fred said the Pope was  already a saint, and I argued he wasn't official yet and that a child should be named after a canonized saint. Fred said our JP would just have to wait. I finally gave in.

      My Uncle Dave died on Divine Mercy Sunday when my John-Paul was just a baby. Pope John-Paul II died on Divine Mercy Sunday 2005 when my John-Paul was almost 8. Its been my opinion my son was named after two saints not one.John-Paul happily celebrated when Pope John-Paul was canonized in 2014 after hearing his own name story for so many years.

     I am meandering through this strange tale because I think its important to remember how often our faith has been first entrusted to us by our families. Those who love and go before us so often shape who we are, and how we come to know a loving God and Father. God sows seeds and if we watch, and watch closely, sometimes we see them sprout up. God finds ways to speak to us if we have the ears to hear (Matthew 11:15).

     Today I couldn't help but listen. John-Paul spent the summer working on his application. I have never seen so much paperwork in my life. No need to worry about the current screening process, its tighter than a jar of peanut butter at a squirrels convention. It was a long process and exhausting at times. Then, finally, one day about 3 weeks ago- acceptance.

     We had spent so much time on the paperwork, that when he finally was accepted I gulped hard and realized he'd be gone in a few weeks.  I asked him when he was entering, he told me August 20th. I gulped harder, my Moms birthday.

     So, this morning I woke up, on what would have been my moms 90th birthday, and I told her in my prayers that today I supposed I had a chance to give her one last birthday gift, my John-Paul. I pushed back the tears for the sake of the younger kids, and helped JP pack his bags into his car. Then we all drove to DC and unpacked him, and met fellow seminarians, and  formators and priests, and ate some cookies and prayed Vespers before hugging our third son goodbye.
     If I'm unable to do a good Irish goodbye, I at least opt for a quick one, and today was no different. We were off as quickly as possible. The kids cried and we talked them through it, and reminded them he wasn't going so far like Peter, but would come back soon and visit. I texted my sisters from the car, and they all, so faithfully, cried along with me. As we drove Fred said we should do something cheery to lift thekids  up a bit and so we stopped for dinner at a Chinese place they all love.

     When we stepped from the car and I was confronted with an entire hedgerow of pink and red roses. It almost knocked me over. Sophie ran over to look at all the roses with her sisters.  I felt as though St. Therese had never made herself so clear to me in all my life. And so on our way out of the restaurant, when we were all in better spirits, I asked Fred to pick me three roses. When I got home tonight, I cut the petals from the roses and I placed them in an envelope and wrote in my best handwriting "In answer to prayer from the Little Flower", and I sealed it. Tonight, I will place it under my pillow, tomorrow I will put it away for safeguarding with memories that mark this day as a blessed one.