It was early Saturday morning and I went to wake up one of my teenage sons. “Get up! We have to get to the procession early.”
He said, “No, Mom, I don’t want to go. I have been gone all week in the Boundary Waters, and I don’t want to waste a Saturday.”
Faith and Family
Originally sympathetic to his plight, I said “OK, you can miss the procession, but you have to go to the Mass at the arena.” He originally bemoaned my offer but conceded when everyone in the house was preparing, with excitement, to get to the procession early to help out.
As I was walking out the door, I had an overwhelming sense that I was making a parental mistake. In my heart, I knew what was going to happen that day was an experience of great beauty and holiness, something that should not be missed if at all possible.
I walked back in and told my son, “You are coming along. This is going to be an important event in your life, and I don’t want you to regret missing it.” There was much push-back, but he reluctantly gave in, got dressed to go and headed out the door.
Shortly after we arrived at starting point for the Eucharist Procession celebrating the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the Diocese of Duluth, buses and people were arriving from all directions. Some folks were dropped off, some walked and some rode bikes. Over the course of about an hour and a half, the large, empty parking lot quickly filled with a massive number of energetic pilgrims.
As people lined up with their groups or parishes, I could see an expression of surprise on my son. There was an acceptance from him: This Catholic event was unlike anything else he had ever experienced, and he was glad he was there.
My son put on a safety jacket and proceeded to the front of the group helping direct people rightly down the road following Jesus. He remained in service throughout the route, identifying concerns and taking care of people as needed.
This Eucharistic Procession and Mass event captured so much of what people ought to know about our Catholic faith. I was pleased that my children were able to see that Christ is with us. We are pilgrims on a journey, and we need to follow him. We are a church of many parts, yet one body. We are an extremely diverse, yet we are unified in purpose.
That day my children saw the variations that God had intended for his people. There were young, old and middle-aged. There were healthy and those who needed assistance, as well as a generous gathering of children and adults with special needs, uncharacteristic of our secular culture, yet beautifully prolife.
There were doctors, lawyers, executives, school children, college students, families, clergy, religious, members of service organizations, altar servers and individuals who had struggled with difficult life situations and homelessness. Participants came from all areas of the diocese, some alone, some with friends, many with whole families and others just because they witnessed an expression of faithfulness that day and wanted to become part of it.
On this day my children were able to see nearly 3,000 fellow northern Minnesotans claim their faith and boldly yet peacefully proclaim their belief that the true presence of Christ has life on earth 2,000 years after his resurrection.
This day my Catholic children did not have to explain, justify or counter others who reject Christ and the church. More fruitful, my children enjoyed a day-long experience surrounded by a community of believers who willingly place themselves under Christ and his mission as authorized and entrusted to his church.
While my children are typically exposed to a community of faithful in our parish, this day was a true gift in that they were able to encounter a sense of the larger church that they are connected to. They could see that prayers we say each day, songs we sing and gestures we make are in unison with others from other places. In every possible sense, my children were touched by the spirit and joy that comes with the experience intended with the new evangelization.
What is so amazing about this procession and Mass is that my children and I could encounter nothing and everything at the same time. This day was an experience that was devoid of temptations like greed, envy, power and pleasure. It was a day complete with everything because we had Christ and his people in the presence of each other. We emptied ourselves of all things unnecessary and filled ourselves entirely with all things important that day: Jesus.
The day was an experience of true, authentic joy, the kind of joy that the Gospel has always proclaimed.
My regret for that day was for those of my children who don’t live in town and couldn’t be there. I did as much as I could to share pictures, thoughts and stories with them, but that could not do justice to the experience of being present.
I don’t regret changing my decision to require my son at home to attend. I know that the act of parenting requires a mother or father to think beyond the moment or desire of a child and sometimes mandate that a child do something they would rather not.
I carefully parented that day, and the result was that my child had an experience he will never forget and moments of holiness which he may carry with him a lifetime.
Betsy Kneepkens is director of marriage and family life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.