At I recent Confirmation retreat, I voiced this exact concern to the 16 students sitting before me. I told them how serious...how adult...how extensive...how commiting was their decision to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Church. I told them how important their faith would be in their future lives. And I told them they must hold tight to it and cling to it because one day, that might be all they have to hold onto.
I told them this because...
Because I remember being young and uncertain.
Young, uncertain, and scared even. Scared to fully accept Christ as my Lord.
Because I didn't understand the awesome responsibility that came with that decision.
Because I remember lying in bed and thinking that if I prayed too much, believed too much, embraced Christ too much, loved too much; bad things would happen to my family.
Because I remember standing next to my mother and looking down at a beautiful young woman dressed in a lovely pink dress. She had been shot to death. I remember seeing her mother cry over her daughter's coffin. The mother was a loving wife and mother who attended our church.
I remember talking over the office counter to a couple whose only son had been killed by a drunk driver. Killed with his fiancee. Killed right before Christmas. Killed while selecting a Christmas tree. Killed in the Christmas tree parking lot. His parents were more Christian than the people I worked with.
I remember a little boy, younger than myself, striken with cancer. We were silently told that he wore a wig and we were not to stare, ask questions, or make rude remarks. His uncle was a priest.
I remember Sr. Annette, a holy and devout nun, with the swollen belly of cancer.
I remember hearing my parents speak in hushed tones of the teenager who had run-away from home. I vaguely recall us going to the parents house, but perhaps my memory fakes me. The family attended our church.
Good people suffered.
Bad things happened to good people.
That was the reality I saw. That was the reality that frightened me.
Did it pay to be so good?
I didn't share any of these scenerios with those 16 students. They have their own lifetime to unfurl.
But I wanted them to know the importance of Faith.
I went through life going ahead praying and believing and embracing and loving. And wondering. And hoping. And praying like crazy for God to protect my family.
I could think of nothing else to do...so I hung on tight.
To toss my faith away was, in my mind, throwing away the only hope I had...even though...I didn't understand what that hope was or where it came from. I just hung on for dear life.
Even today I pray for my children's future spouses and my future grandchildren.
Because I don't. Know. What. Else. To. Do.
I understood this man completely. Here is part of C. Michael Patton story.
* * * * *
Will God Protect My Children?
"My friend was not a Christian, but he was seriously considering it. He was one of my wild friends that I hung with in my crazy days. I reconnected with him a few years ago. I remember the days of driving around from bar to bar (what we called “bar hopping”) looking for nothing but trouble. During those times we would often talk about Jesus. I was one of those dichotomy Christians who was doing what he could to evangelize while neck deep in the clutches of carnality (now I am just dichotomized in other ways). He was an atheist and pretty determined to stand his ground. Now, here we were a decade later having the same type of conversation in a different stage of life.
"We began to talk outside by his car. ...
“ 'I get it. Call me whatever you want—a believer, Christian, or whatever . . . I get it. I believe. I believe all that stuff about Christ.'
Then there was some silence. I knew there was something more coming.
"He continued, 'But I am scared.'
“ 'Scared of what.'
“ 'You love Jesus and have been doing so much for him,' he said. 'Yet look at what has happened to you. Look at what happened to your sister. Look at the pain of your family. Look at your mom. Especially your mom. Your poor mom. She has always been into Jesus. She is the best example of a Christian I know of. Look at what God is doing to her. I am scared. I am scared of God.'
"After another period of silence he asked the question of the hour, 'Will God protect my kids?'
"He went on, 'Will he protect them or is he going to do to me what he did to your mom? Because from where I sit it looks like that if you follow the Lord too closely, he brings terrible things into your life. I love my children and I am scared to death that he might hurt them or take them from me because I follow him . . . to test me or something. I don’t want that.'
"My friend was no longer questioning the reality of God, Christ, the resurrection, or even his own need for a savior. He was questioning God’s plan. He was questioning God’s intentions. Simply put, he was scared of God."
* * * * *
I know this man. I am his Christian twin.
Like this man I too, look out over life and, from where "...I sit it looks like that if you follow the Lord too closely, he brings terrible things into your life."
Like this man, I too, "...love my children and I am scared to death that he might hurt them or take them from me because I follow him . . . to test me or something.
Like this man, I too, "...don’t want that."
Please, dear God, I don't want that.
I don't want suffering.
I don't want hearts aching.
I don't want stomach viruses and scary night terrors and fevers that tremble in the night.
I don't want nursing homes and oldness.
I don't want hospital beds at midnight and the Paschal Mystery Renewed with the dawn.
I don't want the responsibility.
It has been years since I made my Confirmation, witnessed my belief to my faith in still stillness, accepted my baptismal vows and my belief as my own.
I don't think I know anymore than I did then. Perhaps a bit...
Yet I recently stood before those 16 students and told them how serious this commitment was. How this was their opportunity to publically embrace His teachings and commit to a life as a soldier for Christ. I told them how important their faith would be in their future lives. And I told them they most hold tight to it and cling to it because one day, it might be all they have to hold onto.
I assured them bad things would happen in their lives. I assured them that being a Catholic Christian was living against the grain and being a follower of Christ opens our beings up to hurt and suffering and presecution.
I assured them that God does not desire this for their lives. We are to transform the world by our presence and our actions.
It is not what happens in our lives. It's how we handle them. (Though I am scared...yes, scared...that I won't handle them well at all.)
I assured them that God did not leave us orphans. He left us the Holy Spirit. And the keys to the kingdom in the hands of St. Peter and a long line of shepherds.
Then I reminded them of the Resurrection. The flesh and bones and glory of our faith that strips away the blood and ache and hate and suffering.
St. Paul tells us:
"3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures;
4 that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures;
5 that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
7 After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles."
* * * * *The red is the kicker. That is the reality!
In a day with no cell phones, no Internet, no hidden cameras...in a day when communication and feedback were as slow as the camels that faxed it and the land of honey and milk that it traveled through, the evidence is overwhelming.
Over 500 people saw Christ after the crucifiction. That is what makes our faith real. That is our evidence that God is real. That He breathes. That He exists amidst a sinful, torn world.
And that all will be made new again. And whole again.
I still don't understand it.
But I accept it because...
Because if I don't accept it, than I have nothing to hold onto.
Or, worse yet, what I have to hold onto is ugly and hurtful and of no use to me or my children or my extended family.
I must hold onto my faith: a thing of beauty and glory in the midst of a sinful, hurtful, torn world. Because it is the only thing that shines through the gloom, the confusion, and the hurt.
It is all I have. All those 16 young people have. All any of us have.
And to be Christ to a hurting world.
I'm still not sure I conveyed this message properly to those 16 young men and women but I figure, that's ok. I didn't get it either at their age.
I'll just keep praying for them. And for my family. And my children.
And let the Holy Spirit do the rest.