Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Looking into the Hose

When we were just some preacher's kids growing up in rural Iowa, my siblings and I were always looking for fun. Skating on the creek in winter. Swimming at the KOA campgrounds in the summer. Having a softball game on the rudimentary diamond between our house and Dad's church.

My dad liked to have fun now and then, too.

One summer, he was in the backyard with my little brother, and he told Russell to pick up the hose. "Look in there. Do you see that?" My brother picked up the garden hose and looked at the end of it. He didn't see anything.

"No, look down in there. Do you see that?" Dad sounded serious. My brother looked harder, getting his face an inch or two from the end of the hose. That's when my dad turned on the water. Rusty was not happy.

My mother wasn't happy either. She said the first thing that came to her pastor's-wife-head. "Provoke not your children to wrath, Dennis Johnson!" My dad felt bad immediately.

"I'm sorry, Rusty." Dad reached out to my brother and threw his arm around Rusty's shoulders.

That bit of Sacred Scripture has come back to me now and then over the years. Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.

It's a lesson for all fathers everywhere - but it's not about practical jokes. I think it is referring to something serious. Something of eternal value.

Fathers - dads and priests - you are forming your children in the likeness of God. Get it right. Give them a reason to love the faith. Don't give them a reason to despise it.

When I traveled to Oklahoma a few years ago and gave my conversion story, I met LeAnn. She was a preacher's kid like me - and also a convert. She started talking about her parish priest... how he had been a seminary student when the first rumors came out about priest abuses. Her priest hadn't even been around when the scandalous things took place. He'd been a kid, growing up in Missouri and later in Oklahoma.

But he bore the brunt of the "children's" wrath. People he didn't even know would spit on him when he walked down the sidewalk. The clerical collar marked him even though he had done nothing wrong.

This priest is facing another difficulty this year. He's dealing with stage 4 brain cancer. It is a battle that isn't likely to find victory on this side of the grave.

But he is used to facing challenges. And he knows where to go to find the grace to make it through the tough days. Like the days when someone spits on you just because you are a priest. Or when you struggle to pray the Mass because the tumor is growing again and you are having difficulty remembering how to say the words.

Grace is there when you see your family going through the grieving process and you are still around to witness it. No, that's not the greatest challenge. Grace is there when you know you will have to help them get through some of the grieving process because God, in His wisdom, has given you to them for a little while longer - and they need you to help them along.

I'm not trying to put words into Father's mouth, but I think there is a piece of wisdom that his life has revealed to me.

It's not just: "fathers, provoke not your children to wrath." It's bigger than that. It's what this priest has done with his living and with his dying. 

Don't just avoid making trouble; give them a reason to love the Church again. Let them spit on you. You are called to love.

You are called to leave Christ's Church in a far better place than you found Her.

I have seen the beautiful messages that people write on Father Larkin's CaringBridge page - how he has loved them. How he has shown them the love of our Heavenly Father. And I can't help wondering what it will be like when he finally stands before the Lord.

He put on the collar and wore it with love during a time when so many viewed that collar with hate.

And yet, he had done nothing to merit their anger.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

The reward for that is great. Yes, I wonder what it will be like when he stands before the Lord. It's the kind of faithfulness that makes even preachers' kids want to be Catholic. Like LeAnn. Like me.

May God bless this faithful priest. And to all faithful fathers - in families and in Mother Church - God bless you.

Give them a reason to love the Church again.


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