I know someone in Christ who, fourteen years ago (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows), was caught up to the third heaven. And I know that this person (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter. About this person I will boast, but about myself I will not boast, except about my weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12:2-5)
Every year in November I look forward to that special Thursday when I get together either with my family or my wife’s family to celebrate Thanksgiving. I confess that while I miss my brothers and sisters and the craziness of a road trip to Pennsylvania, I truly enjoy when we choose to visit my wife’s Italian family for a loud and loving festival of food and fun that is their yearly holiday dinner. Such a joyful feast causes me to reflect on what it means to be truly thankful, truly forgiven in Christ, and truly caught up in the glorious journey that is my Catholic faith. This year, at this point in my walk of faith, I wanted to reflect on the life of a man I know and hope that seeing his struggles turned into strength in Christ will inspire you to experience the gratitude and grace of God.
I Know a Man, and the Boy He Was…
I know a man who remembers a lost and lonely childhood without a father, a special box of secret treasures that only a boy could cherish being lost in a family move, and the struggles of coping with so many days of confusion, insecurity and uncertainty. But that man remembers also the father who worked so hard away from home to provide for the family he missed, and the mother who labored in love to keep her family together on her own. He remembers days when disaster struck, when lives were almost lost, and when there was little to go around. But he also remembers the strength that came from pushing through the hard times and holding onto hope that the days to come would be better.
I know a man who saw his boyhood home submerged in the waters of a local flood, who experienced the loss of material possessions, security, and safety. But the man also saw a refuge in the home of distant relatives who took his family in; and he experienced unconditional love, despite his misbehavior and acting out. I know this man experienced the challenge of helping his father and mother rebuild and resettle in their flooded out home, and deep down, learned the power and the joy of personal sacrifice for the sake of those he loved.
I know a man who struggled with loneliness in school, as he tried so hard to fit in and to make sense of the fears he faced every day from bullies and those who rejected him for who he was. But this man determined to study hard, find true friends, and search for simple joy in the everyday experiences of adolescence. That man grew stronger as he attended daily Mass and learned to pray to the Savior who was becoming more and more real to him with each passing year.
I Know a Man who Found His Way into Adulthood…
I know a man who stumbled his way into young adulthood, finishing his high school studies and attending college, where for the first time he felt truly connected to his faith and future. The man continued to learn and to grow, to stumble and to get back up again, and to seek his way in the world. That man made many mistakes and went down many wrong paths; but that man also found his way back to the things that meant the most to him: his family and his faith. That man experimented with bad behavior and saw the worst of himself; but he also discovered a deeper relationship with the God who had been carrying him through. He watched his parents part ways, but found ways to deepen his relationship with each of them. Day by day, he walked his way into a his grownup world.
I know a man who failed in many relationships, lost jobs, ventured away from home only to return a broken soul. But that man found new strength and new hope in the family who always welcomed him back again. And he found beauty in the woman he would eventually marry. Though he had many missteps on the journey of courtship and marriage, he experienced great joy in beginning a new life of joy, sharing his faith with the one he had come to love. And when there were no children due to unforeseen events, that man and his bride prayed and trusted in the God who never let them go. In time, a son was born. Then the joy that man knew was powerful and precious and perfect indeed!
And I know a man who experienced the loss of a mother, the struggles of a lost job, the fears of bills piling up, and the frailty of a strained marital relationship. That man became ill and discouraged and began to re-experience all the same fears and fragility of his early childhood all over again. But God spoke to that man through faithful believers and though that man found himself uncertain about his finances, his family, and his faith, he discovered an even greater stability in the strength that God provided in the woman he loved, and the miracles that came into his life one by one. And though that man strayed from his faith, he never lost hope in the God who never gave up on him.
I Know a Man Who Has Been Truly Blessed…
I know a man who fathered two more children, who moved to an unfamiliar place and saw the sacrifices his spouse made on his behalf, though he was unworthy of the love she gave. I know how the man continued to stumble along the way, changing jobs, watching dreams fade away, and forgetting the things that were truly most important. But I know also how that man slowly came around once more to a place where his faith was central to his life. Though he could never take back the mistakes and failures, the unkind words and selfish actions, he found in the forgiveness of Christ a way to become a better man and to spend his days seeking to rekindle the love he and his family shared together.
I know a man who has regained a sense of himself, who has rediscovered his love for the written word, who has also reclaimed the incredible gifts of his family and his faith. I know this man has walked a lonely road, a rocky road, a broken road; but he has found the narrow way and planted his feet firmly on the path toward heaven. I know the man has set his face toward heaven, has recommitted his life to his Savior and his family, and has determined to never let the failures and fears of the past dictate the direction for his journey in the days to come. That man is flawed and often floundering; but that man is also graced and gifted. He looks back on his life and sees the blessings of eternity that broke into his life from the realms of eternity. The sorrow has given way to solace. The brokenness and bondage have given way to forgiveness and faith. The confusion has given way to courage and the regret to recommitment.
As you reflect this Thanksgiving on all for which you are thankful, perhaps you will remember a man – or woman – whose life has been guided every step of the way by the One who knew us from eternity, formed us in the womb, and guided our lives along the narrow path through Calvary to heaven’s joy. Happy Thanksgiving!