I’m in Kansas City, Missouri. It’s Christmas time and I’m in my hometown visiting family and friends. And this is my first Christmas season as an ordained minister! My dad attends St. John Francis Regis Parish. It’s not a Jesuit parish, though it is named after a Jesuit saint. St. Regis is a diocesan parish that rests next door to the (now defunct) high school I attended. I have numerous memories of attending all school masses here, frequenting Sunday masses with my family, various Christmas Eves and Easters and holy days of obligation. And now on this day, my view is different. Today, I’m vested as a deacon to assist at the 8:30 a.m. daily mass. It’s Wednesday, and I see my father in the back corner of the church, his usual spot. I also see all his friends, scattered throughout the well attended weekly mass, their eyes excited, thrilled to see me at the altar next to the parish priest.
You see, my dad is a proud father. His only son is about to become a priest and he brags about his son to everyone he meets and knows (and doesn’t know, for that matter, my father knows no stranger)! As the congregation comes through the doors of the church they all ask my father, “where’s your son?,” and he points to me, dressed in a hooded alb and purple deacon stole (it’s still Advent at this point, Christmas is only a few short days away). Each person gestures a hello in my direction or comes over and shakes my hand.
“We’ve heard all about you!”
“We’ve been praying for you!”
“Your dad talks about you all the time!”
I grin and chuckle embarrassingly, I’ve always shied away from attention. I look over at my dad, he’s absolutely gleaming!
When mass begins, Father Emmanuel Lopez, the pastor, introduces me to the congregation and expresses the joy of the parish, one of their own is on his way to being an ordained priest. “And as you know, Damian is Manuel’s son,” announces Father Lopez.
The congregation applauds and my dad, from the back corner, waves both his hands above his head, like a landing signal officer guiding a plane to land, with a slight jump up and down. His face is covered in teeth and his eyes are bright. He then points, waves at me, and proclaims: “That’s my son!” I’m reminded of being in 7th grade and doing something amazing on the basketball court and hearing my dad cheer those very same words.
Parents and parental figures are amazing, aren’t they? Their selflessness and love builds up pathways and bridges their children must cross to get to where they are going, wherever that might be. It makes sense a parent gives their child away during a wedding, or the child/parent dances at a wedding reception. They’re all moments of passing on and letting go. Passing on the family line into the world and onto the next generation; letting go so this new couple can thrive, flourish, and grow, at least that’s what I imagine anyway.
As mass is in full swing, I can’t help but glance over at my dad. I’m proud of him too. He married a woman who had a child – me – and raised that child as his own. He taught me how to pray, how to lean on God, to love Jesus, to trust the Holy Spirit, and to honor Mary. He showed me how to be loving and compassionate, to see the marginalized of the world, and not to take life too seriously always. And after the passing of his wife – his anchor, his everything – he creates a life of his own with such grace and hope in the Lord. I look up to him. For some, perhaps, parents and parental figures teach children how to be parents, how to be a spouse and partner. For me, my dad helped prepare my life for priesthood.
The moment arises when Father Lopez hands me the chalice for the concluding doxology. As I elevate the precious blood, I can clearly see my dad. His humility and reverence for the body and blood of our Lord is embodied through his folded hands, his slight bow, and his gazing eyes. I see my dad for who he is, a man of God, a true believer. My dad’s vocation as husband and father rendered my response to my own vocation. And I somehow know, in that moment, my dad was God’s plan all along.
As I reflect on my deacon journey you might find something familiar that resonates with your own life! Let’s be prayer partners! Share your story with me by sending me an email at [email protected].
Header Photo: Damian and his dad at the diaconate ordination, Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Footer Photo: Damian and his dad in front of the Union Station Christmas tree in Kansas City, MO.