Today’s find: Indelible

Any properly catechized Catholic will tell you there are seven sacraments. I’m thinking of starting a movement for the Church to recognize an eighth (or at least, perhaps, a “Seven.A”)—one called parenthood.

The notion occurred to me last week, when we were in California to celebrate our son Chris’ ordination to the diaconate. At some point, the conversation turned to the special qualities of the sacrament of Holy Orders—including the fact that it’s one of three (along with Baptism and Confirmation) that’s said to confer an indelible mark on the recipient.

Great word, indelible:

adj. 1. Impossible to remove, erase, or wash away; permanent.

The perfect word, I realized, to describe the bond between parent and child, father and son. And it is a sacramental bond, in my experience—a physical sign, an often-corporeal action, that confers grace.

This “eighth sacrament” blessed me in an extraordinary way last Thursday evening, shortly after we arrived in Berkeley, and connected with Chris and his Jesuit community for daily Mass. As is the custom in our family, we joined hands at the ‘Our Father’ – Chris and I. And in that simple action, I was instantaneously transported back some 32 years in time …to when my then-infant son first wrapped his tiny hand around my index finger.

Chris at 6 months

Chris at 6 months

I knew in that long-ago moment that Chris had introduced me to a whole new dimension of love—a lesson that would only deepen with the birth of each new child in our family. I’d read about unconditional love, of course, and might have even considered myself capable of it prior to becoming a parent. But until these bearers-of-grace came into my life, I don’t think I really understood the concept in any substantial way.

Gerri and I with all our children (and grandchild!)

Gerri and I with all our children (and grandchild-on-the-way!)

Indeed, it may be the most profound gift parents receive from their children – this insight into how God loves. When you meet your child for the first time, you know the relationship is not performance-based. So, too, with the Holy One: We need do nothing… we can do nothing…to earn God’s love. It’s already there, from the very first glance or touch or smile. This is precisely what it means to be a child of God.

As they grow older, our children often find other ways—both simple and spectacular—to channel additional graces into our lives. I can now report that ‘ordination’ ranks right up there as among the most intense and memorable of such opportunities. I was blessed to be there last weekend in more ways than I can count…but the moment I was touched most indelibly came during Mass on Sunday morning – Chris’ first opportunity to preach as a deacon.

Receiving his stole from his uncle, Fr. John Reiker

Receiving the diaconate stole from his Uncle John

He chose to focus on a familiar theme, drawing from the words of St. Paul to Timothy: ‘You know from whom you learned it.’

‘It’s worth noting that, for most of us, this business of learning about God is a family affair,’ Chris said. ‘Even now, I can look around this room, and I see my first evangelists, my Godfather, my baptizers, my models of Christian joy, my community of love and acceptance…

‘We all have these stories. We have all received from someone who received from someone who received from someone. Which is the deeper truth in the end…None of us can stand up here in the middle of church and insist that we don’t owe anyone anything. We all have depended on the testimony of others in a vast web that reaches back all the way to the time of Jesus and beyond…

‘Today, I invite you all to join me as those who joyfully recognize our bankruptcy – our fundamental and total indebtedness. Whether in prayer or in conversation, I invite you to return to those faces, human and divine, who have preached to us the Good News of salvation. And I humbly suggest that you turn to them and say what I say here now to you: Thank you.’

Assisting at Mass with his uncle, Fr. Bob Reiker

Assisting at Mass with his uncle, Fr. Bob Reiker

And so I found myself being blessed once again – by a son, ministering to his father. I knew, as I heard Chris’ words, that it was definitely going to leave a mark on my heart. An indelible mark.

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21 thoughts on “Today’s find: Indelible

  1. Mark Dean

    Thanks for sharing this. Parenthood is truly Sacrament, and it envelops the other seven.

    • Appreciate the insight, my brother…especially since it comes from one of the other ‘indelible Marks’ in my life!

    • Charles Barron

      John and Geri,

      God bless you and Chris and thank you for bringing my thoughts immediately to Christ as I read your email. I am left with just one thought – and that is to thank Christ for calling Chris to the priesthood and for giving his father the gift of writing.

      As I wrote the words Christ and Chris I realized that there is only one letter separating Chris from Christ. John, I am sure that your “eighth sacrament” will show us all that we are only one letter from knowing Christ-we just have to search and accept that letter.

      Thanks John, Geri and Chris for what you gave me this morning.

      Charlie

  2. Mike Kish

    Good going John! Will share this with faculty and staff…mentioned your name in 7th religion this week—talking about prison ministry—reminded them of the place mats we did…how we all serve in various ways both big and small. Our God is relational and having Chris in your life heightens the personal level of that!

    Parenthood is a sacrament—and know this—-Chris is officially a deacon whereas you are an “un-ordained deacon” with all you do for your God! Chris is out of good stock!

    Ran into Msgr. Kimme last week in Effingham and we shared Prep stories….I think he said Class of ’84. It is always good to reconnect!

    Mike Kish

    • We all find grace in the body of Christ, don’t we, Mike? And it’s a wonderful thing to know that you are working so hard to share the Good News with the kids at IC. May the Lord continue to bless your work, too!

  3. Mike s

    John,
    Well said. . just spent aday with our youngest up at Ball State watching field hockey in snow showers and cold wind. . . brought back great memories, good friends and good people. . . .Reminds me of what Liam Neeson said about parenting. . . ” The days are long but the years are short. Enjoy every moment.” Mike S

    • Thanks, Mike — and I hope you got to see a winner in Ohio, despite the snow. Maybe your daughter should schedule a few games in California: The weather is lovely there this time of year! 😉

  4. Pat Cromien

    That is awesome John. Congratulations to Chris and to you and Gerri for making the best of the eighth sacrament. Also, thank you for reminding me that parenthood is a blessing that has been bestowed upon me for which I should be thankful everyday. Peace brother, Paddy

  5. Mark Morrell

    Congrats John

    Wonderful message

  6. Earl Kranawetter

    John congratulations to your son and your family!! The 6 inmates at our table this weekend were all lacking in a loving relationship with a mother, father or both and that’s why they are in prison

    • That’s one of the profound blessings of Kairos Prison Ministry in my experience, Earl: It reminds me that not everyone has had the advantages that I took for granted while growing up — and therefore, I can probably afford to be more merciful (and less judgmental) in my relationships with others!

      Thanks for your kind words, my brother!

  7. Jim Massmann

    John and Gerri. What a great blessing your family has been, and continues to be, for all of us.

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  10. Congratulations, indeed! I keep praying God will call one of my boys.

    • I’ll pray for that intention, too, Kathleen. And I’m told that a parent’s willing heart is a big part of the process in fostering religious vocations these days…so thanks for that openness on your part!

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