My youngest daughter is two years old, and recently went through a stage where she didn’t want to get buckled into her car seat. She absolutely refused, and if we buckled her in she would yell so hard that she would make herself throw up.
This stage happened to coincide with a particularly stressful time for our family, and the car seat debacle was the straw that broke this mama camel’s back.
The Gift of Spiritual Fatherhood
Every week, my daughters and I meet my husband at work for Mass and lunch. He works at our archdiocesan seminary, and the entire community loves our family. They are like a second family to us.
One week, I took my girls back to the car after a nice Mass and lunch, and my youngest daughter did it again. She adamantly refused to even sit in her car seat, let alone be buckled. I was near tears. Just then, I looked up and saw two seminarians out for a walk. They happened to be two of her favorite seminarians, men who are transitional deacons in their final year of formation for the priesthood.
“Hey, guys! Do you have a minute? I need some help. Zelie won’t get into her car seat!” I called to them.
They laughed and shouted, “Zelie! Get in your car seat!”
She instantly sat down.
Thrilled with that minor success, I begged them to come over and buckle her in, and they happily obliged. The moment was so beautiful, and there was so much mutual joy between them and my daughter, that I decided to take a picture and share it on social media.
People on social media were so touched by that moment. They were touched by the joy and fatherly love emanating from these two young spiritual fathers.
What followed was a series of helpers, who took turns buckling my youngest daughter into her car seat for me. The priest who baptized her buckled her in. Her favorite priest, a kind Italian man who prayed for her a lot when she was in utero, also buckled her in. Another seminarian friend did. And each time, I took a picture and shared it on social media. In each picture, there was so much joy on the faces of both my daughter and her spiritual fathers. Thrilled with this success, I decided to record a series of videos of these men asking her to get into her car seat. When they weren’t there, I would play the videos for her. She would watch them, and she would agree to sit in her car seat. It was a miracle.
My social media followers left me such beautiful comments as I shared these pictures and videos. My favorite comment was, “I can’t explain to you how much hope it gives me to read these stories you share about spiritual fatherhood…and the future of the church.”
Because it is true — this is the future of the Church. These are the spiritual fathers being unleashed on the world.
They are men with hearts for Christ and his sheep. They are men with so much joy, and such a deep desire to serve the families in their care.
Images of Hope
Our family has been gifted with the opportunity to get to know young men in formation for the priesthood. Having been given that glimpse into the future of the Church, I feel obligated to share it. With all the things happening in the Church today, it is easy to become discouraged. I’m here to tell you – don’t be discouraged. Have hope.
I wish that I could bring you to the seminary with me, so you could speak with these men. If you were to come (and if you were to bring children), you would be greeted with so much joy and delight. The seminarians would ask you about yourself and your family. When they asked, they would listen — really listen — to your response. They would juggle for your children or play hacky-sack or peek-a-boo with them. If you brought a fussy baby or noisy toddler to Mass, they would smile at you and thank you after Mass for your witness. It you brought your children into adoration, they would smile and later tell you how that image inspired them in their own prayer.
If you brought watercolors, they would stop what they were doing to paint with your middle child. If your oldest child was having a hard day, they would try to think up jokes to cheer her up.
If your family faced tragedy, they would pray for you and be present for you. They would pray with you at the grave of your miscarried baby. They would ask how you were doing.
If you are married, they would watch you and your spouse, delight in your vocation, and thank you for the gift of your marriage. They would ask you questions about the vocation of marriage and listen with genuine interest as they tried to discern how best to serve the families in their care.
But they would also witness through their joy and their hope. Praying with them, you would witness men on fire for Christ and the Church. You would be inspired by their reverence. You would be strengthened by the sound of so many male voices singing antiphons. You would find hope in their joy in their vocations. Their joy for serving Christ would give you joy.
These are the men who are the future of the Church. This is the future of the Church. This joy, the hope, this fidelity to Christ and his Church, and this willingness to lay down their lives for the Church — these are the men who will be our future priests and bishops. These are the men who will be our shepherds.
These men are reason to hope.