We traveled a lot when I was a young girl. All the time. For many of my grade school years, we lived in Germany. The daughter of a military dad, I found myself ‘growing up’ overseas for a good 7+ years of my young life. Knowing we would someday be heading back home to the United States, my parents were very good at taking advantage of our convenient location. We were surrounded by historic attractions, other cities, and many sites of world and European history. From castles, to forts, to cathedrals, to natural attractions, there were always many things to see and do right in our backyard. My parents were very good at taking my brother and I on weekend trips to experience all these things.
One trip in particular I remember very distinctly. We had gone to another German town called Berchtesgaden to spend time together as a family and ski. My dad was an avid skier and looked forward to the opportunity to let us, his children, experience the sport. Being a weekend, we had limited time and so we had planned to explore the town and attend Mass on Saturday night, leaving Sunday free for skiing lessons and getting the most slope time out of our one day trip. That Saturday night, I remember getting to the church. We walked up and pulled open the big wooden doors – and much to all of our surprise, we could barely move. It was crowded…with people walking out! I thought it was strange because we were supposed to be going IN to Mass. I remember my mom saying something out loud in disappointment and realizing it was actually the END of Mass, and not the beginning. Between the traveling, the language barrier, the time difference, and the horrible winter weather, we had missed Mass.
It would have been so easy to just skip it all together and go on about our Sunday of skiing. We had paid for our lift tickets, lessons, and the time to ski, and our Sunday was already crammed. The next day, we did get up and get into our ski gear. We piled into the car as if we were going to the slopes. But, in my parents ever consistent ways of always trying to set a good example, we pulled into the church instead. My parents had brought us to morning Mass. We may have been in ski pants and had our schedule changed for the day – but the message was clear. Mass was important.
I never knew how much that one little memory in the middle of a lifetime of memories would impact me as I grew up. But as I think back, my parents (one cradle Catholic and one convert) always made a point to teach us that Mass was the focus of our weekend. I remember going to sleepovers as a teen and my mom planning what time to pick me up based on making it to Mass. Throughout my childhood, my parents taught me through each anecdotal opportunity that Mass was the event of the weekend – everything else was planned based on what Mass we attended. Not the other way around.
As I grew up and was increasingly on my own, I found these lessons shaping my choices on the weekends. I worked double shifts at a pub for many years. With double shifts, there was only one option for Mass – 6am. Long days and long nights made getting up early undesirable, but it felt natural to just plan on getting up to make sure I attended before going to work. Throughout college I found myself thinking about my weekend activities and figuring out which Mass I could attend to make sure I fulfilled my obligation. It even shaped my relationships. I found myself subconsciously noticing which male college friends attended Mass regularly, and one of those friends became my husband.
Now, being a wife, teacher, and mother of 5 children, I find many weekends where Mass would be “inconvenient.” Let’s face it – life is busy. Life is hard. Life is tiring, especially with work and a family of our own. And ultimately, we are human. Sometimes, the fleeting thought of just “sitting” and letting the weekend pass us by seems attractive. Sometimes, the busy weekends where we are running in between hospital stays for Meagan or sports events for the girls, or just trying to catch up on housework from a crazy week seems like quite enough. But the memory of that snowy day on our ski trip where my parents set the tone of God in our life still surpasses all of those momentary thoughts. In addition, being a wife, mother, teacher and the very fact that ultimately, I am just human, requires even more effort on my part to make sure I continue the lessons of my parents and keep the Eucharist the center of my family’s life.
I want my kids to grow up with the same example my parents set for me. I want them to have a strong faith foundation. I want them to learn that even with life’s trials and tribulations, it is the Mass they can always rely on to reground themselves. I know that the only way for them to learn these lessons is through the Eucharist at Mass- by attending, praying, receiving, and believing. They need to be in the real presence of Christ to truly grow and love our faith. I want them to feel following Jesus’ example is the natural choice. Attending Mass is the path to that choice…and that can’t happen just anywhere. I hope as my girls grow up, I can give them their own snowy day in Germany.