Joy and Peace! How often we read these beautiful words especially in this Advent season as we joyfully await the peace of Christ. How often, though, do we run frantically about, anxious with ancillary concerns rather than remaining focused on making straight the way of the Lord into our heart? This Advent those of us in the Catholic fold have been invited anew by our new shepherd, Pope Francis, to radiate the Joy of the Gospel, to proclaim that peace which encountering Christ has brought to our lives. This Advent we all have the opportunity to “obey the Lord’s call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the peripheries in need” (Evangelii Gaudium 20). All the tales of the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets begin with a journey of displacement from a homeland—Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Elijah, Jonah, Ezekiel—each foreshadowing those pilgrimages of the Holy Family, the Magi, and countless saints who left behind that which was good in obedience to the promise of the Father.
This year Michelle and I discerned to similarly bid farewell to the best we have known—and for which we shall always give thanks—in order to follow the call of the Lord to a new life in the Pacific Northwest. We have quite literally gone forth, experienced the challenges, the pain of exile from our beloved community, but like the patriarchs and the cloud of witnesses who trusted that the Lord is faithful to his promises, we remain expectant, figuratively like Mary on the donkey, for the hidden fruit which we are confident in time will mature of our journey to Seattle. For you to whom we last wrote with our Christmas greetings shortly after Joshua’s birth in Lent 2012 in order to invite all y’all to his baptism, let us resume the story there…
On Mothers’ Day weekend 2012, together with both of our natal families, we had two wonderful celebrations. On Saturday Michelle formally received her doctoral hood from her advisor, Dr Howard Rockman, of Duke University and brought to fruition the more than seven-year journey to earn her PhD in Cell Biology. Through the support of so many people—fellow parishioners of Saint Thomas More, Michelle’s sister, and the prayers of those more distant—this great accomplishment was one shared by many. On that Sunday, that day of the resurrection, together also with our extended parish family, we joyfully celebrated the baptism of Joshua Anthony, who that day was reborn of water and Spirit, had opened for him the door to the Church, and began a sacramental life which nourishes us in our journeys to encounter the Lord. We are especially thankful for Laura and David Olson, Joshua’s godparents, for their willingness to support us in prayer, friendship, and so many other ways as we undertake raising our son in the practice of the faith.
To further celebrate these events and thanks to my parents’ willingness to stay and care for Miriam and our little farm, we were able to go to Puerto Rico to participate in the bridal party for the celebration of the wedding of Natasha, with whom we’d become fast and close friends upon our arrival in North Carolina. It was a treat, albeit an exhausting one with Joshua in tow, to be part of this fantastic harmonizing of families and cultures and afforded the chance to make new friends as we experienced together the beaches and historical streets of San Juan and the lush beauty of the Carite Forest. In September 2012 we travelled to Boston for another wedding, this time of Joanna, who had been Michelle’s roommate during their year abroad together in Galway, Ireland and was part of our bridal party. We had a great time at the wedding of Joanna and Marty, staying at Joanna’s family beach bungalow at Plymouth for the end of the season, and catching up as we explored the Mayflower and rather large rock nearby.
The last nearly two years have brought many further celebrations for some of our close parish family at Saint Thomas More. It was a great joy to celebrate the wedding of Amy, the first candidate for reception into the full communion of the Catholic Church with whom I was privileged to minister at Saint Thomas More and for whom Michelle served as sponsor, to a lector and musician at our parish, Ryan. In addition, two marriages of which we were blessed to be part in previous summers received the gift of children to whom I am honored to be bonded as their godfather. Michael and Alesandra, who is Miriam’s godmother, welcomed their son, Matthew, while Joshua’s godparents, David and Laura, welcomed their delightful daughter, Helen, in July. We also joyfully celebrated the ordination of my colleague, Luis Royo, to the diaconate for the Diocese of Raleigh.
As Michelle continued her cardiology research as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill we also began another chapter of our parenting by welcoming to our home Alex, our au pair from Buga, a small town in the Valle del Cauca in Colombia. Alex lived with us for one year and took care of both Miriam and Joshua as the former started pre-school and the latter took his first steps, spoke his first words, and began to eat everything in sight! Alex was not only great in caring for Miriam and Joshua but also taught them both to speak Spanish, to root for Los Cafeteros, and Salsa dance. Three days a week Miriam joined a dozen other three years old in the inaugural year of Saint Thomas More’s Friendly Frogs pre-Kindergarten. It was not only Miriam who had a blast and made many friends, but also Michelle and I who are likewise deeply thankful for the great experience we had due to the excellent teachers, volunteers and parents from the parish as we too built new friendships in Miriam’s first foray into school.
My ministry as Director of Liturgy and Catechumenate at Saint Thomas More this year included what was perhaps the most beautiful celebration of the Sacred Paschal Triduum to date as we found our stride with the present Roman Missal and since I was blessed once more to serve as godfather, this time to Sissi with whom I have been privileged to share in her journey of conversion, a journey which infused not only her life with joy but also that of her family and her new parish. Equally long in formation, this year saw the establishment of a relationship with a local Catholic artist who crafted and installed above the baptismal font a magnificent wooden relief of the Lamb of God in whose blood those reborn in baptism are washed clean and who inscribes the names of his elect in the seven-sealed Book of Life upon which he reclines.
Our little farm of New Chelsea also welcomed a new lamb this spring whose leaping and frolicking was, as always, a delightful sight among the tall clover pasture beyond our backyard. As the chicks we had received to coincide with Joshua’s birth had long matured we all enjoyed the beauty of their variegated plumage and collecting an equally rainbow array of eggs.
Following the busyness of Holy Week, I made a retreat to the Trappist Abbey of the Holy Cross in the northern Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in order to participate in a Monastic Immersion Week. Much of this time I spent in prayerful discernment of the Lord’s voice and the invitation to serve Archbishop J. Peter Sartain as Director of the Liturgy Office for the Archdiocese of Seattle.
Amid preparing for the transitions, I gave a presentation on Christian initiation at the annual Liturgy Symposium at the University of Notre Dame. En route we visited with Natasha and Christian, whose wedding we had attended in Puerto Rico, who had recently welcomed with joy their son, Cristian. It was delightful to reconnect with Kim and Matt who were also in the process of moving as Kim begins her professorship at Notre Dame and meet their third child, Hildegard, whom they had likewise just welcomed.
Having made the decision to move, we unleashed the summer frenzy of dismantling the little farm we had built up over our seven years there, preparing our house for showings and sale, and packing up one chapter of our life. Our flock of heritage breed Jacob Sheep found homes enriching two nearby lines while our two Anatolian Shepherds, Basil and Abe, have continued as guardians for a large flock of sheep at another North Carolina farm. Finding new homes for the chickens was relatively easier given that many people have discovered the joy and health benefits of fresh eggs from free-ranging hens even on small plots. We received from friends and fellow parishioners not only the help without which we could never have accomplished our move but also were buoyed by their prayers and support which served as a tangible reminder of the depth of love we glimpsed and experienced among our community. Though our house and property remains unsold, we are confident it shall sell this spring and that, armed with all we were able to learn together and the fruits of what we planted there, we can begin rebuilding anew our small-scale, permaculture inspired rural idyll and setting down roots in the new community to which we have been called here.
Just before setting out on our westward journey we bid a tearful farewell to Alex, thankful for the memories we all had together. Shortly thereafter we welcomed to our home Laura, our current au pair from Villamaría, near Manizales, in the Caldas region of Colombia. Laly was quickly immersed into our family as she experienced the last hectic week of our life in North Carolina and our two week road trip. Along our 3600 mile odyssey we visited Michelle’s brother, Dominic, and his wife, Liz, spending a day in Philadelphia one last time before leaving the Mid-Atlantic. Though not quite retracing Lewis and Clark’s route from Saint Louis, their journey loomed large as we exited I-80 from Notre Dame and then headed off to cross the Mississippi River at Minneapolis where we reconnected with Michelle’s cousins and then ventured out onto the northern plains to visit Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. From there we stayed the night on the banks of the Missouri River before visiting Badlands and Mount Rushmore. From there we trekked up into the Rocky Mountains and spent several days exploring the wonderful beauty of Yellowstone before winding through Montana, over the Columbia River and into Washington. We made it into Seattle in time to meet our truck with our belongings with which we were graciously assisted in offloading by many new friends. We were also just in time to celebrate the wedding of our friend Mimi, with whom I was a student at Notre Dame and who now ministers at a parish in Sammamish.
I am enjoying my new job as I get around to the parishes and other facilities (schools, retreat centers, cemeteries, etc.) of the archdiocese. I serve principally as a resource for parishes in order that liturgies there may thrive, that is, to be spaces in which the faithful and those drawn in for the first time may alike encounter the love and mercy of God through participation therein and be missioned as disciples into the world and so renew it by their presence. Toward that end I lead workshops for liturgical ministers, assist in reviewing new building projects, have launched several new mystagogical catechetical programs, and together with a great staff am blessed to serve for various episcopal and archdiocesan celebrations at Saint James Cathedral. I also have continued offering online theology courses through Notre Dame’s STEP.
Having discerned a desire to explore a career other than academic research, Michelle has found both employment and joy as an adjunct member of the biology faculty at Tacoma Community College. All of us have a desire to see our work bear fruit and the weekly experience of knowing that her students have come to a greater knowledge of Anatomy and Physiology has been rewarding for Michelle. Beginning in January she will be adding to her docket several biology courses at Bishop Blanchet Catholic High School.
Miriam continues to lead the cheer, ‘See It!’ when the Space Needle comes into view, in remembrance of the eruption all had upon seeing Seattle’s icon as we first drove into town knowing our two-week journey was only ten minutes from its terminus at our new house. Miriam is thriving in her pre-Kindergarten class at Saint Matthew, the Catholic parish nearest us in our neighborhood of North Seattle. She has especially enjoyed being a big sister and, together with Laly and Joshua, exploring Seattle’s parks, museums, zoo and aquarium, and more. Laly continues to guide Miriam and Joshua in learning Spanish, developing many skills, and widening their imagination. Miriam enjoys creating in paint, word, and music as her distinctive handwriting has emerged and she has begun to take up piano. Miriam’s influence on Joshua can immediately be heard in his broad vocabulary of dinosaur species a topic with which both of them continue to be obsessed. Joshua is happiest playing with puzzles, ‘participating’ in Miriam’s drawing activities, and occasionally sitting still long enough for her to read him books. We also hear him singing versions of songs that Miriam has brought home from school or library story time.
During the first months of our being in Washington with the exceptionally beautiful weather we also explored further afield into to mountains and Puget Sound around us. As we have journeyed to the various corners of the archdiocese and been experiencing many new things I have resuscitated our blog at https://newchelsea.wordpress.com/ in order to share longer reflections and with those beyond whom we’re connected on facebook.
Michelle now has one quarter of teaching under her belt, I have been through the cycle of Deacon Convocation and celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe and Simbang Gabi as Liturgy Director, and routines are being established in other areas of our life allowing us to begin emerging the from chaotic fog that enveloped us. Though we are anxious to find a permanent place to call home and even went through the roller coaster of entering into and then losing a contingent offer on a house, we are trying to live into the admonition of Saint James (5:7-10) proclaimed on this Gaudete Sunday, when in the midst of Advent we are already called to rejoice even as we wait patiently as “the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it.”
Living once more on the West coast has been challenging but an invitation to joy. It made it possible for us to do another roadtrip to spend Thanksgiving with Michelle’s parents at their home in Modesto together with Frances, Jon, and our niece, Julia. We also were able to visit my uncle Dave and the surrounding Redwoods on our drive. What else lies ahead we cannot yet see but we remain faithful to the call and hopeful for that for which we shall soon give thanks.
Here in Christmastide more than ever we hear of peace and of joy. And yet we are also more keenly aware than ever that we are all a pilgrim people, a people journeying together in this “challenge of finding and sharing a ‘mystique’ of living together, of mingling and encounter, of embracing and supporting one another, of stepping into this flood tide which, while chaotic, can become a genuine experience of fraternity, a caravan of solidarity, a sacred pilgrimage” (Joy of the Gospel 87). While our family has set forth on a literal journey in obedience to an encounter, an invitation to be amid others in a new place in order to radiate the joy of living a life in Christ (266), “it would be so good, so soothing, so liberating and hope-filled…[for all of us] to go out of ourselves and to join others” (87) to radiate that same peace and joy born of the love of God who abides with us wherever we sojourn.
May Christ ever abide with you wherever you go and the joy of the Gospel fill your hearts and lives!
The above text and photographs were included in our Christmas 2013 newsletter (PDF).