A little over a month ago some of my friends from the seminary gathered in Winona, MN at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary. I was unable to attend the “reunion” but was able to visit one night on the phone with the guys and one mentioned to me how its good, on occasion, to return to the places that formed us. Its like “checking in,” he said. “A good reminder of where we’ve been and how we’ve grown since then.”
One of the reasons I didn’t go to Winona, was because I was due in the Twin Cities at a baptism on August 17th, and it was less than practical to make two trips to southern and central Minnesota in consecutive weeks.
At that baptism, the four authors of this blog gathered around a baptismal font in St. Paul and renewed our own baptismal vows as the Rogerses and Yanteses welcomed their new children into the Church. Since Maggie and I were godparents to Taryn and Paul’s daughter, we had the privilege to gather around the Altar at the end of ceremony. I was standing at the end of the line behind the priest and the Altar. I looked to my right around the Altar and then out at the crowd of friends and family who had gathered celebrate this occasion.
What struck me was though I routinely cite my 18 months as a minor seminarian as very formative in my life, I rarely describe the four months that I spent as a counselor at Catholic Youth Camp in McGregor, MN in the summers of 2003 and 2004 in the same way. Yet there I was on August 17, almost ten years to the day that I left camp for the last time, surrounded by the friends I made at camp, at the baptism of their children.
Of course, there was my wife Maggie, who’s touched my life more than anyone else from the seminary or camp. There were Paul and Aaron – granted I met those two in the seminary, yet I never would have returned to camp in 2004 to work if Paul and Aaron didn’t go. Paul and I would become roommates in our post-seminary life, the three of us would stand up in each other’s weddings and become godparents to each other’s kids. There was John – who I’d worked with the year before and who, like both me and Maggie, had a job lined up that fell through that summer and camp in 2004 was a last-resort; we’d go on to become roommates too. There was Taryn, who I’d worked with the year before and would go on to marry my best friend; Emily and Sara – who I’d never met before that summer but married two of my very good friends; there was Stephanie, who I’d met the year before, and become a classmate and close friend at St. Mary’s University; there was Mike’s wife, Hallie, who also worked with John and Taryn and I the summer before; one of John’s good college friends, Joe had married Laura, also a fellow counselor from the summer before, who literally broke my teeth.
There we were – ten years, eleven years for some, removed from a summer (or two) that have touched the rest of our lives. Of course we didn’t know it at that time, and it hadn’t dawned on me until the Baptisms.
I realized that I didn’t need to go to Winona to “check in” and return to the physical location where I was formed – the barometer can be found in my friends, the true good friends (and not just the ones from camp), that have surrounded me for the past decade. Are these the people who can call me out and bring me back to the fold? Are these the people who can challenge me to be better? Were these the people I wanted around me at my wedding? My children’s baptisms? Are these the people I want around me at my children’s weddings? Are these the people I hope pray for me at my own funeral, or greet me at the gates of Heaven? Because ultimately thats what the baptism we celebrated in St. Paul, is about. Its about opening the gates of Heave to a new member of the Church – a community of imperfect sinners trying to help each other get to Heaven.
In the fall of 2004, John and I walked around the Tundra at St. John’s University and talked about the present and the future. John said to me that in the presence of our friends from camp he felt like he was standing on the shoulders of giants. When I looked around the Church of St. Joseph a month ago, I couldn’t help but feel the same.
It was good to check in.