“We’re one day closer to heaven!” That’s what my dad used to say just before he shut my bedroom door after tucking me in at night. The phrase has stuck with me and I say it to my own kids at bedtime. I was very blessed to grow up in a faithful, Catholic home with devout parents and five siblings in the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb. I cannot overstate the influence my parents had on my Faith. They sent us to Catholic school and we attended Mass every Sunday, but it was the little things they did in our home that made the biggest impact. Seeing my mom read her Bible in the evenings, waking up early to find my dad deep in prayer, watching them pray together and faithfully keep an hour of adoration each week, reminding us that God will always take care of us and that “the family that prays together, stays together.” We were encouraged to foster our Faith beyond Sunday Mass, but were never forced. Despite all this goodness, we were still a normal family with plenty of teenage rebellion, tears over swimsuits dad wouldn’t let us wear and eye-rolling when mom would suggest we pray a family rosary. By the time I finished high school, my Faith was a semi-important part of my life, but it wasn’t until college that it became the most important part.
We don’t have to travel to Third World countries or talk about the Bible with strangers to evangelize because there are people all around us searching for Christ.
I met my husband, Joe, at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., and our Faith flourished in the wonderful Catholic community there. We were particularly influenced by the missionaries from FOCUS (the Fellowship of Catholic University Students) and felt called to serve as missionaries ourselves. By senior year, we were hired with FOCUS and engaged to be married. The experiences we had and the people we encountered during our three years with FOCUS taught us more about evangelization than any theology degree ever could. We learned that most of the time conversion does not happen because of apologetics and philosophical debate. People have a conversion of heart because of other people. In my favorite book, A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken writes: “The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians—when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.”
Perhaps most importantly, we realized that we don’t need to go far or do extraordinary things to be modern-day missionaries. We don’t have to travel to Third World countries or talk about the Bible with strangers to evangelize because there are people all around us searching for Christ. There’s plenty of work to do in our own families, schools, workplaces and communities. The bulk of evangelization is building strong, genuine friendships and, over time, those crucial conversations about Faith can happen organically and in an environment of trust. It takes time, work, intentionality and patience. Look at the method modeled by the Master: He spent three years traveling around Israel building up relationships with the apostles.
These are lessons that easily transitioned to our life after FOCUS. Joe is from Chippewa Falls and we prayerfully discerned that the Lord wanted us to settle our family there. We have three young children and fostering a Faith-filled home is a top priority. As I stated above, watching my parents live out their Faith was the greatest influence on my own Faith. I know my children are watching us and it’s terrifying. But we try our best to show them the joys of staying close to Christ and His Church. Joe and I each try to get 15-20 minutes of prayer every day, go to monthly confession, pray with the kids outside of mealtimes and stress the importance of Sundays. Even something as simple as donuts can set Sunday apart from the rest of the week (because for a 7-, 4- and 2-year-old, donuts are a huge deal). I stay involved with the parish and the Catholic schools. We try to reiterate the truths that God is our loving Father and will always take care of us, that He has a plan for our lives and that we can always ask Our Lady for help.
Our house is by no means a Catholic wonderland. We fail as spouses and parents every day. Sometimes, weeks go by where we just get so caught up in everyday life that we lose sight of the big picture and need to re-evaluate. The change in liturgical seasons is usually there to bring us back on track. The church is so wise.
Every family is unique; I feel like we are a missionary family and our mission is to be an influence right where we’re at. God has placed us all very intentionally to have an impact right where we are in the everyday occurrences of life. Just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s not important. Joe works as an RN and is very aware that he gets to practice the corporal works of mercy on a daily basis in a very tangible way. Staying home trying to raise little saints shows me just how far from sainthood I really am, but I remember to take it one day at a time—because each day brings us one day closer to heaven.
Story and Photography by Erin Brick
Published December 2019 Catholic Life