You are only as good as the crowd you hang around.” I remember being told that by a guidance counselor at a school I attended. I probably didn’t want to hear those words of wisdom then, but now at 58, I have come to know how true these words are. In fact, I was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this column because of an experience I had while attending a recent funeral Mass in Quincy.
I come from a family that certainly was not perfect, but from early on in my life I have always been surrounded by good people who have had a lasting effect on the person I am today and the values in life I defend and live by. Growing up on Adams Street and then Elm Street in Gillespie certainly was a blessing for the Edwards clan (there were eight of us).
All the surrounding families and adults were really wonderful folks in great neighborhoods. They all got attached to the kids on the block. We were all welcomed into each other’s homes and to neighborhood picnics. My favorite person was a Scottish lady named Mary Fulton. She rocked my sister, my brother and I on her swing and rocker. She would sing, “… Daddy’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.” All the adults taught us good morals, hospitality and friendship.
I could get in trouble easily, but it never was big stuff. The friends I was blessed to hang around were kids who were into the simple ways of having fun. Our fun revolved around sports, church youth group and music. Our weekends in high school we would go bowling, go to games, or ride around singing the music of our era with the car radio turned up. Though I have been gone from my hometown for 40 years, and I have not stayed in contact with the majority of them, it was a great time in my life that also helped mold me into who I am today.
In the seminary I had 150 seminarians to connect with. I was fortunate to truly get close with and share most of my time with some great guys and teachers who encouraged me to seek the best out of life and to share the best I had to give to whatever the situation. My three closest friends that I spent much time with and developed friendships oddly enough have now gone on to become a bishop, another bishop and an abbot. Bishop Carl Kemme, who was our vicar general when he was named Bishop of Wichita, has been a great friend and brother priest. He is the one who has inspired me to try to simply be “a good priest.” He witnessed what he preached so well, and still does even more as a bishop. I miss him greatly in my life as he has moved on to this new call in ministry.
Even in the parishes I have been privileged to serve at, I have always tried to surround myself with great lay folks who were actively engaged in living their sacramental life well, and were choosing to truly be a “Godly person.” They keep me focused on “his way, his truth, and his life.” Jim and Donna Vogel are two of them.
Ed and Linda Holthaus are two more. I met them around 1989-90. Both of them had struggled in their previous marriages which ended in divorce, like my own parents did. Both sought the church’s guidance for their future and went to the Tribunal seeking an annulment. Both eventually received this “healing” process and the annulment. They eventually crossed paths, began a friendship, which I too shared with them. At St. Mary’s there was a group who got connected. Five couples and four singles would meet, share friendship, celebrate life, and supported one another.
One of my treasured framed photos of my priesthood is a photo of all of us at the 1992 wedding of Ed and Linda. The sadness of their life during the divorces was in the past and now they were so happy to have found each other, and “our group” was blessing one another.
During a recent funeral Mass for Linda’s dad, Ted (who passed away at age 89), I was happy to be with them at this important time of their faith journey. I was moved to tears when I saw Ed and Linda’s four children together. I can remember how tough those early days were for this “mixed family.” Like most they had their struggles. Ed had three kids: a boy and then two daughters; and Linda had a daughter. There were rough days and growing pains for this blended family. So often, our group lifted up Ed and Linda.
At the funeral I was able to remember those memories and then see today how wonderful and how loving Ed’s kids were to their step-sister whose grandpa died. It was so beautiful and inspiring. All four of these 30-something-year-olds now are mature, happy and strong. Faith, family and friends was the theme of Father John Doctor, OFM’s homily. This family is a beautiful example of living on the right path, keeping the faith, and succeeding well.
Jesus asked the Disciples to “leave all behind and to come and follow me” — and they did. They did not pick the group, but Jesus did. As they were formed by Jesus, they then by the very nature of their common call to discipleship began to bond and support each other. Can you imagine what that time could have been like with Jesus being the “head of the household”?
Now in our diocese it is our time to enter into that same mission and call. We are being called to “go deeper” into this “way of life.” I can already see a lot from spending a year with nearly 525 parish reps. The more we allow the Spirit to lead us and form us, the more excited this journey of discipleship gets. I have seen and love being around these “on fire” enthusiastic disciples seeking to become the “best version of our self” as Matthew Kelly always challenges us to be. When you surround yourself with like-minded, Spirit-filled Catholic Christians there truly is much more “joy” in the journey. When tough times come, you have the strength to endure. When you are “down,” someone surrounds you and picks you up so you can carry on.
Our 2017 diocesan synod is truly a “Call to Discipleship … Come and See.” Come join us and with God’s grace and our choice, surround yourself with strong witnesses for Christ.
Finally, recently at the cemetery I drove by my future home and “plot” — where I will be buried. I had seen the gravestone markers on each side of where I will lie one day. I do not know who these folks are or were. I am overjoyed though to see a true gift for my neighborhood; both grave stones had flags next to them standing tall and proud. They said: “Chicago Cubs, 2016 World Series Champs.” Though I’m not dead yet, I felt at home — I was surrounded by friends, and I am good with that.