My wife and I grew up in the 1980s, and were immersed in the secular culture of the day. We listened to all of the contemporary music, went to all of the latest movies, attended secularized schools, and got into some trouble with our friends now and again. When we attended Christendom College together in the late 80's, after just knowing each other for about a month, I told Amanda that I wanted to marry her. She thought I was a bit crazy, but in August of 1991, when she was 19 and I was 22, we were married. And Remnant Editor Michael Matt was my best man.
When our first child was born in 1992, we already had thoughts of raising him, and any future children we might have, differently than we had been raised. We thought our parents did a pretty good job of raising us, but we wanted to do even better. In particular, we wanted to do what we could to keep the secular culture out of our lives and replace it with a Catholic culture. Of course, we knew this would be a difficult task, but one worthy of the effort.
When John was four years old, he told us that he wanted to be a priest someday. We figured it was just something little boys often say, but we were excited about the possibility. When he was 5, he began serving daily Mass at our local Novus Ordo parish, with me at his side on the altar as his guide. He received his First Holy Communion the day after his 6th birthday and continued to serve Mass daily, pretty much for the next 17 years.
When he was little, he used to pretend to say Mass quite frequently. He had some pretty elaborate vestments, thanks to the talents of my wife. She made him three or four reversible fiddleback ones, with different colors on each side. I would visit thrift stores to find old things that could be used as chalices, cruets, and all the other liturgical items. He made a tabernacle out of wood, had fake candles, a thurible, an old sacramentary, and normally used poker chips as hosts (although sometimes he baked real ones). His sisters and brothers would attend his Sunday “mass” prior to attending Mass each week and he quite often “offered” his “mass” in Latin (Novus Ordo) and would preach short homilies.
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This continued for many years. We homeschool our children and we always figured John's extra-curricular activity, or possibly even sport, was serving Mass. He did it so frequently and for so many different parishes and priests, he was like an altar serving superstar. When he enrolled at Christendom College as a student, he eventually became the head sacristan and emcee at various special Masses. He has served for so many of the princes and luminaries of the Church, the list would be too long to list, but the highlights are Francis Cardinal Arinze, U.S. Papal Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Vigano, Bishop James Conley, Bishop Robert Morlino, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, and Ireland's Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown. He was absolutely flawless when he was on the altar.
Francis Cardinal Arinze
There are a 5 very important points to this story that need to be told before I continue.
The first is that John is not really the outgoing talkative type. This sometimes comes as a surprise to people who know me because I am a very outgoing and talkative person. In fact, as the Director of Admissions and Marketing at Christendom College, I would not be able to perform my job very well if I had John's personality. But John is not exactly shy either. He just doesn't say much and he is really smart (summa cum laude college graduate with a double major in history and Theology and minor in classics). If he has something to say, he says it. If he doesn't, well, he doesn't.
Second is that his nickname, when little, was “Routine Boy.” He always had to know what was happening next. He liked things to be the same and he didn't like change. He enjoyed order and constancy in his life.
Third, John is one of the most obedient people I could ever imagine knowing. Even at 21, I could probably tell him to do anything and he would simply reply, as he always did, “Yes, Daddy,” without asking why. He is the perfectly obedient child, and that is a real blessing for us with 9 other children below him, allowing them to have him as an example of how to be a good child.
Fourth, he was very into the liturgical calendar and celebrating all of the feasts of the Church with great pomp and circumstance. He would mark everyone's baptism days and feast days by getting up early and baking goodies for them – chocolate muffins, chocolate éclairs, donuts, zucchini bread, pancakes, and other such things. He would encourage us to have desserts on all the Church's feast days and to have nice dinners on these days, too. And interestingly, from the time he was maybe 15 or 16, he prayed the Office of Readings – something not ordinarily done by most kids his age.
And the last thing to know about John is that he always remained outside of today's secular culture. In fact, our entire family still shuns much of today's culture. But we have our own family culture. We have our own types of music that we listen to, for example, every night at dinner – Rat Pack, Sinatra, Movie Soundtracks (we haven't even seen most of the movies, but the music is great), and classical. We watch movies, but almost none that have been made in the past 30 years (Lord of the Rings trilogy, a couple of Pixar animated movies, and The Passion of the Christ might be a couple of notable exceptions) and we do not have internet or TV in the house. My children all know how to dance – polka, swing, waltz and various forms of contra dancing. They all play instruments, some better than others, and most of them are pretty decent singers. They do not dress immodestly as many of today's kids do, but they don't dress as if they just came off the set of Little House on the Prairie either. And rather than having a lot of outside friends, they tend to play with each other and spend time with the immediate family, playing a lot of board and card games. And funnily enough, my children are not the stereotypical “homeschool geeks” either. They are what I would call, if I were speaking about children maybe 60 years ago, normal well-adjusted Catholic kids who care about the Faith, love their family, are respectful of others, and like to have a good time.
And we do all of this as a family connected with the Novus Ordo Mass and liturgy, not the Tridentine Mass and liturgy. In fact, Mike Matt has labeled me and my family as some type of cultural Traditionalists, but to be honest, we just consider ourselves to be faithful, practicing, Catholics. We are deeply attached to the Novus Ordo Mass, particularly as it is offered at Christendom College (which has a beautiful choir, schola, smells and bells, lots of Latin) – which we attend 7 days a week. Additionally, John did attend the Tridentine Mass offered in our local parish on a regular basis, as well as at the one offered at Christendom each week. He learned to serve the Traditional Mass just as well as he did the Novus Ordo Mass.
And of particular note to Remnant readers, John took part in the annual Chartres Pilgrimage a couple of years ago, gaining financial assistance from generous Remnant readers. So, all those who donate each year to the special youth fund that helps the young people attend this life-changing pilgrimage, this is your story as well.
And so, we reach the main point of this story. This morning, my wife and I drove our now 21 year old son to the airport. He bought a one-way ticket to Tulsa, Oklahoma, because he was traveling to the well-known Clear Creek Abbey where he is planning on spending the rest of his life as a contemplative Benedictine monk, in a place where only the Tridentine liturgy is offered.
How did a Novus Ordo Mass-attending kid end up choosing a Tridentine rite Benedictine abbey? The short answer is that my wife and I encouraged him to do so. Since we knew that he wanted to be a priest and we knew that he liked routine and the liturgy, and that he didn't particularly like to talk all that much and that he was very smart and obedient, we told him about this monastery. When he and I visited it when he was 17 years old, he loved what he saw and experienced.
Before his senior year at Christendom, he spent some extended time at the abbey to see if this place may be where God is calling him to fulfill his vocation. He loved it. Over Christmas break, he went back again for a week and, at that time, discussed entering the abbey with some of the monks there. They said that they thought he'd be a good fit and that he should join in September.
Our local bishop, Paul Loverde of Arlington, Virginia, talks a lot about vocations whenever he travels to parishes for confirmations, and he always says something that is pretty important. He tells people that we all need to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but not just to pray for them in general. He says that we should pray for them to come from our own families. It may seem like an easy thing to do, but let me tell you, now that we have tithed our first-born to God, it is really a big deal. Not that I am going to stop praying for vocations to come from my family, but I will now really know what I am asking for, and it is very painful. In some strange way, I feel a bit like Mary must have felt like when she told Jesus to help out with the lack of wine problem at the wedding feast at Cana. She knew that her action was going to speed up her Son's death, which was going to cause her to be Our Lady of Sorrows.
When my wife and I suggested Clear Creek Abbey to John, we knew that he would like it. When I went there with him to visit and I picked him up after a couple of days, I knew he was ideally suited to this place. As we kept suggesting that he continue to look into becoming a Clear Creek monk, we knew that this day, today, would come and that we would no longer have our son, that his 9 siblings would no longer be able to talk with him, play with him, or bug him. The leader of the gang is gone and we are in mourning. Will it last forever? Probably not, but his absence in our home and in our lives will certainly be noticeable for a long time to come.
Oklahoma is pretty far from Virginia, so it is tough to say how often we will be able to visit him, and even then, we will probably only get to see him for a very limited time. We can write him regularly and he can write as well, so we are already making plans to send him a family newsletter each month to keep him up-to-date on all the happenings in the McFadden family.
The McFadden Family (Not a traditional Catholic family? Yeah, right!)
As a final thought, for the past 13 years that I have been working at Christendom College and attending Mass there, I have been looking at the beautiful stained glass window behind the altar that pictures Jesus pointing to His Sacred Heart, with the words “Son, give me thy heart” below it. I always thought it was a beautiful window, but I always thought that the words were a bit odd. Was Jesus saying to me, “Son, give me thy heart,” or was God asking His Son to give Him His heart, or what? Why didn't it just say, "Give me thy heart?" Maybe I'm a bit dense, but it never really made sense to me until this past week.
All week long, when I would look up at the window, instead of reading, “Son, give me thy heart,” I would read it as saying, “Heart, give me thy son.” Now, this is something I understand and I find this to be very difficult to do. Jesus is asking me to let go of John and give my son to Him. And this is very painful, yet obviously, the only thing to do. Amidst all the tears this morning, I tried to tell a couple of my younger children that John is sort of like the rich young man from the Gospel, except he did not go away sad. He has lived the good moral life, as the rich young man did, and when Jesus tells my son to go and sell everything that he has and follow Him, he does just that, and is now, he is going to be very happy, I am sure. Will he stay there forever? I don't know. Will he decide that being a choir monk is not for him? Possibly, but I doubt it. Apparently only 1 in 4 young men stay at the abbey after entering, so the odds are definitely against him. But the one thing of which I am certain is that someday, somewhere, John will be a priest of Jesus Christ and he will be a blessing to the Mystical Body of Christ.
And maybe he will “convert” the rest of his family to Traditionalism someday....maybe. Please pray for John and his vocation, and all of those who are discerning their call to follow Jesus in this manner.