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Being Catholic in Michigan

Where we’ve been and where we’re going

In the summer of 1993, I was fortunate to be able to visit a seminary classmate who lived in southern Illinois. One afternoon, we visited a national forest not very far from where he was working. We hiked our way into the forest some distance and eventually found ourselves standing on an impressive rock outcropping that overlooked a beautiful valley of pines, not far from the Mississippi River. While it was my first time visiting that place, my classmate had been there many times before. He shared with me how, from time to time, he would come to that outcropping and just stand there, sometimes caught up in prayer. He would also imagine what it would have been like more than two centuries before, when the first Jesuit missionaries were traveling down the Mississippi, making contact with –and bringing the Christian faith to – the native peoples they met along the way.

I can’t help but think of that place and its rugged terrain on October 19 each year, as we celebrate the feast of the North American martyrs. Saints John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, and their companions came from France to bring the Christian faith to these shores. They survived a perilous sea journey from France to North America. They also braved traveling long distances through the wilderness on foot, by horse or in a canoe. They were not always greeted warmly and many of them had harrowing adventures. As the name of their shared feast day suggests, they all gave their lives in order to give us a gift – the gift of faith. When I think of them, I can’t help but marvel at the strength of their convictions and their consuming willingness to endure great hardship for the sake of God’s kingdom. I can’t help feeling a little inadequate when I think about their experiences. In my own time, I whimper when my high-speed internet connection isn’t working or I can’t get a good cell phone signal.

When I think of them, I also marvel at the beautiful chain of people and events that are responsible for my own gift of faith. Reflect on that for a moment. How is it that we have been given this common faith that we share? True, it comes from God, but it also comes through God’s people. Think of the long line of people – many of them nameless and faceless, known but to God – who risked and rejoiced, who sacrificed and prayed, who taught and caught the gift of faith we now share in our own time. If it were not for them and their willingness to respond to God’s call, our lives might be quite different today.

This month, take the opportunity to meet a few of the many whose faith has been a gift to the people of our state and diocese. They are links in a faith-filled chain fashioned by the hand of God that stretches backward in history and forward in time. New links are constantly being forged and added. With these new links come new faces, voices and languages. This month we begin including some content in Spanish, a reflection of who we are becoming as a church and nation.

In the year ahead, we will continue to explore this gift of faith and the role faith has to play in each of the many stages of human life. This month, however, we look at our beginnings. They help us to understand who we are today. They also help us to appreciate this God-given gift of faith that we share. They inspire us to pass that gift on to those who will come after us. And so our journey in FAITH continues.