“Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho! Joshua fought the battle of Jericho! And the walls came tumbling down!”
I can still see the scene in my mind’s eye: the cafeteria of St. Mary’s School in Woodside, surreal to me at night, with an assortment of neighborhood children pressing round a fortress of cardboard milk cartons. The gang of us are singing at the top of our lungs, before bolting forward with a whoop to topple the fort at just the right moment. This boisterous game was all part of “Family Night,” an event promoted in those days by a young priest named Father Daily and filed away forever in my treasure chest of joyful childhood memories. I am not sure what I knew about Joshua or Jericho at the time, yet the fun and wild abandon of the game remains with me still.
Then there was Lent at St. Mary’s Church and the 7:30 evening Mass in its dimly lit basement. My mother and our neighbor, Mrs. Maloney, would rarely miss it. Anne Maloney and I could not wait to pile into the car for the novel nightly outing, or better yet walk under the train trestle with its florescent lights and cooing pigeons, pretty sure of a soda at Alexander’s afterward, and, if we were very lucky, a piece of creamy white chocolate to split between us. How I loved those Masses with Anne at my side and holy Father Callahan on the altar.
Looking back upon these early spiritual experiences, I see now that, although they were in some ways less than ethereal, those blessed moments are cloaked in a mantle of simple, childish gladness and mirth. To this day, I love the Mass and the Church and the holy Bible and our parish priests; and, it seems to me, the seeds of faith and love and loyalty were sown deep, sown in the ready heart of a child and fed and fertilized with soda and smiles, war whoops and white chocolate.
In passing on the faith to our children, it is a great hope of mine that we will allow them to form many happy associations like these. Armed with a childhood of fond religious memories, they surely will fare far better against the world’s onslaught than those tottery milk cartons in the cafeteria. With this in mind, I began bringing our four eldest daughters (ages 14 to eight) to the holy hour for vocations at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington every third Friday of the month. Although this might sound like a surprising activity for older children and teens, it has become for them an eagerly anticipated event, not only because of the majesty of the setting and graces received, but also the joyous times spent there with friends.
If ever I wondered whether my children could feel as I once did during those golden years of Catholic childhood, the question was answered for certain this past Friday night. There had been no seminary holy hour throughout the summer, and as we approached the great front steps for the first time since June, my 11-year-old daughter Clair whispered, “I love it here.”
Within moments, the five of us had slipped inside the chapel, its archways warmed by candlelight and the smiles of dear friends. Kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, we sang the Tantum Ergo, offered a holy rosary for vocations, and drank in a sermon by Father Brian Barr.
As the holy hour drew to a close, the young people in attendance were invited to gather outside to toast marshmallows round a bonfire. Students from Hofstra’s campus ministry were there, and before long an epic game of “Capture the Flag” was being played on the seminary’s endless back lawn, made that much more exciting by the pitch black night. I sat shivering on a bench, attempting to read the news on my iPhone to pass the time, but with an undeniably warm feeling inside, knowing this unexpected game might well be their “Joshua and the Battle of Jericho.”
It was almost midnight by the time the flag was captured. The four girls returned from the field, flushed and laughing, each walking arm-in-arm with friends before reporting that not one, but two of them had misplaced their shoes somewhere on that black, impossible expanse of ground. “I couldn’t help it, Mom,” 13-year-old Mary explained, “I just ran right out of them.” Her older sister Alice was quick to add a hearty, “But it was worth it for all the fun we had!”
My sentiments exactly.
The next holy hour for vocations at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception will be held on Friday, Oct. 17.