I want to begin my testimony today with some of my earliest memories of my dad. When I was four years old, my parents moved from our small house where the three of us lived, into a much larger house to start a Catholic Worker Community. The extra rooms in our new house became spaces for people who had nowhere else to turn. Women and children who were in crisis, came to live alongside us. As a kid growing up in a Catholic Worker was essentially normal — it was really the only experience I knew. But now as an adult, as I raise my own child,and make my own life choices, I am consistently more in awe of what sharing their home and their lives intimately with strangers required of my parents. My parents chose to live in this way because of their commitment to living out their Christian faith– their commitment to sharing all that they have with the poor, and to taking personal responsibility for the problems they saw in our world.
They centered their life around a few questions–Who is Jesus? What was he all about? And, especially what does he require of us? He taught me to dig into these questions as I grew up and considered what to do with my life.
My dad also explored this question as a Sunday school teacher at our church. I remember him asking his students– if Jesus were to come back tomorrow, where do you think we’d find him? My dad’s answer was that we would find Jesus with the poor. With the homeless. Perhaps at the park, waiting in the soup line that my parents organized every Saturday. Or maybe, he was one of the folks my parents invited to join us for dinner on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Right before the big holiday dinners, as my mom put the finishing touches on the food, my dad and I would hop in the minivan and drive downtown to see who was left alone on the streets. Then, my dad would invite them to dinner with us. As you might imagine, we had some interesting characters join us for the Holidays as our guests of honor.
I share these stories because they exemplify my dad’s character and what is at the root of it.
Speaking of a character, as a teacher, a large part of my goal is to show my students what it means to be a person of good character. At the Catholic school where I work, we interpret this goal through the lens of our faith. We state that our overarching mission is to form the whole person in the image of Christ. Without question, this is a lofty goal.
I’d like to say to the Court today that my dad had the same aim as he raised 8 children. One example of how he sought to form us in Christ’s image was his conversations with us about how we should treat each other. I have 5 sisters and 2 brothers. When we were younger, and my sister and I would argue, my dad’s approach was to sit me down, stand my sister in front of me and say to me emphatically, “ see your sister in front of you? See her? She is the body of Christ…” He would go on to tell me that bearing those things in mind the only way to treat her was with the utmost love and compassion. I share this anecdote today because I think it illustrates how my dad views the world and how my dad lives his life. His life is guided by the question of what it means to be a Christian. Not in words, but as a lived reality.
Today I have a 2 year old, who I know my dad has spoken about before. It has been a beautiful gift to watch my dad now in the role of Grandfather. When I watch him with her, I am reminded of my own childhood. In their interactions, I’m reminded of the ways my dad taught me to behold God’s creation with awe and delight, and of the role we have to fiercely defend anything that threatens to destroy God’s creation.