Madonna House

Only God Can Throw a Perfect Frisbee

by Fr. Denis Lemieux

Before he became a priest, Fr. Denis spent several whole or part summers as the Madonna House layman at Cana Colony.

Cana snapshot one: Catherine was decidedly not happy to be at Cana. A shy little thing at age three, she had not quite reconciled herself to living in a world that had more people in it than her mother, father, and little brother.

Her parents had dragged her (heartlessly!) to this place full of other kids, strange adults, and disrupted schedules. No, she was not happy. She was, in fact, the picture of utter misery—hunched over, staring at the ground, just waiting for it all to end.

To make matters worse, her parents had invited this strange man (me!) to dinner. Throughout the meal, I could sense her checking me out through her bangs. I have no memory of what I was saying or doing at the meal. No doubt I was holding forth in my usual fashion on some topic or other.

Towards the end of the meal, she suddenly got up and walked around the table to me.

She stared at me for a few seconds; then she started laughing. Hard. We’re talking belly laughs, doubled over laughing, for several minutes. Then, straightening up, she said loudly, “You’re funny,” and threw herself into my arms and, with three-year-old abandon, started chattering away non-stop.

After that, Cana and I were OK in Catherine’s books.

Cana snapshot two: another family, another meal. They were a big family—seven or eight kids ages 17 to 6. I was joining them for dinner, the “holy Madonna House staff worker.” (OK, so this particular family were new to MH and to Cana.)

They were.… Well, they were a big family with the usual dynamics. Kids throwing food and insults at each other, kids surreptitiously punching one another, kids muttering threats of future harm at one another, kids saying, “Mom, make her stop!” “You are so-o-o annoying!” You know—normal family life on a bad day.

The mother was deeply mortified that her children were not exactly on their best behavior at Cana Colony, this holy Catholic place, and to make matters worse, in front of the MH guy who, of course, was used to spending his days in holy silence and tranquility. (Like I said, they were a new Cana family).

So, of course, I smiled, leaned back in my chair (dodging in the process a flying piece of macaroni) and said, “Ah, it’s just like being at home.” Tension broke, smiles all around, and the meal proceeded in (relative) calm.

Cana snapshot three: Geoff was eight—a big kid for his age and consequently a little awkward physically as his motor skills were racing to catch up to the rest of him. I could sympathize, as I’m a clumsy guy myself. I can barely get through a day without tripping over my own feet at least once.

So I was tossing a Frisbee around with him one day, bonding over our mutual clumsiness.

He launched one particular throw at me that was just right, curving perfectly around as a Frisbee should. “That was great, Geoff,” I said. “That was a perfect Frisbee throw.”

Geoff paused, thought about that, and said, “You know, only God can throw a perfect Frisbee.”

“Well… yeah, you’re right, Geoff. It was a good throw, though.”

I don’t really know what happens to the families who come to Cana. They can tell their own stories. Since they keep coming back, I assume something good happens. What I do know is that our little family apostolate in MH has been a source of inestimable, vast blessings for those of us who have been part of it over the years.

While the vocation of family life and consecrated life may seem at first glance to be miles apart from each other, (I don’t really have to dodge flying pasta at MH too often), a beautiful exchange has occurred over the years, through the Cana apostolate, between the two.

A connection is forged by the two vocations coming together as they do at Cana in simple friendship around a campfire, a soccer field, a beach, a meal. Something is communicated from families to consecrated celibates and vice versa.

It’s a mystery of God, and as such cannot nor does it need to be nailed down exactly. I believe, though, that each vocation in the Church, while complete in itself as a path to holiness and eternal life, is incomplete in regard to its self-understanding and self-communication of its own meaning and depth.

Only God can throw a perfect Frisbee. Only God possesses the fullness of life and love in which we are all called to live. We do not fully possess nor do we fully see the depths of life God has bestowed upon us in Christ.

Part of how God deepens our understanding of the fullness of the gospel life is through this mutual exchange among those of different vocations.

For example, from the priesthood, the laity grasp more fully that all life is an offering, a sacrifice, incense going up on the altar of Christ.

Married couples teach celibates the clear centrality of love in Christian discipleship and its concrete specificity: it is always a matter of loving this child, drying this tear, cooking this meal, listening to this person.

Families by their simple openness to life also communicate that heroic generosity and the call to selflessness are embedded at the very heart of human life and its transmission.

Families, in turn, learn from consecrated people that all this concrete, nitty-gritty, messy business of marriage and child-raising is, in its heart of hearts, in its essence, a way of consecrating their lives to God—a beautiful, if difficult, gift of self to the Most High.

Family life can get very bogged down in the immediate, in the mess and burden and hard work of the day. God has established consecrated life as a vocation in the Church, at least in part, to communicate and keep before all Christians that life is from eternity and for eternity and leads us to eternal joy in union with the Trinity.

At times, the different vocations in the Church seem to be in competition with one another. We have a long and lamentable history of praising one way of life by putting down the others.

Certainly consecrated religious have historically denigrated marriage, priests have looked askance at religious, monks have scorned friars, and so on.

This is our humanity, weak, insecure, sinful. How much God desires us to be friends with one another, to toss that imperfect Frisbee of our limited vocations around, to meet in simple fellowship around a table, flying pasta and all, to look at one another and laugh, belly laughs, doubled over, because in a flash of recognition, we see our own life reflected in a life that is so outwardly different.

There is only one vocation, ultimately, and that is the vocation to love because God loved us first. To receive that perfect love as it comes curving towards us perfectly, coming to meet us in a perfection of grace and beauty, and to throw it, in turn, to the other.

Our throw may be wobbly, off course, too high, too low, too hard, too soft. And we may have to run, jump, or dive to catch the love our brother or sister throws to us. We may get bonked on the head.

Only God can throw a perfect Frisbee. But we can laugh as we throw our imperfect gifts at one another. Three-year-old Catherine was right: we are funny, funny people, and we can laugh as we come together as the one family of God, food flying and words too, sitting around feasting at the messy table of the world.