By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 18 January 2013 in The Madera Tribune
Days arise upon which our personal existences depend. Our birthdays are an obvious example. In my case, today is another. Forty-nine years ago my parents Joseph and Theresa (“Terri”) wed.
From their blessed union, three sons, a daughter, and I would be conceived in the following decade.
In Jan. 2009, I spoke with my parents about how they found each other, which apparently was at a regular Catholic young adult gathering across the street from St. John’s Cathedral in Fresno, California, around Nov. 1962.
“That was officially where I had enough nerve to approach her (and ask), ‘Didn’t I see you? We met before’,” my father recalled, “She probably thought that was a lot of…”
“The usual line,” my mother said.
By then my 26-year-old dad, an immigrant from Germany, had already become very impressed by those of Mexican ancestry in California.
“Because they’re different,” my mom said with a laugh.
“Some of them have a very pronounced (Christian) faith,” explained my dad.
Yet he wasn’t lying about having seen her before. He had witnessed my mom, a Mexican folkloric dancer, perform with her troupe at a charitable benefit in Sanger.
“The truth is I had been talked into going to a $25-a-plate dinner,” he said. “I think my uncle had been approached by the church… He said (to me), ‘If you go to that fundraiser… I’ll pay half the ticket.’”
At the time, my dad only earned $350 a month, so the offer was attractive. But the expense wasn’t his biggest concern.
“The trouble was I didn’t know too many people there… Am I going to sit like a wallflower just looking around?” he remembered.
It turned out that keeping one’s eyes open wasn’t so terrible.
“Then I saw her… She had a beautiful dress. She had made it all herself. (It had) a Mexican eagle (made of sequins) in front (of its long black skirt)… She left a big impression on me.”
So he spoke to her at the young adult gathering in Fresno and her initial skepticism faded when he mentioned details of the Sanger fundraiser.
They talked and went out a few times, but for my mom it wasn’t love at first sight… or even the second or third one.
“Later on when I sent her a St. Valentine’s Day card she finally realized what my name was,” he said with a grin. “She got tired of asking… She (had) never caught on to the name.”
Rieping is admittedly a rare name in California.
“Leaping. That’s what I kept hearing. Joe Leaping,” my mom said.
“I didn’t roll the R” like she expected, my dad said.
But my dad persevered.
“She was very conservative. She wasn’t outgoing,” my dad said. “But the more she held back the more I went for her. Because I’d always asked the Lord (God) to send me a Catholic girl who was more into religion than I was.”
With a smile, he explained, “That way she could raise the kids Catholic and I don’t have to worry about it.”
Ultimately he wouldn’t be spared such efforts. Over the years she helped fan the flames of his own Christian faith.
Around April 18, 1963, they would celebrate her brother Joseph’s birthday and, after three or four months of dating, my mom reciprocated my dad’s open affection.
“When I took her home that evening… she finally said, ‘I love you, Joseph.’ Boy, I was shaking. I was shook to pieces.”
Hearing my dad’s recollection, my mom laughed.
Less than a year later, their mutual confessions of love would become a public vow to which they ever struggled, when necessary, to remain faithful.
One day my dad learned to his dismay of my mom’s perpetual prayer to be poor. She saw the spiritual benefits of poverty as far outweighing anything material success could offer. Now she suffers the poverty of Alzheimer’s disease. But with her loving husband beside her she is truly rich.
“I think the world today is upside down,” missionary sister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mother Teresa said. “Everybody seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater development and greater riches and so on. There is much suffering because there is so very little love in homes and in family life. We have no time for our children; we have no time for each other; there is no time to enjoy each other. In the home begins the disruption of the peace of the world.”
Yet in loving homes lie seeds of hope.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 11 January 2013 in The Madera Tribune
During my 10th year under the light of the sun, I decided there could be no better age to be. A child no more, I had two proud digits to express the number of my longevity. Without regret, I left the children’s menu behind when ordering food at restaurants. I had reached the pinnacle of my existence.
The seemingly sturdy boat of my being seemed a great seafaring ship compared to the simple and trembling raft of my earlier self. The fickle waves and storms brought by the winds of puberty had not yet wrestled with me, and I had not the sense to fear them.
I kept a diary that year, though not with any faithfulness. I barely filled a handful of pages within the tiny notebook. Yet I sincerely wanted to record summaries of my days. I would be a famous poet and novelist someday, and people would want to know my tale.
With the boldness of innocence, I confided to my diary on July 8, 1984: “Today is Sunday (and) this morning I went to Mass. Today they talked about sainthood and so I am going to try to be a saint. Don’t you tell, okay?”
A spontaneous online reflection of mine on another Sunday, May 13, would unintentionally comment on my progress 23 years later. Still a poet, I responded to a forum discussion: “Every boy dreams himself a hero / and sees his face in every epic life. / Yet what changes within our hearts / that we rise less and less when called?
“The day may come when true heroes unmask / the villainy of the child grown / so selfish now. But wasn’t he always so? / Perhaps he sees what always was.
“We find ways to cope with forgotten dreams / and cease to struggle as we slowly numb / to all the gifts we bear and yearn for. / But spare us mirrors about our selves. / We do not wish to see.
“Even so, I pray to God / for mercy on this villain, I, / too weak to stand for long / upon his feet God-given. / Teach me to walk and see / the hero in me.”
Some bristled at my labeling myself as a “villain,” but don’t we all encounter within us at times someone contrary to the hero we’d like to be? As the apostle Paul admitted in a letter to Christians in Rome, “For that which I do I understand not: for what I would do, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” (Romans 7:15)
Moments of ineptitude aside, sometimes we freely choose to act wrongly or to neglect to do what we should, even though we know better. Paul’s answer and my far less inspired response to this self-contradiction are the same: God. For what moral law and conscience fail to achieve in us due to our weakness, “God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh…” (cf. Romans 8:3) So Christians believe.
As a medieval Gregorian chant exclaims, “O marvelous exchange! Man’s Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
This unearned gift of divine help -- to love as God loves -- is cause enough for hope.
For Roman Catholics, the Christmas season lingers on the church calendar a few more days. For others it might persist only in memory. But for all Christians the true joy of Christmas, this “marvelous exchange,” should never be far from our hearts.
For that to be so, we must never cease to participate in the exchange it celebrates. We must daily offer to God our all-too-human self as a sincere gift, as completely as we can, and in return we will receive God.
“But as many as received him, to them he gave the power to become children of God…” (cf. John 1:12)
“At that time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and Jesus said, ‘Verily I say to you, unless you turn and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2-3)
It is no accident the festival of Christmas is associated with children. For we who claim to be born of God, the mystery of Christmas is only fulfilled when Christ is born in us.
This music video only had two other views when I first discovered it this evening. But apparently it was filmed and edited by my niece's husband Rafael Rodarte, and the primary actors are one of my brothers, his wife, and their children. It also features my hometown church, one of our local priests, and a friend of mine. The song was sung by that friend with backup vocal harmony by my niece's husband. The lyrics were mostly by that niece, Bernadette.
As she explained: "It is about prayer linking the body of Christ but also the lyrics of the song (and title, "Men of Faith") are supposed to convey the importance of men (the priest, the discerning vocation and the father/ head of the household) in the faith and it's a call for them to stand up and live their faith."
Needless to say, I'm proud of the music video, but I'm also biased. Listen for yourself and, if you wish, let me know what you think.