There’s a story that in retrospect seems very recent but actually took place two generations ago. A young father was driving with his 4-year-old son down one of the main streets of the city in which they lived. While quietly chuckling, enjoying, and trying to answer the endless stream of 4-year-old questions the lad was posing, one question literally stopped the dad in his tracks.
“Why's that lady got no clothes on Papa? And what's that big word mean?”
“What? Where are you looking? What are you seeing??” the dad asked in worried astonishment as the boy pointed to a huge billboard, newly set up on top of a building along the street.
The billboard had the image of a naked woman's torso, wearing only what appeared to be a shark tooth necklace. There was no face in the picture, just torso, showing only a little of her breasts and hips, but as much of her body as probably was legally possible without the image being pornographic.
Beside the image was the word “hedonism” in huge capital letters. Below this was an invitation to come to a luxury tropical resort village operated by a French tourist company.
The father was dumbfounded. He could not think of an answer to the boy's questions, neither why the lady had no clothes, nor an explanation of the word that a 4-year-old could understand.
But inside he began to seethe with indignation that his son should have been subjected to this “advertising,” and that there was nothing that he could do to undo the harmful effect this visual assault might have on his child.
Or was there …
The mother and father had been, for a quite a while, discussing the possibility of pulling up the roots they had begun to set down in the city of the mother's childhood after they had wed. Their dream of a place in “the country” was strong in their hearts. But the reality of such a radical change for them was both daunting and filled with uncertainty about their ability to make a go of it.
They wanted to own some land, plant gardens, raise livestock for their own use, cut firewood and use it to heat a home where they and their children could doze or play in front of the fireplace during the cold winters. They wanted to grow in their Catholic faith.
Their hope was for their children to have a wholesome and faith-filled environment in which to flourish.
A place where they could swim in clean lakes, hike forest trails, build native villages and settlers' cabins, learn to fish, hunt, be silent when watching a deer or rabbit that had not yet seen them, and go crazy with youthful exuberance without fear that their noise would upset the neighbors. And a place where their faith could grow and mature in the midst of a community of families whose religious life was the center of their family life.
The billboard decided the issue for them. “It's now or never, my love,” the dad said to the mom after describing what he and his child had been subjected to as they drove along the city street. “We have three kids now (four, three and a not-quite-one-year-old), so this will be difficult, but we can do this!
“It will take a leap in faith for us, but if we don't try to do what's in our hearts now, we may never have the courage to do it later. I don't want our sons to have to look at billboards like that ever again, not if I can help it.”
So the father and mother began the arduous process of moving to “the country,” but not without first putting themselves and their plans in the hands of Our Lady, on whose intercession to Jesus on their behalf they would completely rely.
On the last day of May, they left “the city” in an old van packed to the roof (and on the roof), and towing a borrowed trailer with all their belongings, and set out for “the country.”
And what did they find there? Certainly all the things they had hoped for, but much more besides – both hardships and indescribable joy.
The day after settling into a cabin on a lake that was to be their headquarters for the summer while they scouted out available properties for sale, the local parish priest dropped by for an unannounced visit.
“I had heard about you moving in here, and thought I'd come over to welcome you to the parish, and see if there was anything I could help you with or do for you?” Fr. Joe said.
Wow! They had never before been visited at home by a parish priest … and how did Fr. Joe know they were there, and where to find them? Was this the well-known news grapevine of small communities?
They were overwhelmed by the priest's warm welcome and generous offers (he never did tell them how he knew they were there). They counted his visit as an affirmation that they were in the right place and Our Lady's hand was on them.
At Mass that Sunday in their new parish, the young couple with their three children were apprehensive about how they would be received by their fellow parishioners. Most of them were older folks, but there were a few families with young children.
Some of the old-timers were aloof, suspicious of the newcomers, but many others were not only welcoming but overjoyed that the couple had brought themselves and their kids to the parish.
“Don't worry if your kids are noisy, deary, we don't mind – it's nice to have more children in the church,” the young mom was told.
And they discovered to their wonderment that many of the older families in the parish (the families whose ancestors had pioneered and settled the area in the 1850s) had lots, and lots, of kids – 8, 12, 16 kids!
The children, nine of them and mostly grown to adulthood, of one of these families were such warm and kind people, that the young father was prompted to ask the mom of this family how she did it, hoping to gain some insight into raising children.
The dad of this family, who farmed his land and drove a logging truck, stood by and smiled a smile that turned into hearty, exuberant, good-natured laughter.
The mom looked away wistfully for a moment, but with a smiling twinkle in her eye, then told the young father, “Well, I loved them, I just loved them. And I was always there for them.”
She then added the most down-to-earth advice the young dad had ever heard. “And if they didn't work, they didn't eat,” the woman, full of the wisdom of her age, said.
The young father never forgot these words, and pondered them in his heart. And while he never had occasion to put this advice into actual practice (although it could be used as a motivational tool), he learned that working together to build a culture of life within the family was what the older woman was really saying.
So this, dear reader, is a little part of the story of the young couple's abandonment of “the city” to begin a new life in “the country.”
They live near Combermere, Ontario, where many of their 14 children also live. Their lives in the country have proven, so far, to be a great adventure, with both hardships and heartaches, but also with abounding love and great joy, as the lives of families everywhere are bound to be.
For this they are truly grateful to their Father in heaven for His blessings and protection, to Our Lady who has guided them along the way, to Jesus who is The Way they have tried to follow, to their friends and neighbors who are always there in times of need and in times of celebration, and to their children, without whom the adventure wouldn't have been half as much fun.
As they look forward to the celebration of the birth of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they want to wish you, dear reader, a most happy, blessed and holy Christmas, and much joy, laughter and Life in the coming year.