By Marcus Ashlock
It goes without saying, the experiences of our lives, both positive and negative, shape us into the people we become over that lifetime. Most of us know at least one anecdote of a child wanting to be a doctor, fireman, teacher, lawyer, policeman or even a priest due to the influence of a pivotal moment in his or her youth.
The child can recall with vibrant clarity the moment the inspiration occurred; however, if you were to interview the adult about the memory, they may not remember it as significant. As adults, it’s important to keep in mind that a kind word or a moment of encouraging motivation can mold a pliable heart and soul into the vocation of a child’s life.
Parish and family are keys
As Catholics, we know the strength of faith and family when they merge effectively, working together in support of one another in the homes in which we raise our children and the faith they see through practice of daily and weekly interaction with the Church and its congregation.
These experiences can mean the difference in helping youth build an unbreakable love of their faith or letting the world pull them away one day. Lifelong missionary discipleship can begin at a young age, even when it is not the intention. Watching and participating in parish programs and activities can begin a path of deepened faith, for both participant and observer.
John Tibbetts, 15-year-old son of Chris and Jennifer Tibbetts of St. Lambert Parish in Sioux Falls, has been an altar server for nine years and a pontifical altar server for seven. As a pontifical altar server, he is one of the 20 servers for Bishop DeGrood at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Sioux Falls.
According to John, the servers take their role at Mass with Bishop DeGrood seriously and practice to ensure all their actions and movements are reverent, allowing parishioners to keep their focus on the altar and helping the bishop as he performs the sacrifice of the Mass.
“We make their job easier so they can focus on praying and really directing everyone’s focus to Jesus,” John said. “It can be stressful if something doesn’t go right and you want it to be good and look good, but Bishop DeGrood is very understanding and relaxed, knowing how to calm us down, taking off the pressure.”
Making Mass more glorious
Not all pontifical servers can assist at every Mass, but when many are in attendance, the pontifical serving group will add them to enhance the parishioner’s experience through longer processions, incense or candle bearers for the gifts.
“We really can make the Mass so much more glorious,” John said. “I feel like when we have enough servers, we can use incense or have so much longer of a procession, bringing all that attention and glory to God.”
One never knows who will be attending Mass: a fallen Catholic on their way back to the Church, a non-Christian who is attending with a friend, or a potential convert who is considering coming home to Catholicism. The altar servers work hard to limit distractions so people can focus more on the importance of the Mass.
“We can enhance the Mass in its different forms, just adding to it and making it more reverent,” John said. “It’s that missionary part of ours, that someone might see the glory of the Mass with all of these beautiful references to the sacrament and people might be drawn closer and want to look into their faith more.”
Blessed to serve
According to John, he followed his five brothers in becoming an altar server. He watched them participate as pontifical altar servers, and when there was an opening, he was selected to learn how to help the bishop during his Mass. This experience through elementary and high school has deepened his faith by watching priests and the bishop so closely.
“It increased my love for the sacrament; it’s really a blessing to be that close and to be a part of it,” John said. “I’ve started listening more to the words and the deepness, especially the Eucharistic prayer, and that’s really made me love my faith and the sacrament so much more. You really see it so much closer and deeper when you’re an altar server, the way the priests are attached to and the way they love the sacrament.”
Though the words “missionary discipleship” may invoke images of Christians helping those in need in third-world countries, it can be as simple as the local missionary work of an altar server committing himself to perfection for the glory of God. Working together to provide the parishioner an experience with the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith, a moment so reverent they begin to truly see the real presence of Jesus.
These moments are created by a willingness to volunteer and to give oneself with a servant’s heart in charity. You, too, may start a path of lifelong missionary discipleship, allowing others to see the love of Jesus when it is least expected.