Last week I asked some of the regular readers of this blog for suggestions as to what I should write about in future posts. One friend suggested a top-ten list of the most influential books in my life. I thought that was an excellent idea, and it plays into my Lettermanian predilection for top-ten lists. However, as I started to consider what books to include (and kicked myself a few times for not reading more), another idea came to me, and I set aside the book column for now.
My thought was to list the ten people who have been the most influential in my personal journey of faith. The exercise of thinking about all the people who have been there for me was a most edifying experience, leading me to thank God for always putting the right people in my life at the right time. The only negative was limiting myself to just ten of the many people who have helped me get to this point.
Without further build up, here is my top ten, with a brief explanation of each choice. Since we’re talking about the unfolding drama of my life, I thought I would list them in order of appearance:
(1) Leon and Eileen Suprenant. My parents introduced me to the faith from birth and provided a Catholic education for me. While those were difficult times to be Catholic and there were holes in my early formation, my identity as a Catholic was deeply ingrained, which I believe facilitated my “reversion” to the faith after college.
(2) Raymond Suprenant. I’m referring here to my older brother and not my youngest son (his namesake). Ray passed away while I was in college, but during my formative years he was a wonderful father figure in my life. My fondest recurring childhood memory is getting up early with Ray on Sunday morning for Mass, followed by breakfast at a coffee shop where we would talk endlessly about sports.
(3) Pope John Paul II. He became the Pope when I was an undergraduate, and his lengthy papacy continued until I was well into middle age. He was something of a “constant” for so many people of my generation. I met him a handful of times, and his dynamic presence and compelling witness were a continual source of inspiration to me.
(4) Curtis Martin. I met Curtis in 1984 at a young adult Bible study, where we became close friends. It’s hard to believe that was nearly a quarter-century ago! His friendship, coupled with his singular evangelistic and apologetics gifts (now put to excellent use with FOCUS), was a significant factor in my return to the Catholic Church upon graduation from law school.
(5) Richard Wibbleman. If this were my NFL draft board instead of my “hall of faith,” Mel Kiper would call this one a “reach.” I didn’t know Richard very well, but he was a member of my parish in Ventura, California in the 1980s. I knew him to be a very prayerful man in his 40s–about where I am now in life. One time he shared with me that growing up he had to attend Mass every day at his school, and then of course he had to attend Mass on Sunday with his family. Therefore, very early in life he developed the habit of going to Mass on Saturday, to prove to God that he was there because he wanted to be there, and not because his school or parents made him. That story has inspired me ever since. (If anyone knows Richard, please forward this to him, along with my sincere thanks.)
(6) Peter Kreeft. In the late 1980s I was a postulant with the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, based in Boston. At that time, Dr. Kreeft would leave the hostile confines of Boston College on Tuesdays and Thursdays to teach us philosophy. Over the course of two years, I must have had ten classes with him (the average class size was about a dozen seminarians). More than anyone else, Dr. Kreeft gave me the intellectual formation to prepare me not only for the study of theology, but even more for the work of the lay apostolate.
(7) Fr. Tim Gallagher. He was a young priest for the Oblates in the 1980s. At that time he taught a course on Vatican II that really had a profound impact on my life. I wrote about that experience in this article. His gift, however, was giving the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I made a one-week silent retreat back then, and then in more recent years I have had the singular blessing of being able to have him direct some private retreats for me. He has written several excellent books on Ignatian spirituality, which are available here.
(8) Maureen Suprenant. My wonderful wife for the past 17 1/2 years. Our journey of faith is very much a partnership of life and love, and now in retrospect I understand the time before our marriage as the time Our Lord was preparing us for each other. In living out our vocation, I’ve seen the marvelous interplay of theology and everyday living. Of the countless things Maureen does for me, one thing that immediately comes to mind is that she sees more in me than I often see in myself, and she continually encourages me to become the man God created me to be.
(9) Lyman Stebbins. I guess this is almost like cheating, because I never actually met Mr. Stebbins. However, I believe in a sense I have met him through my close relationship with his son John as well as his widow Madeleine. Further, through my long association with Catholics United for the Faith, which Lyman Stebbins founded in 1968, I have come to a visceral understanding of the “spirit of CUF” through my association with so many saintly CUF colleagues, leaders, and members, and I believe the “spirit of CUF” in a real sense is vision of Lyman Stebbins. Through the CUF apostolate I have grown in my understanding and appreciation of the authentic role of the laity in the Church, as well as my love for the Church.
(10) My children. All of my children, including the many who died in utero, have been and continue to be reflections of God’s goodness in my life. While all of my children in their way, according to their age and where they are in their lives, contribute greatly to my faith, as I’ve noted in many columns. I would like to single out, however, Mary Kate, for her strong faith, and Virginia, for her purity of heart.
My honorable mention would include Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop Raymond Burke, Gail Buckley, Msgr. Charles Mangan, Fr. Thomas Acklin, Fr. Ray Ryland, Scott Hahn, John Summe (late CUF board member), Brian Germann, Jeff Ziegler, and two other people who would be horrified if they saw their names included in such a list. And I’m still only scratching the surface of the cloud of witnesses who in ways small and great have influenced me for the better.
I’m not going to “tag” anybody with this post, but I encourage all our readers to take some time to come up with their own “hall of faith,” which really is about examining how Our Lord has worked in our lives through other people. All praise and glory and thanksgiving to Him!