It was 1979. Bruce Jenner had won the gold medal almost three years earlier, and now he had everyone running. He smiled for the Wheaties cereal box and promoted the concept of jog-a-thons as a fundraiser idea. I was the class treasurer that year. Junior prom was two years away, and the fundraiser sounded like a good way to generate some cash so we would be able to put on a prom for the seniors that would really wow them.
So, we sent away for a jog-a-thon kit and passed out forms. The whole class was going to participate, and we begged family and friends to pledge a couple of bucks for every mile we successfully completed. Our class moderator, Mr. Canterbury, set aside a three-mile route through our home town and marked off the area with orange cones. The traffic was diverted in order to keep the runners safe. Sixty kids showed up in shorts and tennis shoes, ready to run, jog or walk. Three miles into it, I was done.
Some managed to run five or ten miles, repeating the three-mile route over and over again.
Darrin Ripley decided it was a good day to run his first marathon. We were in awe of him.
The folks who had made a per-mile pledge were not as thrilled with Darrin. Five dollars per mile adds up, especially when a freshman boy is trying to prove something to a bunch of freshmen girls – or maybe just trying to prove something to himself.
On Monday morning, the students turned in their earnings. I counted out the money. Darrin’s supporters had paid up. They probably swallowed hard as they did it, but Iowans know how to keep a promise.
I think it must be like that for some parents when their son or daughter discerns a call to religious life. The promise to raise one’s children in the faith suddenly has a higher price than expected. It makes eight years of parish religion classes or twelve years of Catholic education seem like a small sacrifice in comparison.
Some parents probably swallow hard as they dig deeply into their souls and promise to give their full support to a child who has discerned a call to the priesthood or religious life.
But I also think that there are some parents like Darrin’s dad. Mr. Ripley didn’t blink an eye when Darrin said that he’d run over twenty-six miles. Mr. Ripley was a coach – and he probably understood his son more in that moment than he ever had.
He probably smiled when he wrote that check to his son’s class at Riceville Community High School. Darrin turned the money in promptly that Monday morning, and we were in awe once again. The newspaper photographer came out to take our picture. I got to be in the picture because I was the treasurer. Darrin got to be in the picture because nobody else had even come close to running as far as he had. We’d won an award from Bruce Jenner and Wheaties. Our class of sixty students had come in third in the nation for Jog-a-thons that year.
And we gave the seniors one fantastic prom the year we were juniors.
In reality, though, the people who made good on their promise to pay had something to do with it. No matter how much we ran that day, we needed the support of those who signed our pledge cards.
And there’s a lesson in that as well. The faithful pray that God will send Mother Church more vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We make a pledge to support them, encourage them, and respect them for giving themselves so fully to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Moms and Dads, it’s time to encourage our children to follow God completely, even if the price is high. Even if the marathon ends with the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
It’s time for the faithful to sign their pledge cards and give their support. We do this when we remember to pray for vocations and when we make good on our promise to hold our religious up through prayer. We do this when we make good on our promise to respect them as one standing in the place of Our Lord. In persona Christi.
We aren’t investing in a junior prom. No, our celebration trumps all celebrations. We are investing in the future of Mother Church. We are doing all that we can to make sure the Mass is celebrated throughout the world and that the laity has access to the Sacramental life.
This is the eternal celebration. And it is worth every sacrifice.
God, Our Father, send us holy priests and more vocations to religious life – all for the Sacred and Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, all for the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, in union with Saint Joseph. Amen.