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What Matters Most in the Human Adventure

We moved from a military post near Regensburg, Germany, to Ave Maria in 2007 confident that the environment would help us to be constantly mindful of what matters most in the human adventure, and that we would have the mutual support of our neighbors as we nurtured our children.  We sought peer support to live up to our chosen ideals rather than constant pressure to abandon them.

It is unfortunate that people typically “live together failing to recognize what unites us,” which ends up “breaking down the bonds of trust.”[1]  This fosters “a terrible sense of solitude” because we sense we are living “a destiny devoid of all meaning.”[2]  But this solitude is not present “when we are conscious of the adequate reason for being with others.”[3]  This consciousness and the resultant unity pervade the Ave Maria community, even as we go about our daily lives with the same distractions and stresses and sins common to any community.

This consciousness and unity became very tangible during a watershed event in August of 2010. The eldest of our seven children, Alex, died in a car accident in town at the age of 19, about three weeks before he would begin classes at AMU. In the midst of this otherwise senseless tragedy the community united to live and witness and taste “the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”[4]  The deepest significance of our Christian faith was suddenly front and center – and facing that reality together was a powerful source of unity for an inorganic community comprised entirely of people with roots in other towns and states.

The remarks delivered at Alex’s wake serve as an expression of the profound beauty and importance of our every day community life in Ave Maria:

Late last year I consciously let go of Alex to release him into his freedom as an adult. I was surprised and delighted by what I came to see: a Christian young man of great maturity and beauty, molded by God through many of you. A person to become friends with. A man to admire. And what could make a father’s heart sing more than realizing that his son has qualities the father would like to acquire?

As we have done with all of our children (and even with ourselves) we entrusted Alex to the people of Ave Maria to help us draw our son to seek a life focused on knowing, loving, and serving God so that he might obtain the promises of heaven purchased for us by Christ.

We now entrust Alex to God’s mercy, having witnessed in his life bountiful evidence that despite his sins – the remnant of The Fall that is in us all – he was focused on those very things, which are the only things that matter.

Thank you, all of God’s people who helped Alex on his journey – and especially all people of Ave Maria, for doing your part. We moved here so that we could have love and support from an abundance of neighbors as we endeavored to help our children (and ourselves) live and die as would-be saints – and for no other reason.

We have great hope that you and we have succeeded in that task (in that duty we have to one another – and to all – as Christians) with Alex.

It did not take a village to help our dear Alex to blossom into a fine young man devoted to Christ – it took the body of Christ that was present to Alex in Ave Maria in all its many forms. A village without a core of Truth could not have done it.

We now are forced to face together the reality of why we all chose to come to this wonderful village of sinners – indeed this “most unique” community – where we grow, learn and play – and – pray (and die! – yes die) together.[5]  But it is a powerful chance to dwell on the truth of His promises and the vital importance we all have in one another’s lives as we fulfill our call as follower’s of Christ to sacrifice for (that is, to love) one another and take every opportunity to urge and encourage our neighbors in our daily struggles to fight sin and embrace the opposite – sacrifice and love for our neighbor all for the greater glory of God.

For three years you all have been doing this for us and our children, and we hope you know we have been trying to do the same for you. We are able to be joyful – as we should be – even in our son’s death because of you. In fact, we are joyful due to our son’s death, not because we take joy in his departure from this world, of course. But because this tragic loss has allowed us to experience an abundance of love in ways we can’t begin to describe.

And so the reason for this community of Ave Maria, the reason we are committed to our faith in Christ, the reason for the Church – namely, the destiny of each man’s eternity – this reason is now something we in Ave Maria confront head on. Laurie and I ask ourselves: did we provide our Alex with what he needed so that he would be happy to choose a life aimed at a joyful eternity with the Creator? And the answer is that we provided him with you, our neighbors and friends. And together we encouraged him and challenged him to face reality – the real meaning of life – with vigor and joy and zeal and charity.  Together we proposed our faith to Alex by sharing ourselves with him. By giving ourselves to him. By loving him. And Alex accepted that proposal in his own unique way. And he gave himself back to us, by loving us – by serving God.

Alex’s story is not complete without noting the impact of his theology teacher and spiritual mentor, Sister Teresa Benedicta, O.P., of the Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist.[6] Before sister left Ave Maria for summer break that year, she spent her last hour in town in the Adoration chapel. It was six in the morning on Sunday, which happened to be Alex’s regular holy hour. They prayed the rosary together and then as Alex escorted sister to her convent in our neighborhood they exchanged prayer requests. She encouraged him to persevere in faith and then departed for the airport. Several weeks later, after Alex died, we found this entry in the prayer journal he had written during the school year at her prompting:

I am living for eternal happiness, to see God face to face. Isn’t that what all humans should be striving for? There is something wrong if we’re not. Even if we don’t know, isn’t it imprinted in man’s soul – longing for happiness? …We just get caught up in the secular world. We give up our free will, selling our souls to the secular world. Thus, when we live our lives, we’re being slaves and strive for the secular stuff. We don’t even realize it… But this is why God puts people into our lives: so we can free ourselves from slavery. But if secular slaves are so stuck in that world and reject help from God, is it safe to say they’re hopeless and helpless? No! Hope never fails. The reason being is prayer… Now me? I need to detach myself from material things more so than I am. It’s slowing down my plan for God, making me more and more not a free man, but a slave. The more slave I become, the more freedom I lose, thus making it harder to find truth. Lord, I pray that I gain more knowledge about you and your works. It keeps me away from sin. Guide me to freedom. Let me not become prideful, but humble as I grow closer to you. Amen.

Our son was privileged to live in a community that nurtured and inspired him to choose to think and live that way. Our family remains privileged to live in the same community. Who could ask for anything more?

Submitted by Robb & Laurie Klucik.

You can read more about Alex (and donate to his memorial fund) at AlexofAveMaria.com

[1] Giussani, Luigi. The Religious Sense. Ithaca: McGill-Queens University Press, 1997, p.85. Some residents have become familiar with Giussani’s writing through the movement Communion & Liberation, which residents Michael & Susie Waldstein (professors of Theology at Ave Maria University) introduced to Ave Maria.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Pakaluk, Ruth and Pakaluk, Michael. The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Resident Michael Pakaluk (chair of Ave Maria University’s Philosophy department) titled his recent book (describing the life of his late first wife Ruth and including her letters and public addresses) after a phrase from Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock.

[5] This is a reference to the signs that the developer placed along the road that leads into town, letting potential buyers know that Ave Maria is a place where we “live, grow, learn and play” together.  These signs are occasional fodder for humor among the people in town. Here the ironic truth in these corny slogans is highlighted and expanded.

[6] The youth in Ave Maria encounter many such caring witness-mentors in town, including coaches, neighbors and teachers (notably Jon Beane at the Donohue Academy). In this way the environment in town resembles the ideal discussed in The Risk of Education: Discovering Our Ultimate Destiny (Giussani, Luigi. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2001).

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