Editor's notebook: A father's 'Way of the Cross'
continues to hit home
Wednesday, April 09, 2014 2:44 AM
About 45 years ago, amid the happy chaos of his large Bethesda home as his 13 children were coming and going in all directions, Deacon Clarence Enzler would settle onto a living room chair and write a manuscript by hand, or pull up a chair and peck at his typewriter on the dining room table.
The booklet he wrote, "Everyone's Way of the Cross," became a spiritual classic, eventually selling more than 3 million copies worldwide. The book was recently re-issued by Ave Maria Press, with woodcut illustrations by the mother-daughter team of Gertrud Mueller Nelson and Annika Nelson.
"It's still timely, it still works," said the author's son, Msgr. John Enzler. "It's so human... It comes across as a very realistic, human response to everyday life that can help us relate to Jesus carrying his cross."
Msgr. Enzler, the president and CEO of Catholic Charities, served for many years as a popular local pastor, and now he sees his work as being a pastor for the region's poor. His father's example played a key role in his decision to become a priest, and in his outlook for serving the poor.
As a youngster, John Enzler used to tag along with his dad to daily Mass, and one cold morning, they encountered a man on the sidewalk who appeared to be homeless. Deacon Enzler spoke with the man, then gave him the jacket off his back and went inside his house to put on another coat. The future priest asked his dad why he had given away his coat to a stranger, and Deacon Enzler replied, "Because it's what you're supposed to do."
Deacon Enzler later preached at his son's first Mass in 1973. He remembered being accompanied every morning to 6:15 a.m. Mass by his little boy. "We had something very special going, didn't we?" the proud father asked, but then he pointed out that his goal was not for his son to idolize him, but to understand that "his Father in heaven can indeed do it all."
And the deacon praised his wife Kathleen, the mother of their big, happy family, for being Father Enzler's best teacher. "Her heart and her lap were your most important school room."
That love for God and his family, that common sense approach to his faith and his life, resonates in Deacon Enzler's "Everyone's Way of the Cross." He later estimated that he spent many hours coming up with each word, perhaps not so much because of the distractions in his household, but because he wanted to get each and every word right. He later explained that he began writing that booklet as a "true labor of love" for God. And he recognized that sometimes his own pride got in the way, as he sometimes was sidetracked in crafting a modern Way of the Cross, by thoughts of the glory it might bring him, rather than his goal of leading readers to know and love the Lord.
For the fifth station, a reflection on Simon helping Jesus carry the cross, Deacon Enzler wrote, "Lord, make me realize, that every time I wipe a dish, pick up an object off the floor, assist a child in some small task, or give another preference in traffic or the store, each time I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, teach the ignorant, or lend my hand in any way - no matter not to whom - my name is Simon. And the kindness I extend to them, I really give to you."
Deacon Enzler, a writer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 32 years, later headed the Archdiocese of Washington's Family Life Bureau. In 1976, he died following heart surgery. He was 66.
Msgr. Enzler said that in the years since, all 13 of the Enzler children have heard personal stories of how their dad's booklet, "Everyone's Way of the Cross," has touched people's lives, not just on Good Friday and the other Fridays of Lent, but throughout the year. The priest's youngest sister once visited a church in New Zealand, where she found out that people there used the booklet to pray the Stations of the Cross. Msgr. Enzler once got a note from a woman honored by the White House for her service to the poor, who said she read and prayed from that booklet every day.
Deacon Clarence Enzler's little book, a father's "labor of love" to God the Father, written in words that he struggled over in his Bethesda home, has changed countless people's lives.
"The part that amazes us," said Msgr. Enzler, "was Dad was doing spiritual writing with all that activity around him, and he was able to get in touch with the Lord, and try to write in a way that others could see Jesus in their daily activities."