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Duc in Altum: Deepening our Relationships

By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 02, 2022 | In The Liturgical Year

My husband and I (with our youngest son) dropped off our oldest son at Franciscan University of Steubenville last week. Our son is a freshman in college! It was personally refreshing for me to go visit to my alma mater, but also reassuring that it is a good place for our son. So far it has been a smooth transition. I think our youngest son is the one that is having the hardest time in adjusting, as he is losing his best friend and companion.

I’d say we have been in “college mode” in earnest since last year. It has been a flurry of activity having a senior in high school with all those extra senior activities, plus the college applications and guiding our son into the big decisions of life. And the last few months have been the actual physical preparation: doctors’ appointments, list-making, shopping, packing, etc. for going away to college.

Last Friday we said good-bye. I have been preparing myself for this transition, and praying for the graces for this time. This is a big shift in his transition of becoming a man. Oh yes, he will come back for breaks and still be at home at times, but there is a natural change, and we will never be in the same parent model as we were before.

Truly, when friends and family ask, I am really happy for him. Of course, it’s a little bittersweet at times when I still see that little smiling baby boy in the young man he’s grown to be. This is the natural transition of life and I’m excited as to what is in store for him. As my husband keeps saying, this is the point that, like St. John the Baptist, we as parents must decrease, and our son must increase. This is his turn and his time.

I keep wondering if it will hit me and I’ll be emotional, but I think my attitude has been consistent all through their childhood. I love our family memories, but I like to embrace the child where he is at the moment. I have tried to recognize him where he is now. I don’t wish they would stay babies or be little forever. At each periods of their growth, I have enjoyed our sons for the persons they are at that moment.

Duc in Altum

Throughout this process, I’ve been thinking how this is a time for both of us as parents, and for our son to “put out into the deep” or “Duc in altum.” We just heard this Gospel at Mass last week. I was pondering the words of Pope St. John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (emphasis mine):

…our hearts ring out with the words of Jesus when one day, after speaking to the crowds from Simon’s boat, he invited the Apostle to “put out into the deep” for a catch: “Duc in altum“ (Lk 5:4). Peter and his first companions trusted Christ’s words, and cast the nets. “When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish” (Lk 5:6).

Duc in altum! These words ring out for us today, and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Heb 13:8). (Pope St. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte)

I can hear in my mind Pope John Paul II saying this phrase, which makes it even more personal. His quote truly sums up how I stand at this moment. I am so grateful for his childhood, I want to embrace the present with joy, and look forward to the future.

And he said further on:

Now we must look ahead, we must “put out into the deep”, trusting in Christ’s words: Duc in altum! What we have done this year cannot justify a sense of complacency, and still less should it lead us to relax our commitment. On the contrary, the experiences we have had should inspire in us new energy, and impel us to invest in concrete initiatives the enthusiasm which we have felt. Jesus himself warns us: “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62). In the cause of the Kingdom there is no time for looking back, even less for settling into laziness. Much awaits us, and for this reason we must set about drawing up an effective post-Jubilee pastoral plan.

I know he is specifically referring to the change into millennium, but all what he says applies to our current reality, also. The transition to college and manhood is work for both our son and us as parents. It is an adjustment and deepening of relationships.

Focus on Relationships

Outside of college prep, I have been immersing myself this summer into some Catechesis of the Good Shepherd formation courses. I’ve been certified in all levels, but it’s always good for a refresher, especially since the formations are like a retreat. One aspect that is repeated in all levels is the presentation of Maria Montessori’s Planes of Development of Childhood. Montessori observed that the growth into adulthood followed four separate planes: 1st Plane, ages 0-6; 2nd Plane, ages 6-12; 3rd Plane, ages 12-18 and; 4th plane, ages 18-24. Each plane has separate characteristics and physical, emotional and spiritual growth, some marked with “sensitive periods” of particular explosion of growth in certain areas.

I don’t have the time today to expand too much on the Planes of Development (but highly recommend these talks by Maggie Radzik for further expansion), but have been thinking about how, outside of physical and interior growth, there is a growth and change in relationships. The youngest child’s relationships are small and intimate: Mommy, Daddy, siblings, sometimes grandparents. The Second Plane becomes a little more outward looking: What are my relationships outside of the family? Where do I fit into society? What is my role?

Adolescents in the Third Plane begins to prepare for adulthood. They repeat the questions as they did in second plane, but with an even larger scope. They look for other adults to help guide, and also closely look at their peers to navigate through the 12-18 stage: How can I contribute to society, and help in fixing social problems? Finally, there is the merging into adulthood, with the beginning of “adulting” and hopefully good adult mentors who help guide through this transition.

And each plane has a different type of relationship with Christ and His Church. The First Plane is the deepest, most intimate love of Christ. The prayer of that child is praise and thankfulness and love. The parable of the Vine and the Branches applies well to the Second (and Third) Plane, seeing the larger community of the whole Mystical Body, and how we are so interconnected. Prayers of petition arise at this phase. This is the age of reason, which also means the introduction of interior work in the moral plane. Adolescence is testing the waters of the larger community of the Church, praying, united universally through the Liturgy. Personal prayer becomes more self-directed, but there is a deeper participation into the Church’s liturgy, bringing that connectedness. This is an age for beginning of social work and involvement—the adolescent wants to be “hands-on” in helping his/her community.

And finally, the last Plane is the shifting into adulthood, and learning to be an adult in one’s relationship with Christ and His Church. If the work has been laid down in each plane, the person can more easily transition into the next stage of growth. Here is the time for discernment of one’s vocation, finding a spiritual director, maybe a spirituality to follow (such as Franciscan, Dominican, Benedictine, Carmelite, Opus Dei, etc.). This is the time to start establishing personal rhythms and routines of one’s spiritual life.

And for us, our relationship has shifted more as guides, providing support. We enjoy having more adult conversations with him. Our son now has to answer this call to “put out into the deep.” He is finding and making new relationships, and he should especially be deepening his relationship with Christ and His Church. And my husband and I are also called to new areas, to go deeper. Our vocation as parents is shifting, and now our marital relationship is more focused on each other. Our prayer life is also shifting into more of what we need than what we and the children need.

I know this work will unfold gradually. We are blindly throwing in our nets and saying yes to this next call in our relationship with Christ, but the daily work will unfold all that it will entail. “Duc in altum!

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, mother, CGS catechist and authority on living the liturgical year, or liturgical living. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org’s liturgical year section. See full bio.

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