Saturday, February 15, 2020

Family Day and the Christian "Way'

Yesterday afternoon, I offered Mass for the tenth wedding anniversary of a young couple who moved away from the parish a few years back.

They’d invited their family and friends to the celebration, including about ten other young couples. Several  families were late for Mass—no surprise there, since many small children were in tow.

One of the altar servers was a young lad from the parish where our former parishioners now live. As each of the latecomers arrived, I turned to him and asked “Know those people?” And each time he whispered, “They’re from our church.”

What I was seeing was simple, but wonderful. Catholic families were bonding not just as friends but as families of disciples. I spoke to as many couples as I could, and discovered some of the ways they were supporting one another on their journey of faith.

Let me be clear: this wasn’t a congregation of members of one of the vigorous lay movements that have sprung up in the Church. Their common link was simply the Christian life, lived at the parish and school, and a shared commitment to passing on faith in Jesus to their children.

And one other thing: the families were larger than average. The smallest number of children was two, the largest seven. And two or three couples confided that another child was on the way.

I mention this partly because I just needed to share the hope this little gathering brought me, especially since some of the couples began their married lives at Christ the Redeemer and two are here still with us despite the cost of housing. And partly because we’re celebrating the Family Day holiday tomorrow but also because that faith-filled anniversary celebration sheds light on some of the many truths we find in our readings today.

The first reading from Sirach reminds us that life’s all about choices. You can keep the commandments, or break them. You can choose good or choose evil. You can choose life or choose death.

But even before we make those dramatic choices, we face something even more fundamental. We can trust in God, or not. Forming a family nowadays, especially a large family, requires trust in God

Today’s psalm says “Blessed are those who walk in the way of the Lord.” Today’s world says: “I’m not at all sure.” We think we can look after ourselves better than God can or will.

In the second reading, St. Paul teaches that the wisdom of God is not the wisdom of this age, or any age. There’s a German word for the wisdom of the age: Zeitgeist. I love the sound of it, but I hate what it means. The Zeitgeist is “the spirit of the age” or “the spirit of the times.” In German philosophy it describes “an invisible agent or force dominating the characteristics of a given epoch in world history.”

For Christians, the word neatly sums up “the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish.”

No one in church today is likely to embrace the Zeitgeist completely; if you did, the first thing you’d do is stop going to church. But it creeps in to our thinking in small ways that lead us to make our peace with the majority worldview, or at least to doubt the connection between faithful discipleship and happiness, especially the connection between Catholic teaching on marriage and the family and the good life.

Even if we don’t translate such thoughts into action, many of us question whether faithfulness to the commandments does bring us blessings in every situation. We’re completely onside with “thou shalt not kill,” but when it comes to what Jesus calls “the least of these commandments,” we’re far from sure.

I’m not talking only about earthshaking things. You don’t want to know how many times I’ve told myself that I need a good night’s sleep more than I need to finish my prayers. That, too, is the Zeitgeist at work.

You noticed that we read the shorter Gospel, and I hope you’re about to notice my homily is shorter than usual. That’s to make time for an announcement after Communion that’s related to a few of the things I’ve been talking about—strong families, good choices, and even the relative importance of a good night’s sleep.

Wait for it!


The Announcement

(From a Male Parishioner)

My name is ________ and have been a member of the Parish for more than __ years. My spiritual formation as an adult Catholic has taken shape in many forms over time, and a key part of it in the last little while has been through the fellowship and prayer I share with other men every Friday mornings.

People say that we men talk about sports, work and family, but we can and will also discuss politics, faith and spiritual formation if in the right crowd. It is through this group of men on Friday mornings that my faith has grown and become more real to me; I have become much more aware of the importance and need to be an active and prayerful disciple on a daily basis in my life, be it in the family, at work or in the parish.

Why am I telling you this? Easter is coming and Lent is just around the corner (Ash Wednesday is Feb 26); what better time for us men to talk about faith and spiritual formation... re-kindle or discover our relationship with Jesus and dedicate a bit more time to the spiritual side of our lives.

This is why I am offering all the men in the congregation an idea for Lent. We have a meaningful, interactive way to grow in the faith: small group Faith Studies. I was introduced to them on Friday mornings and am offering you the same opportunity on Wednesday evenings in Lent. Starting on Ash Wednesday and for the following six Wednesdays, we are inviting other men to join us at seven in the evening for a small group Faith Study. It’s one hour of scripture-based conversation about who Jesus is and why He makes a difference. Come with your questions, your experiences and your doubts, to share and grow your faith around a table in an informal way with other men in the parish.

I know we are all busy, but unless you are positively otherwise engaged for those six evenings, I challenge you to do this during Lent this year. Stop in the foyer as you leave the church and sign up for the Discovery Faith Study. As I said, it’s just six Wednesdays, beginning on Ash Wednesday. If you do not do it now, your conscience will tug at you a little next Sunday when you will be reminded again!

God bless you all.

(From a Female Parishioner)

My name is ________ and have been a member of the Parish for more than __ years. I have been married for almost _____ years and I know it takes an earthquake sometimes to get my husband to start something... so I am going to do something a bit different and unorthodox to get men here in the congregation to attend to their soul this Lent.

All men in the congregation, please stand up. I promise, nobody is going to be embarrassed and I will not keep you standing very long.

God moves us to do great things in our life, but often we fail to ask Him to show us the way or we are stuck and do not know where to start. So, I am now going to ask the rest of the congregation to join me in asking Jesus to invite, guide, push, pull, and cajole you, men, to make Lent a time of re-discovery of your faith. Please all of you who are sitting down, recite the prayer on the screen with me, aloud, from your heart:

Jesus, you have made men to be rocks of courage and strength;
Many men are shy and reluctant to open their hearts and share their fears, questions and experiences;
Others believe they are too busy to put aside even one extra hour a week for spiritual insight;
As a community, and individually for the men dear to us in our lives and here today,
We ask You to make their Lent a time where their lives are more focused on You;
Invite them to join fellow men in discovering or re-discovering the beauty of Your presence in their lives;
Invite them to commit to You, and talk about You, for just one hour a week during Lent;
As they leave the church, make them see not just with their eyes, but also their hearts, the sign-up table in the foyer,
and encourage them to leave their name and contact information for a Faith Study;
Tug them, push and pull them to put You at the center of their lives for six Wednesday evenings in Lent;
Come Ash Wednesday, remind them, through their conscience and loved ones (that is, us who are praying for them) that they have been invited by You, Jesus, to be with You and other fellow men to learn more about You and their faith.
And we thank you, Jesus, for never giving up on us even when we give up on ourselves or You.

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