By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK
By the time you read these words, in print or posted on the Internet, you may have already attended Easter Mass, perhaps with your family. You may have gathered all your children together for the celebration of Mass and for a meal. Some families use a Florida getaway to attract all of their offspring to gather as one around the table once again. Larger families work harder to reunite.
I am one of six children; dinner together as a family was a daily ritual.
In our house, there was one dinner time and the rule was if you didn’t make it to the table, you didn’t eat. Now, I know my parents would never have let us starve, but it’s hard to make rules that mean anything if there isn’t a penalty for violating them. If you have six kids and don’t enforce one common dinner time, you could spend all day in the kitchen. There are other areas that need attention when you are running a home.
In my youthful immaturity the prospect of hunger provided effective motivation to show up promptly at mealtimes. Only later did I become aware of the other benefits that such togetherness makes possible.
My parents’ practical reasons for establishing one common mealtime for the whole family also served a higher purpose. When the nuclear family spends time eating together, they also speak to one another. When seated around a table and encountering each other we get that “face time” that is essential for the fostering of relationships. Human beings need more than mere coexistence. When families turn into proverbial “ships passing in the night” because what they do has become more important than who they are, then they suffer in spirit.
Families are more than just a collection of persons sharing a common origin by two parents; they are persons in relation. “Man does not live on bread alone,” as the Lord teaches. Even as we break bread together, there is something beyond our bodies that is being nourished.
My parish has three “dinner times” for the Lord’s Supper every weekend, when the members of our faith family are able to keep that command of God to worship which brings us together. As is true with most parishes, the limited building size prevents having just one Lord’s Day gathering which can include everyone. As well, we have the Saturday vigil as a convenience encouraged by the Second Vatican Council. Rooted in a pastoral failure is the phenomenon that many attend on Saturday evenings now as a matter of convenience only, and it takes a Herculean effort to get them back to Sunday Mass.
Although more than one Sunday Mass may be offered, the same principle applies with our family life in the domestic Church. Our oneness in the one Lord is particularly made real each week when His Church solemnly recalls and experiences His Resurrection together at Holy Mass. We experience the unity of the Church on Earth with all of the baptized gathered with us before the altar each Lord’s day.
Every week throughout the year we thus enter into the mystery of the Triduum which we celebrate most intensely in the days before our annual Easter celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord. Many of our people will turn out for the sake of spectacle once or twice a year. These are the ones who return to Mass for Easter annually and sometimes fill our churches.
Along with all our priests, this is the scene that for me is truly beautiful: God’s house filled to overflowing with His children in faith and Baptism. Over the years I have tried through preaching to convey to the people that it is in their power to make the Lord’s house beautiful by their participation at Mass, by bringing their children, filling the empty pews.
How do we transmit this joy to our people? How can we help them to rediscover the authentic faith of the Church which seeks the Resurrected Lord on the “little Easter” which is Mass every Sunday throughout the year?
Certainly we must seek the lost sheep over and over again through a variety of means. What I call a recent miracle will help to illustrate the point.
This year the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., unannounced, sent a box of greeting cards for promoting “The Light Is On For You,” which gives the website established for finding Confession schedules at parishes throughout the archdiocese at expanded days and times for the season of Lent. I used these as a means of reaching out once again to my parishioners who are currently “missing in action.”
Every parish has people listed on their rolls who haven’t darkened the door of the church in ages, or boxes of offertory envelopes that go unclaimed every year. Human nature is nothing so much as inconstant, and broken commitments affect parishes, as they affect everything else. After nearly seven years as pastor, I know who isn’t seen regularly at Mass every week. These are the folks that get a mailing because I know I will not be able to physically hand a flier or bulletin to them on Sundays.
I sent the cards out to the folks who are still on the rolls and “missing in action,” but who did not indicate they were formally leaving the parish, hand writing on each the times of our parish Confession opportunities. I dropped them in the mail with a prayer and left the rest up to the Lord.
On a subsequent Saturday I was in the confessional, where just about every priest in America can be found prior to the vigil Mass, when in walked a parishioner I had not seen in over a year. I can’t describe for you how blessed I knew myself to be when this lost sheep appeared again within the fold. I’ve been a priest long enough to know a miracle when I see one and this was it.
As the Lord teaches, the true “mountains” in this world, heavy and immovable, are those stubborn human hearts in sinful alienation from and rejection of the heavenly Father. My joy was great and I experienced true fulfillment as a priest when my efforts met with this one response. I shared my joy with this soul who had been inspired to return to church upon receiving my “snail mail” invitation.
The answer, then, to drawing sinners back to the “harbor of truth and unity of faith” in the holy Catholic Church is to “put on Christ” and to do so consistently: every day, in all things. We must always keep in prayer and in mind not only those we see at the Sacrifice of the Mass each Sunday, but always also reach out to and pray for the lost sheep. We must spare no effort, if even by means of a phone call or a greeting card, to seek and save what was lost that all may be found in Christ on the final day.
A most blessed and joy-filled Easter celebration to all of you and your families!
Thank you for reading, and praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever. @MCITLFrAphorism