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A Leaven In The World… Love Has No Limits In Faith And In Life

September 22, 2014 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK

We have done a very good job of catechizing our Catholics that Sunday Mass is obligatory. Now we need to educate them that Sunday Mass is not the only thing necessary.
For many years I would nod in agreement when people would say, “Well, at least if we can get our kids to Mass they’ll be all right.” But at the same time other parents would come to me and say, “Father, my children don’t go to Mass anymore,” often with tears in their eyes. These were parents from the same generation that has been using a minimal participation standard for Catholic life in regard to Sunday Mass.
After spending time observing families more closely from the perspective of a pastor, I was converted away from a pre-minimizing mindset which limits a child and family’s involvement with the Body of Christ to Sunday Mass alone. Now I readily tell the faithful in homilies and otherwise that Sunday Mass is not enough.
Our once-comforting illusion that all was well if people showed up for Mass cannot suffice and never was supposed to. Judas was physically present at the first Mass, the Last Supper, but his heart was not in it, as we all well know. The spirit of worship necessary for intentional prayer at Mass manifests itself outside of Mass otherwise in life.
The “best practices” standard for Catholic life today is intentional discipleship. By this we mean living one’s Catholic faith in all of one’s life circumstances, relationships, and challenges beyond Sunday Mass. Long before we knew what to call it, apostolic Catholic families were putting intentional discipleship into practice. How did they do it? By setting a higher standard for their children than simply the minimal participation in Catholic parish life necessary for receiving the sacraments and staying within the bounds of the Commandments by attending Sunday Mass.
Ordinary Catholics and ordinary Catholic families won’t survive, Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, used to say. Unless the practice of the Catholic faith is undertaken as an expression of love of God it will fail to engage the human person. When our young people do not experience full engagement, they express their dissatisfaction by dropping out.
The Church is the Body of Christ and loving the members of the Church is part of expressing love for Christ. Love stretches the heart and love for the communion of believers must also be experienced as an openness to new experiences.
Before anyone knew what intentional discipleship was, my parents were doing it. They made clear that my five siblings and I were expected to do something for further engagement with the parish than simply attending Mass. Whether it was serving at the altar, lectoring, singing in the choir, or serving on the parish council, our hearts were stretched for love of God by deeper engagement with the other members of the Body of Christ in service and community.
As family size has shrunk and parenting has changed, many parishes have coped with lack of involvement outside of Mass by hiring parishioners and others to do many tasks once handled by volunteers. This has increased costs at the same time that offertory collection amounts have been falling as a result of dropping attendance. It involves hard work to move back in the other direction, but it is well worth it. Even tasks such as cutting the parish grass can help a parishioner to engage his heart more deeply for Christ.
I had a conversation with a parent recently about his daughter’s negative response to my invitation to join the new parish youth group for teens. He shared with me that he will not make her take part if she does not want to, out of a fear that she may turn away from faith if she is forced.
But what about the negation of a parent’s rich experiences to offer a child in such a situation? If the child is delegated all decision-making responsibility, then he is denied the benefit of a parent’s insights and deeper experiences. The danger a child will turn away is greater if he is not gently and lovingly guided toward deepening his relationship with God beyond Sunday.
Parents often force their children to do things they do not want to do, such as take medicine when they are sick or go to school when they don’t want to. All of this evidence begins to add up to the possibility that some of our parents are using God as a bargaining chip in order to smooth out the rough spots in the parent-child relationship. Many parents already realize they are making their children go to Sunday Mass. Why they make an exception when it comes to further engagement of faith and the community of the parish may have more to do with themselves and a desire to avoid further commitments to parish life than anything else.
Gently reading people’s lives back to them in preaching and counseling is necessary to spark conversion and grow faith. Only living faith leads to eternal life. That a living faith must grow and make uncomfortable demands upon the believer is a challenge all of us must embrace.

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(Follow Fr. Cusick on Facebook at Reverendo Padre-Kevin Michael Cusick and on Twitter @MCITLFrAphorism. Father blogs at mcitl.blogspot.com and apriestlife.blogspot.com. You can email him at mcitl.blogspot.com@gmail.com.)

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