Thursday, May 17, 2012

It is only just religion

    The above statement is one that we hear too many times in society.  It is the times that it goes left unsaid but is acted upon that is really disheartening.  “It’s just religion, or faith, or church” is born from an understanding that matters of spirituality are to be easy, enabling, and unobtrusive in our lives.  Faith, especially the study and practice thereof, are regulated to a low priority.  It is a co-opting of  the culture in which we live that marginalizes faith altogether; a culture that Dr. Stephen Carter called “The Culture of Disbelief” .  This culture has thrown God out of our public institutions.  God is not allowed in our public schools.  He is not allowed in the public square.  This has gone on for so long that most Americans have also pushed Him out of their lives.  What happens?  We get the gratingly inane “I am not religious, I’m spiritual” (aka : “I do what I want and God will have to just rubber stamp it…I don’t take orders from God or some church…I give them“) Take a look at what is happening in our country.  Watch it crumbling.  It is nothing new.  In the Old Testament, Israel rotted from within as it pushed God to the periphery. They relied on their wealth and power (sound familiar?) and pushed God’s protecting hand aside.  Without that protection, they fell apart, were crushed by their enemies, and all the power and wealth in the world could not save them.  We are on that same path.  Did our power and military might spare us 9/11 or the two subsequent wars that happened as a result?  Did our wealth stave off this prolonged recession?  Push God away and we push His protection away!

    What is true in the macrocosm of society is equally as true in the microcosm of our parish and our families.  Our pursuit of the secular has practically wiped out the pursuit of the eternal.  All too often the pursuit of the eternal is regulated to one hour (or shorter) on Sunday.  That is only if something else doesn’t crowd it out.  Education?  That’s another subject altogether.  If we think that 4-5 hours of religion class, IF the child goes to Catholic school, and 1 hour if they don’t, suffices for their training, then we are fooling ourselves and essentially answering a good part of the reason why  our youth lose interest and wander away in disturbingly large numbers.  It’s hard to have a deep abiding relationship with someone you barely know.  Is there any parent who believes 1 hour of science a week suffices to help their child?  How about 1 hour of math?  How about one hour of spelling?  Or English? Or History?  How then, is one hour in class enough when it comes to the teachings of our faith?  Of course not!  Let me go one step further.  Religion ’class’ is not like other classes.  In the other classes, we are not giving them information so that they can have a personal relationship with math, science, or any of the other disciplines. In religion class, or PSR, or confirmation ‘class’ we are more about telling them how God has revealed Himself over the ages so that He might be known, served, and loved at least to some degree to which He knows, serves, and loves us.  In all of these ‘classes’ we are dispensing knowledge so as to lead to a relationship with God.  Just because ‘it’s only religion’ does not mean we can give it a minimal effort.

    Our Christian development and education do not end once we have ceased ‘classes’.  If they do, then we can expect nothing but a minimalist attitude towards faith and the application of faith to our daily lives and on how we set priorities in our lives.  “It’s only religion”. whether spoken or unspoken, will lead to an eventual turning away from the faith.  We cannot reject that relationship with God here and now and expect that somehow all will be just peachy in the afterlife. 

    So what does this mean?  Let us start with what is the parish’s responsibility.  The parish has a responsibility to provide the material, the teachers, the time, the space to help parents teach their children how to develop that relationship with God.  The parish has a responsibility to make sure the materials and solid and truthful.  It is our job to provide opportunities.  However, as I said during the homily on Good Shepherd Sunday , while it is my responsibility to make sure that the fields the flock are nourishing from are the fields of the Lord, I cannot make anyone attend anything.  You have to want it because you recognize the necessity for a deep abiding relationship with God and the equally pressing need to pass on that same fire to your children.  We have provided classes for our youth in both the parochial and public schools (in which under the best of circumstances we can only show them the tip of the iceberg), for our high school students in confirmation. 

    We tried  to provide classes for our Freshman and Seniors.   Both failed because of lack of participation from the youth who had other things to do.  I have provided most Wednesdays to have adult education.  I used top notch programs and books.  I am no slouch as a teacher.  The response was minimal at best.  I am offering a bible study using, again, top notch material.  21 people out of 400+ families we have this parish signed up.  Am I to believe that the other 400+ families are biblical experts who know the Bible so well and are able to defend their faith so well that they do not need help?  We brought in one of the foremost speakers on evangelization this Spring when Patrick Madrid came in.  Fewer than 80 parishioners showed.  Am I to believe that all the others know their faith so well and are so practiced at evangelization that they didn’t need help?  We have a well stocked parish library by the women’s restroom in the back of Church, it has been there for over a year.  I have stocked it with solid materials, surrendering hundreds of books from my private library, all in the hopes of providing educational resources for my parishioners.  I have repeatedly spoke about the opportunities we have in the diocese for our youth to spend a week coming to know that relationship with God better. The same goes for the Mission trip.  The response has been underwhelming. If it seems I am complaining a bit, I am.  It seems like there is always something else to do…some class…some sport…some practice…some game…something else that is more important on the food chain of our lives.  We are trying to live up to our responsibilities to provide both material and opportunity.  This is a common problem in all parishes!

What is your responsibility?  To respond positively.  To admit that we need help in understanding.  To purge this horrid ‘it’s just religion’ when it comes to how we respond, how our youth respond, and each sets their hierarchy of priorities. After all, it isn’t just religion, it’s our eternal relationship with God in the balance.  Relationships take time and effort, they challenge to change for the better.  If God doesn’t say ‘it’s only humanity’ when it comes to us, how can we say ‘it’s only religion’ when it comes to Him

Saturday, May 12, 2012

I Assume it will continue: Parents and Catholic Formation of Youth

 I Assume It Will Continue

This week school ends for the summer.  Our students will hopefully spend more time with their first and best teachers of the ways of the faith: their parents.  There are values and matters of faith that we have tried to instill so as to help parents build more on the foundations they set with their children.  It is my expectation as a pastor that those lessons of faith continue to be practiced:

1) In this school, we have taught your students the centrality of the Eucharist in the identity of a Catholic.  We have had mass most weeks 3 times with your child.  In those masses, I have spent hours teaching your children the basics of the Catholic faith and how those teachings concretely apply towards how they live.  While I do not expect that they will continue to come to weekday mass, it is my expectation that they do on Sundays and Holy Days as per the teachings of the Church.  We had, most months, time for your children to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration, again to stress the importance and centrality of the Eucharist in our lives.  We do have an Eucharistic Adoration chapel where you as a parent can continue this work and bring your child before Christ in the Blessed Sacrament at your convenience.  I assume that they preeminence of the Eucharist in your child’s life will continue to be taught and modeled by your own behavior.

2) In this school, we have taught them the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and its central role in maintaining a healthy Catholic identity.  Most months, we had time set aside for your child to go to Confession so that their spiritual lives might be continually bolstered by the grace of God.  I will assume that these lessons and the practice thereof will be continued to be taught and modeled by those who promised to do so when they willingly brought their child to be baptized.  I will assume that the life of repentance and grace will continue.

3) In this school, we have taught your child the importance of prayer.  The day is speckled with prayer in the individual classrooms, together as a student body, and in the already aforementioned times provided for your child to pray.  Prayer is also part of that central core of catholic identity.  It is my assumption that parents will continue this by praying together as a family and encouraging their children to a deeper prayer life and practice of the faith.

4) In this school, we have taught your children the importance of a devotion to the Blessed Mother and in following her example of faith.  Your child prayed the Angelus after lunch everyday.  Your child prayed the rosary.  These are among the ways we tried to teach and model this central aspect of Catholic identity.  I can only assume that their primary teachers, the parents, will live up to the responsibility they took upon themselves at their child’s baptism.

5) The teachings of the Church we have taught in their religion classes.  It should not be limited to there.  It is primarily the parents duty to teach these things as they do teach other parts of the identity that children have.  We have a large parish library.  I am investing a good chunk of this parish’s money in expanding that library to now include books aimed at children and teens; books about the lives of the saints and how to be a better Catholic.  I will be teaching a 24 part series on the Sacred Scriptures every Wednesday through the summer.  We are offering Vacation Bible School, a youth mission trip, Christpower, Camp Maccabee, Camp Siena as ways of bolstering the lessons learned in the classroom.  I can only assume, again, that those parents who have taken the responsibility of raising their children in the ways of the faith, as they said they would during their child’s baptism, will joyfully make use of these things to bolster their child’s faith and make it a priority, not allowing other pursuits (some worthy, some not) to crowd out such time and effort.  I can only assume that those parents for whom Catholic identity is important will joyfully make use of these things for themselves in order to help them become better teachers and help their children become better Catholics.

5) In this school and other education programs we have taught them the importance of selfless service.  Anyone who heard me preach more than for 5 seconds knows that I place a premium on such service as it shows an imitation of the life of Jesus Christ.  I can only assume that parents will bolster this life of selfless Christian service by the volunteering they do both within the parish and with other charitable entities.

Please do not think I am being too forward with assuming all this or that this a poor attempt at sarcasm or complaint.  We do what we do in education systems to bolster the religious training that is started and modeled within the family.  I understand the Church’s teachings on the nature of the Church and what she has to say about its most basic building block, the domestic church, also known as the family.

Several weeks back I reminded parents that they have the God given responsibility of being shepherds who lead those entrusted by God to them in the ways of the Good Shepherd.  Parents should be at least as  attentive to the spiritual development of those placed in their care as they are the academic and physical development of their child.  If it seems I am being pushy about this, I am.  The stakes are far too high, both in this life and in the life to come, for the spiritual development of our youth not to be the priority it needs to be.  I can promise you I will continue to be insistent on this matter.

  The development of our youth into the next group of shepherds is a high priority for me.  It needs to be an high priority for all have the role of shepherd for the next generation.  The elements of prayer, education, service, and sacramental involvement are all necessary to produce not just shepherds, but good shepherds.  As I told the kids at the last school Mass of the year:  They are taking a few months off from school, not their faith.