Monday, September 19, 2011
Moses and George Bush were riding on an elevator. George Bush recognized Moses and said "Hello." Moses ignored him. George Bush tried again but still, Moses offered no response. Finally, George Bush reprimanded Moses and said, "Don't you know it's rude not to speak to someone who is talking to you?" Moses replied, "The last time I talked to a Bush I spent 40 years in the desert!!!" (A campfire joke shared by my son John.)
On our camping vacation with our long-time friends from church, all of us friends since our teenagers were babies, we have a tradition of starting two adjacent bonfires at night-one for the adults and another for the kids, otherwise our group is too large for anyone to cozy up close enough to the warm fire.
The conversation at the adult campfire quickly turned to St. Matthias Parish, of which we have all been members for 15-20 years. The talk concerned the recent trend of emptier pews and the many reasons why we felt that families would choose to leave a parish to which they had long been members. One thought was that it is a parent's duty to make sure that their children were happy at church and the parents better do whatever it takes to insure that the little ones don't give up the faith, even if that means changing parishes. And Steve and Kathy, who have long been pillars of the parish, deeply involved in every ministry, and most currently passionately building up the youth of the parish by running the youth ministry which is affectionately called FEET (Faith Empowering and Engaging Teens), were just wanting ideas to keep those same teens who might be bored at church actively involved with their faith at the parish in which they were raised. There certainly are no easy answers and everyone is going to do what they feel is best for their family-either leave or dig in and plant the roots of faith even deeper.
So this girl who likes to send her roots down deep and stay put, changed the topic to share her love for her family minivan. Our minivan is over ten years old; it's rusty and noisy and has safely carried our family over 120,000 miles. Paul would like to trade it in for a newer and less maintenance-costly model, but I love my van-it's my daily traveling companion and I just can't bear to part with it. Sometimes it makes some strange noises, but I just turn the radio a little louder and carry on. I feel the same way about my house and my husband. I know that my van, my house and my husband, beloved though they all are, are none of them perfect. But I love them all just the same and couldn't imagine my life without them
And that's exactly how I feel about my parish. Sure, we've got troubles and problems, but if I bail, which I've often been tempted to do over the years, then I haven't done one single thing to help solve the problems, I've only selfishly run away to look for something new which I will soon find has problems of it's own.
A few years ago, when my depression was at it's most severe, God called me to begin attending daily Mass. I didn't want to go. I cried all the way to church, cried all during Mass, and then cried all the way home again. I begged God to just let me roll over and sleep for another thirty minutes. Why did He always have to drag me to church every day when I was just tired and wanted to sleep, I wondered? But somehow God's drawing me to Mass was powerful and potent and I could not resist, so there I was every day at 7 AM Mass, tears and all. Over time, I stopped complaining and dried my tears long enough to notice how beautiful that daily Mass was and before long I couldn't imagine staying away. I began to thank God for daily Mass instead of complaining about how unhappy I was to attend.
I think there's a lesson in that experience for the youth of our parish. They might not want to attend Confirmation classes, they might complain about having to dress nicely for church, they might prefer to sleep in on a Sunday morning, and they might even say that Mass is boring. But if we, as parents, continue to compel them to come through obedience, sooner or later they will stop complaining and they will find the beauty in the routine of worship and they will feel the love God has for them and will respond in wanting to give all of their love right back to the Lord. If we teach them to run away every time things become the least bit unpleasant at church or in life, then we haven't done our job in firmly teaching them the faith or given them the life skill of endurance through good times and bad.
And Steve looked over at the youthful campfire and said, "Now that's spiritual-twelve teens getting along, sharing stories with one another, even though they rarely see each other. There's a fine example of living joyfully and glorifying the Lord."
And why does that spiritual connection happen? Because even if the parents complain about the difficulties of camping such as rain, cold weather, and hard rocks to sleep on, they persevere in bringing their children on a family camping trip year after year and the children learn that there are joys and sorrows intertwined in all things, that life is a combination of ease and difficulties, and that by lovingly continuing the traditions of our faith and our lives we allow God to shine through and bring beauty and faith to all situations.
And so we stay at our parish, we continue on in our Catholic faith, we hold on to our friendships. We embrace a radical fidelity to the lives to which God has called us and in the end, He will reward our faithfulness with his abiding and eternal love.