Between July 6, 2014 and Easter 2015 St. Joseph parish is reaching out to Catholic family members and friends who have not attended church for a while.

The effort is not just to get more people to come to church but to reconnect with members of our Church family who have become estranged. A person baptized Catholic always remains part of the one family of God: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” (1 John 3:1) John was writing to the Church as God’s family. When a member is not present they are missed.

When I visit homes of individuals who have not attended Church for a long time, I am often told, “I pray to God alone. I don’t need to go to church to pray to God.” It is true, one can pray to God alone – and should do so – but Jesus taught, “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in Heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (Matt. 18:19-20) Praying with one another and for one another is one of the ways we show our love for one another. People who pray alone are like college students who do not go home for holidays thinking to themselves, “I do not need to go home to be with my family; I telephone them and they send me what I need.” What the distant student and the lone prayer miss is experiencing the family’s love and sacrifices made by the family for them, even while they are absent. They do not share in the suffering of the family and fail to see the needs of others in the family they could help.

When the Apostles asked Jesus to teach them to pray, He taught them the prayer we call the Our Father, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven…’” The prayer begins with “Our” and is to be said with others who accept the one God as their Father.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” Only with others can we experience the Kingdom of God at hand now in the Church and strive to conform our wills to God’s will rather than desire God to conform His will to ours. Rather than trust in ourselves for security, we together are to trust in God, “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matt. 6:9) It is at the reception of Holy Eucharist at mass each day that I am most aware of absent family members and I long for them to share the Eucharistic meal with me.

Some people I visit who have been away from Church for a while give as their reason some bad experience they had with a church member or even a priest with whom they disagreed. But Jesus teaches in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matt. 6:10-14) Being family is not easy and that applies to our Church family as well. When something is not going as it should, fraternal correction is sometimes required, correction that is given in love. Jesus calls us to be a family: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you…by this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Every family is distinguished and identified by the values it lives by. Christian families, in union with Christ, live by such values. “No one who abides in Him sins; make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil…The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil… By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.” (John 3:6-3, 10)

The faith and morals that we are to live are spelled out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. As Catholics we respects all human life, the dignity of marriage between a man and a woman for life, the dignity of family and the intimate union we have with Christ in the reception of His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist. The world does not respect the values we are called to live in Christ and the disrespect is seen in everything from advertisements to movies to open attacks on the Church by some groups. Uneasiness always accompanies those deceived by the world but they need only return to the Church, ask pardon for what they recognizes as sinfulness, and be received back home. It is not possible to live an isolated relationship with God that rejects the one family of God all are called to be part of. Even the famous desert monks, who lived austere lives of solitude in caves, recognized their unity with the church at large, prayed for the Church and welcomed strangers requesting spiritual assistance.

Every Sunday celebration of the mass is a family reunion, with Christ present, where Catholics show their love for one another and share a sacred meal together. Family members experiencing difficulties are prayed for. Family members not present are missed. Family member not acting prudently may be confronted with fraternal correction offered with love.

St. Paul tells us, “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 4-7)

In the world today the sense of family has been greatly distorted by technology that gives us a sense of greater independence, false security, greater anonymity in our interaction with the world, and a reduced sense of reliance on family. Family members are becoming more spread out over the country. Family stability and commitment is being challenged to the point that more than half of all families today are single parent families in which the mother and the father of a child no longer live together. In families where children do not have an opportunity to grow up experiencing committed love and shared responsibility between their fathers and mothers, they fail to learn from them the skills needed to become responsible spouses and parents themselves. Society only continues to disintegrate. Just as individual families suffer from these trends, the Church family becomes affected by them as well.

Once baptized Catholic one is always Catholic. If you are a Catholic who hasn’t been home for a while, know that you are missed at our family sharing at the one table of the Holy Eucharist and in the daily living out of our one faith in the One God. Jesus prayed to his Heavenly Father: “I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.” (John. 17:11)

I believe the greatest sacrilege in the world today is the fragmentation of the Church that keeps us from being united as the one family of God that Jesus intended us to be.

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