In recent years I have been invited to lead sessions for the parents of children preparing for First Communion. I love working with these parents. Many have had little contact with Sunday worship for a decade or two or more. Yet their growing faith leads them to ask for a Sacrament of the Church. While our (church) response is always well-intentioned it’s usually pretty unhelpful when it focusses on Mass attendance and parish activity as the ultimate and immediate measure of faith.
Towards the end of one of these sessions a parent raised their hand and commented that in the ninety-minute session I had not told them that they had to go to Mass. They were right. I hadn’t mentioned the Sunday Obligation.
In response I commented that if I had told them they had to go to Mass it would have made no difference to whether or not they changed their current practice. Then for the following few minutes I shared with the group my own love for the Mass explaining in some detail (with a couple of pretty powerful examples) why I personally could not live without regular participation in the Mass.
The heart of our faith is a personal experience of and relationship with Jesus Christ who is God-with-us. At some stages of faith-maturity we are content with fast-food eaten alone, gulping vitamins to keep us healthy enough, a quick prayer when in need, a fleeting thought of God when we feel joy or guilt. As we mature we acquire a taste for quality slow fresh food with company, real conversation and honest challenge which is a delight and soon becomes a regular need. There’s an analogy in there. I’ll let you unpack it.
At the end of each parents’ session I share my email and cell number inviting anyone who wants to talk further to contact me and some wonderful conversations have followed in the weeks and months after the sessions.
When we use participation in Mass as the only measure of Christian faith we overlook today’s gospel”
“Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty…” Matthew 25
As I get to know some of the First Communion parents I discover their goodness. I see their generosity and their sacrifice for their families, for those they love, and even towards strangers in need. But it’s an often-overlooked point that the real and present experience of salvation is not found simply in doing good (an admirable human quality), but in understanding that the poor and the needy are the the sisters and brothers of Jesus, and that I am a part of this same family only to the extent that I accept my own need and poverty.
“I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.”
This is the measure of Christian faith.