In our Gospel, Jesus boldly declares, “I am the living bread….whoever eats this bread will live forever….my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink…” Our belief in the truth in that statement is one of the primary things that this celebration, the Mass, is built around. Yes, it’s an opportunity to celebrate what we are and what we do as community; yes, it’s a chance for us to hear God speak to us in the Scriptures; yes, it’s our opportunity to join our voices with the saints and angels in heaven, saying thank you to God and to praise Him; yes it’s a chance for us to express the needs of our world to God. But the fact is, we can do those things in a variety of settings, not just the Mass.
But another thing that happens at the Mass is that we eat his body and drink his blood, to have his life within us. And the Mass is the only way this is made possible. Because of this belief, we recognize the Mass therefore as the pinnacle of what we do as community, our weekly hour in the pews. But great as it is, it can’t be the only thing we do to feed our faith.
Yet that is what I experienced at my last assignment, in which two full-time priests and a retired priest, who helped with two Sunday Masses each week, did our best to serve seven different faith communities, spread out among six towns. Although there was no better solution, it wasn’t a good way to minister to the communities, because three of them only saw a priest for about 70 minutes a week—that’s it. Yes, we might say they were dying and economically depressed communities, where logging or mining long ago thrived, but they were spiritually dying too, because they had nothing more than that hour for Mass each week.
While I sometimes bemoan the complicated processes and structure of the parish church, I am also glad that we have a lot going on. A parish with so many service programs, educational programs, consultative bodies, a staff of skillful lay men and women, is a rather modern phenomenon. Yes, it makes for much work in the running of the parish, but it also brings vibrancy and life.
I mention all this, because I want to tell you about some positive changes we’re making to our Faith Formation programs. For the past few years, and with the encouragement of our Pastoral Council, we’ve wanted to move to model in which the family learns together. Studies show, more and more, that it can’t just be the children, who too often are brought to learn, while the parents get nothing, often taking care of practical tasks: answering emails or making a Costco run. That’s not going to bear fruit. And by the way this happens too often with families who are enrolled at our school too. The children are here and are eager, but because the parents are disengaged, it’s like the parable in which the seed is sown on rocky ground, where it has little soil, and withers (Mt 12:5-6).
Parents, I know at least three things about you: that you love your children; you want them to receive a living faith; and that you are super busy. With our great Pastoral Assistants for Faith Formation, Amy Field, Carlie Betz and Jill Carr, we are building programs that will not be overly demanding but will help you. This task isn’t easy or simple, because of our limited facilities. But thanks to parish groups, such as our Adult Bible Study that has met for years on Wednesday evenings, and yet has expressed willingness to adjust to accommodate these changes, we are all making something that can work. There will be more details in the coming weeks about the offerings and the schedules for children, middle schoolers, high schoolers, young adults, and (no longer young!) adults and parents.
I remind you, our programs are not just for children and youth, preparing to receive sacraments, yet that is the mentality we’ve developed. There are too many of us, who have not come to anything that’s been offered, in years or ever. Yes, we have formed.org, which is a tremendous resource that allows you to learn at home or wherever you are, as individuals and families. But there’s more to be gained by deepening in the faith with and in the community of faith. Please make it a priority this year, at least some small part your faith formation, your family’s faith formation. Otherwise, it will likely be a faith with no soil that too easily dies. The living bread that Jesus gives at this very Mass is like a seed planted in our souls. How beautiful. Thank you, Lord, for that. But I ask you, what are you going to do to care for it.