Fostering Faith

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“Once a person learns to read the signs of love and thus to believe it, love leads him into the open field wherein he himself can love. If the prodigal son had not believed that the father’s love was already waiting for him, he would not have been able to make the journey home – even if his father’s love welcomes him in a way he never would have dreamed of. The decisive thing is that the sinner has heard of a love that could be, and really is, there for him; he is not the one who has to bring himself into line with God; God has always already seen in him, the loveless sinner, a beloved child and has looked upon him and conferred dignity upon him in the light of this love.”― Hans Urs von Balthasar

I came across this quote the other day while doing reading for a class I will teach this Fall, and it made me recall a family I knew in Connecticut (when I was studying at the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies) that took in foster children. The dad and I once talked over lunch about what that was like to foster parent, and the challenges it presented for his own children and for his wife; as well as the remarkable signs of transformation he had witnessed in the children they would take in. Each foster child, he said, had behind them a story of hardship, pain, rejection and loss, and many had developed harmful ways of self-protecting. He said, as I recall:

Sometimes the children proved to be so resistant and mistrusting that there was not much we could do to help them grow. They had hardened so much and knew only how to deceive and manipulate to get what they wanted. But most were receptive at some level. They wanted a family. It was a beauty to behold, once they knew they could trust, how they would open up. Like very tightly closed flowers that slowly unfold. The power of unconditional love allows a person a safe space to come out and discover the goodness in them and in life. I always think of the new children we would receive as hermit crabs that only very cautiously come out of their shell; and are easily frightened back in. You knew you’d gotten through to them when they would laugh and play with us, or  — my favorite — fall asleep in my wife’s lap. When you know love is free, you can finally be human. When you know it has a price, is conditional or involves a ruse or threatens betrayal, you lose your sense of humanity.

I was in awe.

This made me think of sociologist Rodney Stark’s analysis of the rise of Christianity in the first century. He argues that the primary power of the Christian movement to attract new members at such an astonishingly high rate was to be found not in brilliant marketing strategies or persuasive apologetics, but in the households of faith. Families, functioning like “little churches,” would welcome other people — especially orphans and the needy — and whole families into their ambit of faith. Hospitality was the most persuasive argument in favor of belief in a God who is love. Especially in this arena, it was the women in the households who were the front-line evangelists, employing their relational genius to invite people into webs of care and love and friendship. And that web was the natural habitat of Christian faith.

The most genuine Christian apologetic is “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6).

The family allowed a privileged space for a concentrated, vibrant and living witness of what Christian charity looked like, felt like, tasted like in action. Christian households were seen as temples in which Christ dwelt and supped with family members and their guests. Christian homes were spaces wherein the centripetal ‘liturgy of marriage’ was celebrated as a gathering force for the scattered children of God. Christians did not look to evolving church institutions — parishes, dioceses — or to clerics to do the work of evangelization, but saw themselves, above all in their own homes, as ground zeros in which Jesus detonated His loving plan of redeeming the world into a single community of love under one God and Father.

Pastors and ecclesial leaders would do well to place their best energies in service to cultivating the domestic church, as it is true in every age that the future of humanity, and of the church, passes through the family. And families should look nowhere else other than there own home, where charity begins, to kick start the revolution of God in our (ripe for picking) age of alienation.

Then, silence

Parents rarely let go of their children, so children let go of them.
They move on. They move away.
The moments that used to define them are covered by
moments of their own accomplishments.
It is not until much later that children understand;
their stories and all their accomplishments, sit atop the stories
of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones,
beneath the water of their lives.
― Paulo Coelho

Each summer, I notice our children are home less and less. They are tasting independence, new friendships, interests, adventures. Their life mission. I would want nothing else. A family friend said to us once when our children were tiny, “Raise them to want to leave home, and love them so they want to come home again.”

These evenings are so quiet. Like tonight. All are away with friends. My wife’s out with a friend. My daughter asked me before she left, “Will you be lonely?” I said, “No!” I called my mom to see how she was, and asked her, “Mom, what was the hardest part of raising children?” She said, “Letting them go. You want them to have their own lives, but you also miss them.”

I went for an evening walk, thinking about why my heart ached. Why I was so sad. Because I will miss them. I remembered a thousand memories, their faces of every age. I want them to go, to fly away, succeed and bloom; I want them to come home, to remain just a while to hear about their day. No greater human joy than to be with my family. None. Together, sitting around after dinner up to midnight telling stories, arguing, laughing. Then, silence. It’s over.

It’s all new for me, for us. I’ve watched many friends go through it, but to live through it is different. Life was so busy, you didn’t notice they’d grown. Well, the brain did but the heart lost track.

My wife and I would agree, I know. Our children are the greatest human beings we know. That I know. Flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone. A sword that pierces the heart, a joy that gilds life with hope. My story is theirs, theirs is mine. Wonderfully, fearfully made. Images of God stamped in our DNA, fed by her milk. The sum total of our successes and failures, surpassed ever more by grace twirled into the beauty of their own unique stamp on existence. That, I pray. Your heart at times feels overcome by the crushing weight of eternal love reaching out to them through you.

They were never ours. We held them, fed them, taught them, comforted them, loved them. But they were always His, never ours. All gifts must be returned to the Giver, but this Giver always returns His gifts greater than He received them. As in the Mass, when our bread and wine are returned to us drenched in the unending life of the immortal King who guards all our treasures as His own and regathers all the pieces that are scattered.

How grateful I am for being a father. Next to ‘spouse’ and ‘father,’ all other honors pale into the shadows. Before God, I wish no other final names to define my life’s mission and the joy of eternity. If I die and my heart is not turned toward my wife, my children…

…may mercy attend me.

Amen.

I promise

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My oldest daughter Maria introduced me to the band Radiohead two years ago with her Mashley cover of No Surprises. Recently, she and Ashley went to their concert in New Orleans. Loved them. I’ve not listened to much of their music, but all I have heard I have liked.

Radiohead re-released a 20 year old song about a week or so ago. It’s called, I Promise. Eerie and haunting. According to a number of articles I read, the lyrics consider the dis-ease of disconnection and isolation that increasingly dominates our hyper-mobile and hyper-technological society. The surrealist music video reminds me of Eleanor Rigby — “all the lonely people.” Throughout the song, the thread that binds together a seemingly aimless wandering of angst is the unchanging refrain, “I promise.”

As I listened to it throughout the week, I thought quite a bit about promises.

Promises anchor us in the storm, keep us from being set adrift, losing our inner compass and stability. Baptismal promises, marital promises, ordination promises, professional promises. Promises manifest and confirm your character, forge and focus your deepest commitments. My grandfather wrote me once, “Tommy, always be a man of your word. If you don’t have your word, you’ve nothing to offer. Being true to your word in the face of resistance is the highest act of courage. Without this greatness is impossible. Words kept channel swift and powerful waters into a deep river that cuts rock, broken words diffuse into a shallow and murky swamp that covers rock with mud.” The Scriptures are filled with promises offered, promises kept and promises broken. God is above all true to His promises, true to His Name, a God of His Word — “Faithful and True” (Rev. 19:11).

The word promise comes from the Latin pro- “before” and mittere “to release, let go; send, throw.” So, in a sense, it means to “throw yourself” into the future. A future uncertain, indefinite, unknown. All promises are future oriented, throw caution to the wind in a reckless act of hope. Hope in God alone makes possible absolute and unconditional promises, as the martyrs testify eloquently. “Love for life did not deter them from death” (Rev. 12:11).

Last October on our 21st wedding anniversary, Patti and I spent an evening on the balcony of our hotel room sipping Chianti and remembering many of the big events in our marriage and family life. Patti said, “Can you imagine if we knew all that the words “I promise to be…’ implied? Oh my gosh. All that’s happened since that day? I guess that’s why the promises include ‘in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health all the days of my life.’ Catch all. So you really do know you’re in for a lot!” I said, “I guess that’s also why they say that the eighth sacrament is ignorance! If we knew up front all that the other seven sacraments commit us to, we’d probably run! When you’re Catholic, you can’t ever say ‘I didn’t sign up for this.’ If it’s a sacrament, it’s the cross, and so you did.”

Then she sang a line from Covenant Hymn (which she also sang at our wedding):

Whatever you dream, I am with you, when stars call your name in the night. Though shadows and mist cloud the future, together we bear there a light. Like Abram and Sarah we stand, with only a promise in hand. But lead where you dream: I will follow. To dream with you is my delight.

In the play A Man for All Seasons, when St. Thomas More’s daughter Margaret was trying to convince him to dissemble and take the Oath of Supremacy declaring Henry VIII the head of the Church of England, he said to her: “When a man takes an oath, he’s holding his own self in his own hands like water, and if he opens his fingers then, he needn’t hope to find himself again.” St. Thomas knew baptismal promises bound Him unconditionally to God’s Kingdom, and that these were the ground of every other promise. He said just before he was beheaded, “I am the King’s good servant – but God’s first.”

When our first child was born, an “old salt” friend who had three sons of his own told me to never make a promise to my children that I couldn’t keep. Small or great. And if you break a promise, he said, make amends and do penance for them to see you take them dead seriously. Penance proportionate to the gravity of the promise. He said, “They need to get from you that they can count on you. Everything else in your life can fall apart, you can lose your job or even, God forbid, your health. Things won’t always go your way. But if you promise them you will always do your best, trust God, love Patti in the worst conditions and put them first over yourself, and then do it, they will see everything is going to be okay. Your promises are your children’s safe zone. Die before you break them.”

[Verse 1]
I won’t run away no more, I promise
Even when I get bored, I promise
Even when you lock me out, I promise
I say my prayers every night, I promise

[Verse 2]
I don’t wish that I’m spread, I promise
The tantrums and the chilling chats, I promise

[Refrain]
Even when the ship is wrecked, I promise
Tie me to the rotting deck, I promise

[Verse 3]
I won’t run away no more, I promise
Even when I get bored, I promise

[Refrain]
Even when the ship is wrecked, I promise
Tie me to the rotting deck, I promise

[Outro]
I won’t run away no more, I promise

“Children are the hands by which we take hold of heaven.” — Henry Ward Beecher

Michael, Nicholas, Maria and Catherine 4 years ago

Maria and Catherine this week

“Children laugh an average of three hundred or more times a day; adults laugh an average of five times a day. We have a lot of catching up to do.” ― Heather King

“The soul is healed by being with children.” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky

A piece of parenting advice my wife and I received nearly 20 years ago from a dear friend went like this: “There is beauty in every age, so appreciate its uniqueness while you’ve got it.” She was responding to my frustration over parents with older children constantly saying to us, “Sure, they’re cute now. But you just wait until they become teenagers! You’ll see.” I swore I would never say that to other parents, and have kept that promise. Having lived through four teenagers, I certainly ‘get’ the challenges that are unique to the teen years. But I can say with our friend these years later: there is indeed beauty in every age.

As we have been spending lots of concentrated time with our daughters this week on our vacation (sadly, our sons had to work), three things have occurred to me in this regard. I’ll speak for myself, though I would guess Patti would echo my thoughts.

First, I enjoy being with our children more than with (save my wife) anyone else. Though we obviously have various conflicts that arise over various things, I never ever tire of being with them, of doing things with them. They have brought unparalleled joy into my life and have made me smile more than any other single thing. There seems to be in that a certain desirable definition of family.

Second, seeing your children develop their own unique personality, gifts and interests is just an astonishing privilege. And seeing them surpass me in so many ways is a thrill I could never have anticipated. You find yourself wanting them to fly higher, run faster, be smarter, love God more than you ever could. And that’s not some saintly selflessness, it’s just the genetic code written into fatherhood and motherhood: “They must increase, we must decrease.”

Third, parenting has the power to carve out a genuine humility in your soul. Wow. Oh my. As my children enter and approach adulthood, I can now assess in hindsight my parenting successes and failures. Dear God. No false humility needed here, as the real thing awaits you in truck loads. Patti says that every night as we kneel at the side of our bed, she prays: “God, please supply for all my failures today, repair any damage I may have caused and use any good I did for their welfare.” Amen. Children pull you out of yourself, call out virtues you did not know even existed, remind you of the virtues you lack, stretch you, pound you, pass you through fire, decimate your sleep, hold a mirror back in your face (yikes!), keep you honest, teach you how to love hard and deep and long. They make you learn to pray again, anew, with them, for them, about them, “out of the depths.” And they plunge your marriage into the refiner’s fire, making you realize you never really knew what it meant to be “one” until they were thrust between you and proceeded to school you in a thousand and one ways to be one.

Patti often says, “On our wedding day we thought we loved each other more than we ever could. We knew nothing!” You ain’t kidding.

I have shared here before that a woman I know with a special needs son (along with her four other children) once said to me, “I never knew how self-centered I was until he was born. And then he, so patiently, taught me to love. If I am ever saved, get to heaven, it will be because he taught me how to get there. How to love.” How clear it is that the more our culture exalts the cult of the self, the less children will be welcome in our world.

Patti has always loved to repeat to people Elizabeth Stone’s quote: “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

Yes. Exactly. The risk of loving someone you unconditionally invest everything into and then have to unconditionally let go of.

Last night Patti had to return to Metairie for choir practice, so I spent the evening alone with the girls. We played the game Set, listened to music, ate dinner and watched the movie, “What About Bob?” As I sat there with them laughing, I was overcome with deep emotion. Tears streamed down my face with gratitude. How was I chosen by God to raise these children? My sons, my daughters. Our sons, our daughters. His sons, His daughters. If I died at that moment and entered heaven, I would not have noticed the change.

Mother’s Day 2017

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To be a mother is a great treasure. Mothers in their unconditional and sacrificial love for their children are the antidote to individualism; they are the greatest enemies against war. — Pope Francis

Happy Mother’s Day!

For today’s reflection, I will not claim to pronounce my wisdom on motherhood but only share the witness of a few mothers I admire immensely.

I was sitting at lunch the other day at work and someone asked, “Who are the moms you admire most that you know personally?” Without hesitation I said, “My wife, my mom, my sister.” Later that night, I thought of a running list of others whom I have known over the years. Too many to recall. That night I wrote a rambling reflection in my journal:

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These women I think of here as I write — so many I have known! — are women with biological children, adopted children, foster moms and moms with ‘spiritual children’ whom they have taken into their care, their love, their attention, their heart, their prayer.These women, wildly diverse in so many ways, demonstrate the strength of tenderness and the ferocity of selfless love. They are each flawed and fall, grow weary and faint. No idealizing here. How many of them I have listened to share with me their own sense of failure and lament bitterly their own sins and failings. Suffer under the weight of inner trials and tortures of the mind. Yet each of them is, somehow, by indefinable grace, undaunted by their own fissures and fractures, making even of these channels of grace for others. Just like the song says: “I get knocked down, but I get up again; You are never gonna keep me down.”

Their very biorhythms are written in the language of life-giving sacrifice, of love that carries the weak, feeds the hungry, gives a home to the homeless. These women are nurturing and demanding, protective and encouraging. They inspire trust yet worry, demand their children get enough rest yet exhaust themselves, empty themselves out in order to fill, delay gratification to make sure needs get met. As with their bodies, their minds and hearts are always turned toward the well-being of their children. Circadian rhythms inscribed in waking love. They don’t seek accolades for the thousand duties they perform every day, but dole them out when appropriate to encourage their children in virtue. Their need to be liked by their children is superseded by their steely resolve to wade into the thickets of relentless resistance to raise virtuous children — the unsung martyrdom of tough love. Indeed, they undergo the trials and agony of gestation, labor and delivery throughout the entire span of each child’s life, and beyond.

Archbishop Romero’s words beautifully describe these women:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
When I was 4 years old, my mom tells me, she was pulling me in a wagon and when she turned back to me and smiled, I said to her: “I love to look at your face.” Mothers are living sacraments of God’s highest attribute — His tender compassion, raham. In her face, the primal vision of God after birth. In her face, God renounces invisibility, refuses to hide His beauty and discloses His most secret countenance. There we are meant to rest. Psalm 131:2:
A weaned child on its mother’s breast,
even so is my soul.

When Patti had her first miscarriage, she suffered in body and in spirit in ways I cannot even hope to express worthily in language. All women who have suffered this – or the death of a child at any age — know this well. 2 Cor. 2:12: “I heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” No facile words of piety can dull the pain of death in the womb, but can only make it redemptive. She cried out to God as she miscarried in a way, with a depth that I could never fathom. Only receive and echo. I know that this depth of prayer is reserved to mothers. Even Jesus, as New Adam, needed His Mother by the Cross, New Eve, to “fill out” His suffering and perfect His prayer of compassionate love crying out to the Father.

When Patti wailed aloud with heaving sobs, “Why?” … I could not speak, could not breathe, could not ease her pain, not fix. Could only accompany. I grabbed hold of the tassel of her prayer, I am saved in her childbirth. She labored our child into Life, the universe shook.

On her merits, womb of His merits, all my hope rests.

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I asked four women I know to text me in a sentence or two what they love most about motherhood. I’ll let them have the last word:
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Thank you for asking: To be not only an intimate witness to life unfolding, but to the Holy Spirit manifesting in a unique way in each child. It’s breathtaking, and incredibly humbling.
Or:
Purest joy.
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Hmmmm. I could say it’s picking out the chocolate in their Halloween bags to save them from themselves… It’s hard to put into words; for me, it’s being given the ineffable gift of a human being who is part of yourself and at the same time completely other and God’s and witnessing them becoming the sons and daughters the Lord loved them in to being to become, because of my being their mother and in spite of that too!
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Being a mother is empowering in a way that no other thing in my life has allowed, empowering in the sense of “tikkun olam” – fixing the world on a the physical ground level. It is like the individual transformation that includes training and intuition, to find a lost child in a store and gather them to restore them to their mother (not creepy but motherhood); to tell any teenager, mine or random, “what are you thinking, that will kill you?!?” (not a meddler, but a mother); to tell young college students “is that worth losing your integrity over?” (not a moralist but a mother); to fuss over tired men & women who show up in my home-with food and rest (not a seductress, but a mother). It is not to say that these things cannot be done by women who aren’t mothers, but I can get to the business quickly without explaining while someone else simply says, “no worries, she’s a mom.” And that says it all.
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I suppose one of the best parts of being a mother for me is being able to love so completely such amazing human beings and know that I had a part in their creation and formation. I am in awe of my children! Such sweetness, such glimpses of God himself, is so beautiful to experience as a mother.
Awesome.

“Without Sunday, we cannot…”

[this post was written in 2016, and after receiving a request today to “post a draft to break up ur week off and don’t bother editing it”. I won’t!]

In Abitene, a small village in present-day Tunisia, 49 Christians were taken by surprise one Sunday while they were celebrating the Eucharist, gathered in the house of Octavius Felix, thereby defying the imperial prohibitions. They were arrested and taken to Carthage to be interrogated by the Proconsul Anulinus. Significant among other things is the answer a certain Emeritus gave to the Proconsul who asked him why on earth they had disobeyed the Emperor’s severe orders. He replied, “Sine dominico non possumus” [without Sunday we cannot]. That is, we cannot live without joining together on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. — Pope Benedict XVI

Sunday is the golden clasp that binds together the volume of the week. ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

One of my children asked me the other day, “What’s the best way to explain why we go to church every Sunday?” I offered three points — one from my memory of a theology class lecture (the notes of which I later retrieved to post here), one from an immigrant Siberian woman and one from a granddaughter of Italian immigrants.

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My dogmatic theology professor back in 1992 once said, according my fresh rendering of those choppy class notes:

One of the most crucial points of that very orderly 7-day creation story in Genesis, and really of the whole Torah, is that God not only organizes space in the way He wishes, but He also organizes time. God gets to decide when, where and how we are to enter His presence and worship Him. The Book of Leviticus delves into this ‘ordo’ in excruciating detail. In other words for both Jews and Christians the who-what-when-where-why-how of worship is not a personal choice or a style preference — “I have my own way of worshiping God.” Rather, worship is revealed to us by God wrapped in a command. The Eucharist is supremely that, instituted and commanded by the God-Man.

To engage with God on God’s terms is a terribly weighty matter for Jews. Man-made religion is the stuff of pagans with their hand-crafted idols. God-made religion is the stuff of Jews, the people He chose to shout to humanity: you are God-etched images whom God set in the world to teach the world God’s Way; to love the world God’s Way; to cultivate the world God’s Way; to bless the world God’s Way. Again, the Jews go out of their way to make absolutely clear: ours is a revealed religion, not the product of human ingenuity but surprisingly disclosed and reluctantly discovered inside a divine Furnace burning on Mt Sinai during an earthquake.

It’s why the Church has always been at pains to organize the liturgical year according to the pattern shown her in the divine economy. All of it. Every feast day, every holy season reflects some aspect of God-writ salvation history; reflects the way that God has organized His own ‘oikos,’ His cosmic home that He designed for us to live in with Him, i.e. Emmanuel.

So, Jesus rose from the dead and sent down the Fire of the Spirit on a Sunday, re-creating the creation, dawning creation’s Eighth Day, the Lord’s Day. Therefore Christians worship on Sunday. Period. If, that is, they want any part in His new creation. Or they can skip Sunday Eucharist and opt out, sleep in, watch TV and miss out on eternity. This is why so many Christians early on, and throughout the centuries, were willing to risk the loss of biological life rather than renounce their commerce with eternal life that Sunday offered.

And this is why the Church makes Sunday a grave obligation: it is the Day on which all time hinges, when Christ’s Body gathers as one, the Day when Christians do their priestly work of transacting between heaven and earth, singing the songs of the free, giving thanks for all things, offering up six days worth of sacrifices, and eating and drinking the Flesh and Blood of God.

If that doesn’t get you out of bed and to church, I don’t know what possibly could.

And as wonderful a gift as daily Mass is, it should never be allowed to overshadow the preeminence of the Sunday Eucharist. As they say in the Eastern Churches of Sunday: “This chosen and holy day is the first of the Sabbaths, the queen and lady, the feast of feasts, and the festival of festivals.” It is the apex and axis of time. God gives the faithful Monday through Saturday, six days to engage in their priestly preparation of gifts, for wheat-and-grape crushing. But He gives us one Day for the Great and Holy Oblation, the Awful Sacrifice, when those gifts are gathered up into the joying House of the dancing Father by the ascending Christ through the Wind and Fire of the falling Spirit. No sleepy church allowed in this whirling perichoresis!

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Back in the late 1980’s I met a Siberian woman at my dad’s Orthodox parish. We were talking about her flight from the Soviet Union to the U.S. and she was hacking and coughing. I mentioned to her how impressed I was that she came to church even when she was very unwell (even as I wondered if she thought about how contagions travel!). She said:

It is nothing. In my country people go to the gulag or die for going to church, so what is it if I come to church sick? This country was established so you could go to church freely, but once people tasted freedom they used it for other things and stopped going to church. To me that’s a slap in God’s face. People stopped using their freedom for God and use it on themselves. So when I am tired or sick I think of the people home who risk their lives to go each Sunday and then for me it is nothing. It is a blessing.

I was stunned speechless. I thought of the interconnection of the Eucharist, with its core of “this is my Body broken, Blood shed” sacrifice, the command at the end of Liturgy to “Go!” and the willingness to live this whole furious mystery in the world outside the church. If freedom in the Inside Church is defined by sacrifice, freedom in the Outside Church must be likewise.

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Years ago I asked a woman to give a personal testimony to parents of children preparing for First Holy Communion. She had earlier shared a story that knocked my socks off so I wanted the parents to hear it as well. It went something like this:

When I was growing up, my maternal grandparents were the hub of our family. Their home was like a warm hearth, full of love. Almost every Sunday of the year, we had to go to their house after morning Mass for a family gathering and feast. My grandparents were Italian so food was a huge part of life. And everyone brought something. The house was packed with immediate and extended family, and occasionally some random stranger my grandmother invited. Before lunch began everyone always had to gather in the den, packed like sardines, and listen to Papa tell some fantastic story from our family history. I am sure now his stories were a mix of fact and fiction, which my grandmother would confirm any time she stepped into the room as she would immediately correct some detail or say, “Papa, stop exaggerating.” Everyone would laugh and he would sing this line from Gigi, “Ah yes, I remember it well!” Sometimes he would get choked up as he told a story, other times he would tell funny stories, laughing harder than anyone else; and still other times told stories that were meant to teach us kids something about our family’s core values. Honesty, integrity, patience, courage.

When my grandmother died and my grandfather went into a nursing home, our extended family started to unravel until my mom decided to take up the tradition and keep it going. She still does, though it’s not quite the same.

What I learned from this is that when you don’t have a regular place for family to gather, hear their stories, sing and laugh and cry and eat together, you forget who you are the rest of the week. My grandparents as good Catholics knew Sunday was a special day, a holy day, a day set apart to celebrate family and life and God’s gifts and to keep us close to each other so we could, each of us, stay strong. They thought that without family everything falls apart. On Sunday, we knew who we were as a family, and so I knew who I was, so the rest of the week we could then live up to our family name and our family tradition of hard work, generosity, love.

That’s how I think of Sunday and Mass and why making sure Sunday and Mass look like each other is a priority. It’s an obligation of love and not of guilt. Though there was always that if you missed, my grandmother was good at Catholic guilt!

I’ll end with this quote from the Bible that Father John used when my daughter made her First Communion. It made me realize that my grandmother knew that the feast of the Mass and the feast of home needed each other, made sense of each other. So: “Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not lament, do not weep! Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord is your strength!” [Nehemiah 8:9-10]

Our local Archbishop has put restrictions on sports and certain other activities in Catholic schools and parishes to help return the focus of Sunday as a day of worship, of family, of rest, of outreach to the lonely and poor and suffering. I am so grateful for his courage and I know he has faced lots of resistance and criticism. But he has only created a space, a vacuum that now demands to be filled by us Catholics who’ve been gifted with the limitless creativity of our faith. It’s our mission to make Sunday into a day so extraordinary and so revolutionary that the rest of the world — presently consumed by endless work, addictive entertainment and restless consumption — may just decide to stop, look up and listen to our song of revolution: “Without Sunday, we cannot…” The list is endless.

Without Sunday, the day we remember that, in the end, all is gift: