At Mass this morning, the Feast of St Bruno, the Gospel Reading was about commitment to Christ; when people made excuses to delay following him, Jesus told them, “Once the hand is laid on the plough, no-one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Our parish priest took the opportunity to preach a short homily on this theme. He told us that he had recently been trying to arrange Confirmation classes for young people in the parish and had found it very disheartening when parents were reluctant to make a weekly commitment because of football practice, which seemed to take place every night of the week.
While sympathetic to the demands of family life, our priest also felt that being a Christian called one to a deeper commitment; it meant sacrifices of one’s time and one’s other priorities and that if young people did not learn this while still at home there would be little chance of them learning it when they had flown the nest. I felt sorry for him as I listened to his words, thinking how lonely it must be to be a priest today when families (who must make up the backbone of a parish) have so many worldly claims on their time and attention. Yet, as he indicated, Christ’s words from Luke: 9:57-62 resonate today as much as when they were spoken.
They reminded me of a poem by that great children’s writer George MacDonald:
I said, ‘Let me work in the fields’
Christ said, ‘No, work in the town’
I said, ‘There are no flowers there’
He said, ‘No flowers but a crown’
I said, ‘But the sky is black; there is nothing but noise and din’
Christ wept as he answered back, ‘There is more,’ he said, ‘there is sin’
I said, ‘But the air is thick and fogs are veiling the sun’
Christ said, ‘But souls are sick, and souls in the dark are undone’
I said, ‘I shall miss the light and my friends will miss me, they say’
Christ answered, ‘Choose tonight, if I shall miss you – or they.’
Our priest concluded by saying that he thought a time was coming when priests would have to say to parishioners: “You must make a choice” – between the demands of the world and the demands of the Christian life. Listening to him I felt the time has come already; indeed, it came a long time ago – certainly by the early 1960s, that critical decade foreshadowing all the decades since, when regular church-going, knowing their faith, the recognition that being Catholic meant at some decisive level a parting of the ways with the values of the modern world, as well as understanding what a Christian marriage meant, vanished from the lives of most ordinary Catholics.
I hope the family synod will encourage priests (and bishops) to see the work that they must now do to help couples understand the married vocation and the sacrifices it will call them to make in raising their children in the faith; how faith is not something to be “fitted around” football practice or anything else; that it must come first because our happiness and ultimate salvation depend on it. Where to begin this daunting task? Tomorrow is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary; that is a good prayer to start with: praying that the cardinals at the Synod will put aside their disputes and find the right way to re-Christianise family life.
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