Monday, January 16, 2017

Reclaiming Our Sense of Belonging

Dear Friends,

The feasts of Christmas, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God and Epiphany saw church attendance spike, as it does on major holydays. People’s reasons for coming are many, and may even vary from time to time. After the holidays, people move on to other Sunday morning activities. They are gone.

Somehow, the fact that, from our Baptism, we have belonged to the Church and from our First Communion, we have belonged at the table escapes the Christmas/Easter (Chreaster) Catholic. The truths that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, that it is a meal of grace, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross made present and indeed, Christ’s Real Presence, are not enough to hold and sustain many of today’s Catholics. What keeps people away is not theology - not even belief. Adult Catholics, who have outgrown their childhood clothes, have also outgrown their childhood sense of Eucharist. Their interest has drifted away, is circumscribed by today’s culture and absorbed by today’s needs and desires.

Before even acquiring with an adult mind and heart the deep meanings of Eucharist, one needs to take small steps to reclaim our sense of belonging – like coming to Mass and sitting closer to the altar than is first appealing. Be attentive to the moment, to the people seated nearby. Pay attention to the flow of the liturgy: welcome, an all-embracing reconciliation and prayer. Listen to the readings and homily. Fix on one word, one phrase, one sentence to take home to feed on from time to time during the week. Pick up the hymnal and follow the hymn. Hymns are designed to speak to the heart. Say the Creed found in the front cover of the hymnal. The Creed puts believers in touch with the rich history of belief before our time and around us. Let the Eucharistic Prayer wash over you. Say the Our Father with openness. Greet others before coming to communion. Be aware of others doing the same. Receive communion and become what you receive. Be sent forth. The work of the Eucharist is intended to mix with your own work until the next time you come.

Becoming attentive to the depth of Eucharist takes effort, and time. It also means being willing to welcome such change in ourselves. Pope Francis, in his Epiphany homily this year, said that when we allow it, “holy longing for God” wells up in us. This longing for God, Pope Francis, went on, “shatters routines and impels us to change.” St. Augustine, in Book Seven of his Confessions, has Jesus say to the reader “I am the food of grown men and women. Grow, and you shall feed upon me. You will not change me into yourself, as you change food into flesh, but you will be changed into me.”

What God and the messengers of God say so often in the Scriptures, “Don’t be afraid.” Do not be afraid of what can happen when longing for God becomes real. Do not be afraid that your zest for life will be diminished or your loved ones will find you altered in an unwelcome way. God’s Eucharistic love offers believers no diminishment - only life restored, renewed, returned to your heart.

~ Sister Joan Sobala