The other day I was having a conversation once again with a friend of mine who is the parent of a teen who was now experiencing a conflict about her daughter’s unwillingness to attend church. Her daughter argued that she,
“does not need to go to church or receive the sacraments to experience God in her life because she experiences God in creation. Further that church is boring and most of the people who attend are hypocrites anyway”.
This certainly is not the first time many of us have become acquainted with this perspective, and yet how would we both address the daughter’s concerns and that of her parents?
It must be noted that this discussion fully involves the skill of listening, even more so than providing a correct answer. Allowing each a chance to be heard, to articulate their concern is the first step in being open to consider how God might be meeting these concerns in every situation. Yet, there are theological premises here that can be invaluable in such a discussion as this.
To begin, I would say yes, we can encounter God in creation! There is no doubt that when we look at a sunrise or the beautiful world around us that God is there. We innately sense our relatedness and connectivity to the Creator of it all. Yet, this is the broadest setting in which we can experience God’s presence and action. For, in and through the church and the sacraments we are given the opportunity to visibly and intimately experience God’s grace through God’s greatest gift of Himself that of Jesus his son.
Here are tangible moments where we are met with mercy, love and unconditional forgiveness that are welcoming, nourishing and healing, felt on both personal level and in unity as a community. This is the beauty of our faith- it speaks not only to our desire for relationship with our Creator, but to our longing to be in relationship and communion with one another. Moreover, God’s offer of love, mercy and forgiveness is continuous so should our response to his offer be.
Have you thought recently about the sacraments? Perhaps you are thinking that they are simply an event to be completed once that no longer requires any new action on your part?
If so, maybe that is why your experience of church has become boring and one dimensional. Let’s take a new look at a few of the sacraments:
you were cleansed, blessed and welcomed into community, with promises from your parents, grandparents and the church to help guide and support you in responding to God’s offer. Each time you bless yourself, or are making a professing of faith you are giving your response and yes to that offer of God’s salvation in your life.
In the Eucharist
we are given the opportunity to join our yes to that given by Christ on the cross. There is Christ’s offer of himself in ultimate love and mercy for us, but also we bring all that we are and do and offer it to God as well. We bring all of our strengths, and weaknesses, all of our joys and sorrows. We bring, in truth, our brokenness. Notice that I said “our” because we do this also as a community. So, when you speak of hypocrisy- we all come knowing that there are times when we have sinned and our relationship with God has suffered.
In the Eucharist we are renewing that relationship, and recommitting ourselves with our lives. All of this requires our participation and our response. Do we look for Christ’s presence in the priest? In the people gathered? In the reading of the word, listening? In the offering of the gifts and see Christ’s sacrifice and reconciliation to us? How do we respond? Jesus took the bread, blessed, broke it and shared it with all- we are called to do the same both in bread but also with our very lives. And as such we need to be committed to dealing with hunger, poverty and justice in the world around us.
we are giving the opportunity to experience and celebrate God’s grace, love, mercy and forgiveness in our lives and in community. God isn’t as concerned with the “mistakes” but with repairing the relationship that has suffered. Jesus takes our frailties, and our with health, peace, and hope. We are called to seek to reconcile or repair relationships, love justice, and seek peace and hope for those who have no hope.
Think for a moment about your relationship with your best friend. If you think about your relationship with God, how could this be better? Have you made time for your friendship with God in prayer, answered his calls of love and grace? Have you said sorry when you realize that you have chosen to act unloving? In those times, we don’t just hurt ourselves but our choices effect others we love and the community in relationship. Therefore, in penance we are given a chance to receive forgiveness, to show we are sorry and to repair these relationships..and celebrate as a community.
is not an end but a challenge to go forth and to be a visible sign of the body of Christ in the world. God confirms you as a member of the body of Christ and then the response and choice is yours. It is a call to a higher standard to strive for love, mercy and peace not only within the doors of the church but in the world.
To the parents specifically, there is a challenge to be a model of faith: more than going through the motions. Also seek to encourage your child to become involved in youth and peer ministry activities so that they can experience community more fully. Participate in outreach activities together, so that they too can come to understand God’s offer and our response to care for others, to love deeply and show forgiveness and mercy.