Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spirituality: Greater threat

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the Oct. 23, edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky This past summer Pope John Paul II shared with the world another one of his outstanding encyclicals, Eucharistia de Ecclesia. It has given us Catholics – especially those of us who live in the United States – a context for dealing with our very complex contemporary experience of belonging to the Church.

Much has been written in recent months about how the scandal of sexual abuse and its cover-up has torn at the heart of the Church and shaken our faith. Indeed it has – terribly and painfully so. Thanks be to God, Church officials and the rest of the faithful are pressed to assure the safety and security of our children.

For our prayerful reflection I suggest that, given the evidence at hand, there exists a more subtle and pervasive threat which confronts us Catholics. That threat comes from the neglect of our individual spiritual lives and a lessening frequency of participation at the Sunday Eucharist.

No parish or community of faith is immune to this phenomenon. Young or old, we all are influenced by an increasingly secular world which tempts us to put many things before our relationship with God as the Number One priority in our lives. Our relationship with God and with one another as a community of faith increasingly take second place to personal interests, excursions, sports events, shopping, etc. We seemingly live in an culture.

In our society, mobility, affluence and opportunities galore combine to distract us from God’s call to holiness and the mandate of the Decalogue to “keep holy the Lord’s Day.” Daily time for personal prayer and the observance of the Sabbath are for our welfare as sons and daughters of God. A life without reflection and some form of daily prayer leaves us empty shells, however busy and “productive” we may appear to be on the surface.

Ever since the Last Supper, the disciples of Jesus have been united around the Eucharist. The Catholic Church in particular has maintained this focus. Attendance at Sunday Mass is not merely the gift of our time to God in response to a divine mandate or the Church’s legislation. The law exists for those who need the extra nudge. A mature faith readily sees the Eucharist as the summit and source of our spiritual lives as followers of Jesus Christ. Yes, it is our free choice how we spend our time, money, and so forth. In fact, true religion even frees us to make genuinely free choices. But it is God’s will that our choices lead to true life and goodness – for ourselves and for others. To choose God is to choose life.

Celebrating the Eucharist with our faith community on Sunday is an integral part of an entire day of rest from the work and busy-ness that can confound our lives and fragment our inner being. It gives us our identity and impels us to the service of others. Our Christian faith is not a private affair; rather, it is a gift we share with a definite community of the faithful, a parish. In union with the universal Church, gathering weekly with the parish community for Mass is an indispensable part of keeping holy the Lord’s Day and being a Catholic.

One of my fellow pastors voiced his frustration to me recently – how he felt like the “manager of a restaurant” where people show up once or twice a month, or only when school is in session. He mused about how impossible it is to shepherd God’s people and help them grow under the light of God’s Word when they come to Church so infrequently.

His image is a powerful one. A parish is primarily an association of people who are committed to grow in faith with one another and to reach out in service. Mass cannot be reduced to a restaurant service. It is an opportunity for a family to be nourished weekly by God’s Word and the Bread of Life Himself. It is a place of shared responsibility where we offer witness to one another and strengthen each other in the face of life’s many challenges. It is a place where we – and our children – are formed in the vision of the Gospel and where God encounters us in a unique way. (It’s so sad when children confess that they have missed Mass on Sunday – especially when the fault is not their own.)

When someone asks the name of our parish, our response must mean more than the place where our name can be found on a mailing list. It is where our heart and commitment need to be as Catholics. It is where we together become Christ’s Church, his body – his hands, eyes and voice. Neglecting a daily life of prayer is at our own peril. And being absent from the weekly celebration of Eucharist must be an exception, and not the norm, for our manner of living. It is a question of commitment to others and a commitment to priorities.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.) (Download an order form in pdf format to print)

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