By Barb Arland-Fye
A family with five young children dressed in their Sunday best sat in front of me during the Mass of Commissioning of new ecclesial ministers. Yes, I paid attention to the liturgy, but I was also struck by the example the parents set for their children and the patience they displayed when one or the other child started fidgeting.
I commend these parents for making the commitment to passing on the faith to their children. Their attendance at Mass inside Ss. Mary & Patrick Church in West Burlington will leave an impression on their children. They are learning that Catholics come together to celebrate their faith as a community, and that they are expected to participate — to sing, to pray and to listen — with respect for the others in God’s house.
During the sign of peace, a 7-year-old boy who appeared to be the family’s firstborn, solemnly turned toward me and shook my hand. I responded with a warm smile. Sometimes we adults go through the rituals without thinking about what they convey. But that 7-year-old’s exchange of the gift of peace will remain with me.
My son Patrick has been working on a project for his marketing class at St. Ambrose University that involved working with a church of another denomination. Patrick attended two different services at the church and his partners in the project also were expected to attend at least one service. What they’ve discovered is that some young adults think that church is boring, regardless of denomination.
I suggested to Patrick that he and his classmates probe deeper into the reasons why they find church boring. Is it the homily or sermon on a topic they can’t relate to? Or does it meander? How does it help them — or not help them — to understand the Scripture readings? Is the music hard to sing, or simply uninspiring? What would it take to inspire them to sing praise to God? Are the pews too uncomfortable? Does the length of the service max out their attention span?
When friends return from mission trips to Haiti or Africa, I listen as they describe the exuberant Masses in which the people give glory to God for as long as three hours and more. Their church buildings are generally modest structures, perhaps even with wooden seats. Masses and services are filled with church-goers. No one complains that church is boring. Faith is a gift, and it begins in the family.
A verse from Psalm 42 comes to mind: “These things will I remember as I pour out my soul: how I would lead the rejoicing crowd into the house of God, amid cries of gladness and thanksgiving, the throng wild with joy.” That’s exuberance!
I felt that sense of exuberance during Mass in West Burlington last weekend because of the witness of families of faith. They set an example that should be implanted in every church in our country. One is the young family whose children are learning how to appreciate the Mass.
Another is a family whose daughters were altar servers and witnessed their mom being commissioned as an ecclesial minister. The others present, too — the spouses, parents, siblings and others who took time out of their Saturday to celebrate the gift of faith — were testifying to their commitment to the family of faith.
It was cool, too, that Bishop Tom Zinkula gave a fist bump to the 7-year-old as he passed by him on his way out of church.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)