Monday, December 13, 2010

Advent's Quiet

Faith Formation (CCD) was quite nice yesterday. We were decorating Christmas boxes (filled with notes of what we were and would be giving to Christ this season) for an Advent presentation next weekend. And while we decorated, we talked about whatever came up. We talked about God and science, about what it meant to be Catholic and Christian and how to handle others not believing we believe. The subject matter went wherever the kids took it, and it was a beautiful little conversation. Some expressed how they wished our parish had a youth program and that some were involved in Protestant youth groups because of our lack. It was a good class.

Youth need times like these to try to find answers to questions they have or about which they are curious. Something less formal. I try to incorporate some of this in every class, but other lessons must be gotten through as well.

How do we properly catechize our youth when our catechetical programs end just as our children are getting to be of the age to fall in love with their God? Some of the push back I've received is that some suppose none would show up when they didn't have something like Confirmation to "hold over" them (which is another problem in and of itself). But while we would love 100% attendance, it would be meaningful for those who need to be there to be there. And other church groups have more than proven the possibilities and merits of such programs. Catechesis - learning - doesn't end when we're 14, but some of our 14-year-olds don't know that because our very program seems to suggest otherwise. You don't graduate from walking with the Spirit and growing in grace. And sometimes you just need to know that others are present when you need them.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Go to Mass or Go to Hell

This week we had a holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church: the feast of the Immaculate Conception. A holy day requires those of us who are Catholic to attend Mass/Liturgy if possible. The penalty for not attending is, well, hell.

Sort of. I mean we are given the sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession to prevent such an undesirable arrangement, but missing for no good reason is considered a grave/mortal sin. I'm not a big fan of grave sin, or at least not the definition of it. It makes our spirituality too much an exercise in accounting. Now I understand and appreciate its intention. I understand how the Church tries to instruct and nurture us as she is, our mother. I understand that the Church is pointing to the Liturgy as an encounter with Christ - the encounter with Christ. I understand that the Church is saying that it is a great good, and that your missing (for no good reason) reveals some disorder in your heart. And I agree. But most Catholics come away from the doctrine with the idea - feel this way even if they don't intellectually view it as such - that if you commit a grave sin, and then get hit by a train, you go to hell.

This is shocking, for some. Legalistic for others. For myself, I'd rather be treated as an adult than a child. Obligating my presence on pains of hell helps no one. Labeling something such as this as grave sin (with eternal consequences) obliterates our ability to understand the Fatherhood of God. It strips away faithfulness and friendship and abiding in Christ, and he in us, and exchanges it for a legal system, juridical. Sometimes it is better to understand sin as a bent rather than an individual act. It can be better seen, often, as a revelation of the heart or a way of being, and not simply a slip or fall. When I sin gravely, and I do, it is a sign of my weakness and of my need. I have never not desired reconciliation with God (thanks be to God!) - and this is his grace working in me. But he is faithful even when we are faithless, because, as the Scriptures say, he cannot deny himself.

I'm not saying that one should get a pass on murder if it's a one-time kind of thing. But skipping one Mass is not an objective evil (other than, possibly, because of one's disobedience to the Church). How could it be since Mass was not always required? It is, however, an intrinsic good and we should be exhorted to make ourselves present to God, to receive him in Word and in Mystery/Sacrament. Missing Mass regularly is your exclusion of yourself from God. (Of course, I'm speaking to Catholics here.) This is death, or mortal/grave sin.

We need to better understand our sin and how it affects us. I don't think defining missing Mass as a grave sin, as the Church does - with its consequences - to be particularly helpful. Stripping away the "on pains of hell" can be helpful, as it helps me better understand sin in the midst of our disordered culture. The instruction is important; the call to conversion is important.

God is love. Does his being love strip away from me the need for the sacrament of Reconciliation? Hardly. God is life. I can and do separate myself from him, but the fact that I present myself before him for Reconciliation shows his grace working in me. His presence is constant, immediate - there is never a time that I need to get his attention. He calls and we must answer, because there is no where else to go. No better place. God is not angry with us. But sometimes we become angry with him. Sometimes we are faithless. This does not change God, but it does change us. And this is why Reconciliation/Confession is so important. Because it heals our infirmities.

Push back if you would. I understand my disagreement is problematic, but I think the Church can do better. What do you think? What am I misunderstanding?