Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 23:1-12
November 5, 2017

I was pleased to be invited to the family gathering marking the 60th wedding anniversary of former parishioners who have remained close friends long after I moved on to another assignment. But more than being happy to be included in the party, I was honored to be asked to preside at a Mass to begin the celebration.

Eucharist was the perfect way for this particular family to come together in honor of their patriarch and matriarch. All five of the adult children have raised their own families within a few miles of the homestead. Each is an active member of the parish in which their parents were married, where they were baptized, and brought their children for baptism. Many take an active role in parish life serving as lector, usher, catechist, and parish council members.

Years back, several of the grandsons were my altar servers, and for this special occasion, two now grown men with children of their own, once again, assisted me at the liturgy. It might well have been as much as 15 years ago that I personally encouraged one of the granddaughters, then a middle school student, to play a song in church during a special Thanksgiving Day mass. Eventually, she became one of the regular parish musicians. She played for the anniversary Mass, with her own daughter by her side, “helping.” Another granddaughter, prominent in the parish youth choir when I was pastor, led the singing.

The dinner that followed was a wonderful party, but for me anyway, the Mass was the highlight of the celebration. It was the perfect example of what the Church strives for whenever we do as Jesus commanded and gather around the Communion Table. There was FULL, ACTIVE, and CONSCIOUS participation.

Frankly, I would not have expected anything less from this family…because that is what their matriarch and patriarch expected of them…and modeled for them…FULL, ACTIVE, and CONSCIOUS participation in our faith.

FULL, ACTIVE, and CONSCIOUS participation in The Body of Christ.

While the entire event was joy-filled, there was one moment that lingers in my mind and heart and will for a long, long time. After the final blessing, I followed the “servers” out of the church into the narthex. I turned around, looking back into the worship space, waiting to greet the folks as they made their way out of the pews.

As the Bible says: “the last shall be first.” So it was that one of the youngest granddaughters, seated in one of the last rows with her children (2 of the 19 great-grandchildren) was leading the entire family out. She held things up for a few minutes when she stopped at the Baptismal font to instruct her children on how to bless themselves. The four generations standing behind her were leaning past one another, or looking over folks’ shoulders to see what was the delay. As they watched this young mom repeat the lesson until her kids got it right (she is a classroom teacher after all) knowing smiles filled their faces. Her approach to catechizing her children was the perfect image of St. Paul’s opening line of this Week’s Second Reading: “We were gentle among you, as a …mother cares for her children.”

That moment explained exactly why Eucharist was the ONLY way…the PERFCT way…for this family to begin the celebration of their parent’s special wedding anniversary. It’s not just blood they share, but it is also the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ that makes them “family.” That moment was also telling as to why our Church continues to give witness to the power of Eucharist to bring healing and peace to our wounded world. Mothers and fathers, grandparents and aunts and uncles have continued to PARTICIPATE in the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our faith.

I would wager that Pope Francis would agree with me when I say that more important than Papal Encyclicals, rulings and directives of bishops, or even the best preached homilies by the holiest of pastors, the influence of family is critical to the faith life of a child. It follows as well that FULL, ACTIVE, and CONSCIOUS participation in our faith by Catholic families is critical to the life of our parishes and our Church. Families are the instrument that The Holy Spirit uses to “lay it to heart,” a love of God and our Church. Families are the environment in which children learn to listen to what God is saying to them. Families are the first and primary catechists…and the patriarch and matriarch lead the way.

Certainly, the Readings for this 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time should cause every preacher to reflect on whether they are living what they preach. But below the surface, there is a critical reminder of the importance of keeping Christ as the Center of family life.

My friends are not unique. There are many families like them. But we live in a day and age where there are forces…strong forces…growing stronger all the time…working to draw the next generations away from family and faith. As we bring this liturgical year to a close, it is important to remember that while we have One Father…One Teacher…our God uses helpers…and God’s most valued partners in the work of salvation are mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins…FAMILIES…who come together and worship with FULL, ACTIVE, and CONSCIOUS participation.