Sunday, December 27, 2015

Full House

   The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph   

Once when Fr. O’Malley came into the classroom
to visit the schoolchildren,
he asked if anybody knew where the Holy Family lived.
There was complete silence for a few moments,
and them a string of incorrect answers.
Finally, one little boy raised his hand and said,
“I know, Father!  The Holy Family lives at 125 Main Street!”
The puzzled priest asked how the kid knew this.
“Well, Father,” said the boy,
“every morning, when I walk by that house on my way to school,
I hear somebody shout, ‘Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, why won’t you get up!’”

It was sure nice to see our churches full for Christmas, wasn’t it?
As I jokingly said to somebody after Mass Christmas morning:
it’s nice to have so many visitors from out-of-town…
…and it’s nice to have so many visitors from right here in town!

All kidding aside—
full churches at Christmas is a bittersweet thing for me
as the “father” of this parish family,
just as it is for so many Catholic parents:
I’m awfully glad to have them here for that one Mass…
…but what can I do to get them back here again every Sunday?

During this past week,
a Catholic writer who’s published a book I’ll be ordering very soon, 
In this season which brings families together,
which brings a lot of lapsed Catholics to Christmas Mass,
and which, for many, tends to bring religious subjects to mind,
she makes some helpful suggestions
about how to share your faith—with your family and with others—
in a way that’s fruitful rather than divisive.

For one thing,
she urges people to avoid starting arguments about religion.
We often wonder, “What can I say that will win them over?”
But this isn’t about “winning.”
It’s pretty rare that a heated debate
actually brings someone back to the Church;
more often than not, it drives them farther away.
What you want is for your faith to rub off on them—
not to rub it into them.
So don’t nag.  Don’t get preachy.
Convincing people with well-reasoned “proofs”
about the truth of the Catholic faith
might work on a few of the more intellectually inclined,
but not everybody.

Dr. Gress points out that hospitality is much, much more effective.
“When we have people in our homes,” she asks,
“do they feel welcomed?
Are we attentive to who they are, their work, their interests?
Do they leave our homes feeling drained and empty
or edified with a better sense of feeling ‘known’ by us?
It is little things like this that can open a heart to Christ.”
Hospitality works because we’re called 
to imitate God’s graciousness and generous love.
“While no two conversion stories are exactly alike,” she says,
“the most effective transformations [happen]
when people [feel] they [are] loved and not judged.…
In prayer, the idea came to me to give them back to God
and just love them exactly where they were in life.
I didn’t have to endorse every element of their lives,
but just love them as they were. 
What happened was that our relationships
became richer, fuller, and more genuine.
Trust was established and they knew that I really loved them
and treasured them for who they were.
Rather than feeling pressure that ‘I’ll love you if…’
they knew I already loved them.
Only then did small changes start taking place.
Of course, I was also praying and fasting for them
so that grace was moving in their lives.”

You know what else Dr. Gress suggests
if we want to bring others back to the practice of the faith?
That we make every effort to first grow in faith and holiness ourselves.
For one thing, “in order to pass along the faith,
we must first have it. 
You cannot give what you don’t have.”
But she also points out:
“Looking at the lives of the saints,
we see that their holiness is attractive, not off-putting.
People just wanted to be around them
because it made them feel closer to God.
The more we grow in our own faith,
the more attractive we will become….”

It’s every parent’s vocation to bring his or her children to God,
as is played out so very vividly
when Hannah gives over the young Samuel to the Lord’s service,
and when Mary and Joseph take the twelve-year-old Jesus
to the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.
Even when our children are now adults,
that same vocation remains—
although the means by which we fulfill it may be altogether different.
Like Mary and Joseph,
we should be anxious for those who seem to have lost their way,
never giving up on them.
But we must take our cues on what to do
from our heavenly Father,
who won’t compel or pressure us,
but constantly attempts to move his children by the appeal of love.

Do you want to help others find their way to the Catholic faith?
Turns out that the secret to filling the Lord’s house lies in your house.
So make your home a place of real welcome,
and take every opportunity to grow in your own faith,
that people can point to your address and say,
"I know a holy family lives there!"