Father Michael F.X. Hinkley
This past month, our nation was graced by a wonderful pastoral visit by Pope Benedict XVI. The Popes affection for America was obvious. This column affords me an opportunity to reflect on this historic event. The Holy Father made a very insightful observation regarding the Catholic Church in the United States that is more than fitting for our reflection.
Pope Benedict XVI observed that in the United States, the Catholic Church is often understood as a large, impersonal institution with burdensome and rigid rules. This narrow understanding is not shared by other countries and fails, as the Pope pointed out, in two ways. First, we need to better understand that each and every one of us, and especially our children, is called to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We cant stress enough in our efforts of evangelization that our objective is for every young person to grow in the knowledge of his or her special friendship with Jesus. Whether a child is having a joyful day, such as a birthday or a fun-filled play date, or struggling with a day marked by sadness and frustration, he or she needs to be aware of a personal relationship with a special friend, Jesus Christ.
Second, instead of seeing the Church as an institution of rules, we need to see the Church as a community of fellow believers. We are not alone in lifes journey. We are members of a loving and nurturing community.
A great example of the Church as a loving and nurturing community is in the classroom buddies and prayer partners program at Blessed Sacrament School in Waterbury, our parishs school. This wonderful program has older and younger students pairing up as buddies for the celebration of our weekly school Mass, special events and prayer exercises. The result of this community-building program is a more prayerful and welcoming school. Many visitors to the school comment on how striking these cooperative students are. In short, the classroom buddies program helps the children appreciate that they are part of the community of the school and the Church.
Another fine example of the schools building up the community of the Church is its fine music program. Anyone who has attended a Wednesday morning school Mass at Blessed Sacrament Church has witnessed a joyful and wonderful sight. Our childrens choir at those Masses numbers somewhere between 50 and 60 students. The choir members have a great time way up there in the choir loft.
Often, when we meet at home- school meetings, we are bogged down with the business of running the parent organization and the administration of the school: How much is tuition? What does it cost to run the school? How much money have we raised toward our fund-raising goal? Im sure this is typical of virtually every Catholic school in this economy.
What I have taken from the Holy Fathers visit is a renewal, as he quoted Pope John Paul II: a new springtime in our understanding of what it means to belong to the Church, what it means to be a Catholic school. Lets recommit ourselves to our children and to our childrens relationship with Jesus Christ and his loving and nurturing community, the Church.
Participation at Sunday Mass is indispensable to our young peoples growing in the knowledge of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the Church as a community filled with supportive friends. Worshiping with the parish community on Sunday morning reaffirms the schools faith instruction and deepens a childs faith. By staying home on Sunday morning, parents are undermining the formative efforts of a Catholic education.
The Holy Fathers insight challenges parents to deepen their own personal faith and renew their communal celebration of that faith. There is no single better thing parents can do for their children than give them deep roots as individuals who grow up as members of Christs community, the Church. In this way, each childs faith grows with a healthy sense of self and Church.
Father Hinkley is the Pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish and the Shrine of St. Anne, both in Waterbury.