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30 Aug 2009

 8/30/09                                                                                            THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Fr. Randy Calvo   2009

“‘“This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me …”’” (Mark 7:6b)

In the name …

Today all the parishes of our church observe Youth Sunday. As summer ends and the academic year begins, we offer prayers at Mass for the young people of our churches and communities. They need these prayers because young people are confronted almost constantly by temptation and uncertainty, and in ways that previous generations never had to deal with. When I was a kid growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, a Playboy under the mattress was about the extent of lewdness.  Today any kind of debauchery is only a click away on the computer. Temptation can come right into our homes on a casual basis any time we close the door and light-up the computer screen. This can’t be policed 24 – 7. It’s impossible. 

Temptations are constant and what compounds the problem is that our kids are surrounded by moral uncertainty, and this makes choosing right from wrong that much more difficult. The church is no longer a familiar place for far too many children and youth, and the Bible is a closed book in far too many homes. Take a look around. What else is out there defining right and wrong in our kids’ world? Up at the Youth Retreat we watched a video on the commandments. It was well made and it tried to speak at the kids’ level, but it still came across as, well, silly. When they tried to present the commandments to a rap beat at the end of the video, it was just embarrassing to watch. Compare this reaction to shows on ABC Family and MTV and we can begin to see how difficult it is to give God a fighting chance when a young person has to make a moral decision. Commandments can come across as unrealistic and shows like the Real World can come across as real life. Which is going to have more sway when faith hits the pavement and a moral choice has to be made? This is the moral uncertainty I’m talking about.

We can’t respond to this problem by putting kids into a box and hiding them from all these alternatives. At some point they’re going to have to face life’s temptations and make their own moral choices. We can’t hide them away and we can’t make their decisions for them, but we can prepare them spiritually and mentally as best we can, and the two of these really do belong together. For religion to be real we can’t only know of God, we have to feel God. It’s not enough, for example, to know the commandments. After watching the video at the Retreat, all of the kids should know the commandments, but I don’t think that video made the commandments too convincing. We have to combine knowing God with a feeling for God. And that’s where worship comes into the picture. Mass, Communion, prayer and song bring God close to us so that we can feel Him near. This is why a spiritual life is essential from the youngest age and why practicing the faith as a family cannot be ignored in busy lives that are filled with work and then topped off with concerns about school and keeping up with the busy schedules of kids nowadays. This abandonment of religious practice can make God unimportant to young people, less real than the things we do make time for, and this will affect their choices.

 Spirituality, a practiced faith, makes God present in a person’s life. I personally think about God almost all the time. It’s not a conscious effort. God is a part of who I am. That didn’t happen overnight. It developed in a life of faith that began when my parents made God a priority, and that began for me not in church where my mind wandered as I sat with my mother up in the choir, always waiting to see when the chalice was covered again because my mother let me know that was a sign that Mass was almost over, but in Sunday School. God has invested Himself richly in sharing Himself with us, most especially in the life of Jesus. He has told us and shown us who He is. We have to know this story because God is not just some cloud of good feeling floating around in the heavens. Just as we expect that God knows each of us for who we are rather than that He thinks of us “those people in Deerfield,” so God expects us to know Him through His revelation for who He is. We don’t just worship the Good, the Beautiful, the Perfect. We worship God through Jesus and in the Holy Spirit. We belong to a church that is the presence of Christ in the world, and to a church that has history, and a story, and teachings that are all her own. We read a sacred book that we believe is not only the expression of human thought, but of God’s inspiration. That book doesn’t share magic; it offers wisdom. These are things that a person of faith has to be aware of, and that’s why Christian education, especially for our youth, must be a priority. The practice of our faith and the knowledge of it go hand in hand in making God real when it comes time for moral choices to be made.

The last ingredient in our effort to help our young people battle temptation and uncertainty is our example. A few days ago my daughter Kristin got her learner’s permit for driving. On the way home I’m telling her about watching for the blind spot when you change lanes, keeping a safe distance between you and the car ahead, and etc. and etc. But the only thing that really sunk in was that I drove through a yellow caution light while talking on my cell phone. I didn’t even know talking on the cell phone while driving was illegal. The lesson she learned from me was based on what I did not on what I said.  If we’re serious about helping our young people in their battle against temptation and uncertainty, if we want to help them lead moral lives, then we have to offer our example not just our words. In today’s Gospel, Jesus repeats a complaint that was then nearly 600 years old when He says, “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” We must cap-off spirit and mind with the sincere testimony of example. Our lived example as adults is the best lesson we can offer to our children and youth. Want them to grow-up moral, ethical and religious, then as adults we have to be moral, ethical and religious. We pray today for our youth, but this cannot replace our own daily responsibility as adults to be a right and worthy example for them. For our young people and for those of us whose example they watch, for these we pray in Jesus’ name this Youth Sunday. Amen. (+)

Fr. Randolph Calvo


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