About two weeks ago I had the great pleasure of tagging along with our Holy Trinity Grade School and CCD 8th graders for a day of learning and reflection at their Confirmation Retreat that was held at the Martina Retreat Center in Ross Township. Bob Summers and the adult leaders did a great job of putting together a program that centered on the theme of being “Called, Sent and Nourished.” Called by their baptism. Sent by the Holy Spirit, and nourished at the Table of the Lord. They gave the students lots of things to think about and discuss and mixed in just the right amount of “fun stuff” to keep them interested.
Throughout the course of the day, many students mentioned that they were looking forward to becoming “an adult in the Church” when they were confirmed. At the end of the afternoon, when I was called upon to give a short summary of all we had discussed that day, I started out by telling them that I had never given a whole lot of attention to what it means to be an “adult in the Church,” but as it kept coming up, I began to give it more thought. I somehow knew it was more than what I overheard one student telling another. He said that: “it means that now we start to get the BIG envelopes for the collection basket.” I’d hoped it was more than that.
I told them that what it means to be an adult, not just an adult in the Church, but an adult anywhere, is that now we start to do more giving than receiving. That up to this point, from the time they were born, they’ve mostly been on the receiving end of life. They’ve been given everything they need. Now, at this stage of their life, becoming as adults, they should start to think about how much they can give rather than how much they can take.
I explained that age has nothing to do with being a true adult, that there are many older people in the world, in a wide range of ages - 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and more, that still do more taking than giving. Everything they do, in all their relationships, whether it be with boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife or other family members, or people they work with or play with, everything they do is centered on the self and what they can “get” from it. This is not the kind of adult Jesus taught us to be.
As Christians, we look to the example of Jesus dying on the cross as the ultimate expression giving and self-sacrificial love. To give one’s whole life. I explained to them that this probably wouldn’t happen overnight, but it is something we should be working on day-after-day, year-after-year, until we give without thinking twice about it. It’s just what we do. That’s the kind of mature love Christ teaches us to have for one another. A giving, unselfish love.
In today’s second reading, Paul talks to the Corinthians about the same thing. He’s not mincing any words with them. He’s already called them “childish” in chapter 3 and does it again in chapter 14. He wants them to become mature Christians and he tells them that no amount of faith can do it; no amount of hope is going to do it; that only by love can their maturity come about.
In the early Church, the Eucharistic and social gatherings would take place at someone’s home. Paul has heard that the more well-to-do members of the community would gather early to eat and drink, taking the best seats in the main room of the house. When the poorer members of the community arrived, there would be nothing left for those who had been working all day, maybe not eating all day. He tells them that by sharing Eucharist, they are proclaiming the Lord’s death, which was an act of love, but that that unselfish love is missing from their assembly, making their Eucharist meaningless. So he tells them the virtues that they must cultivate in their lives to make this love become a reality. His words are as true today as they were 2000 years ago:
Love is patient. I am willing to wait for you. To give up some of my time and my needs until you can be with me physically, emotionally, or spiritually. And I won’t whine about it.
Love is kind. Not only am I willing to wait for you, but I will help you deal with whatever trouble you are having, setting aside my own concerns so we can work on yours.
Love is not jealous. I do not own you. You are not a thing that I can possess.
Love is not pompous, inflated or rude. We are all members of the Body of Christ and I will not look down on anyone because of my education, income, or situation in life. We are all equals in the eyes of God and I want to see the world with those eyes.
Love does not seek its own interests. I made sure that my family is clothed, fed, housed and educated, but Lord, when did I see you hungry and feed you or naked and clothed you? When you did it for the least of my people you did it for me.
Love is not quick-tempered, it does not seek revenge, and it is not happy about injury to others. Justice is a good thing, and I know my anger rises out of my sense of justice, to see justice done; it usually arises from what I perceive as an injustice toward myself or toward others. But what I really want is to forgive the people who injure me, as I hope you, Lord, will forgive me.
Love does not rejoice over wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Lord, help me to constantly seek out what is right and true; and in your love, have the courage to speak out against wrongdoing wherever I see it.
And then comes the big pay-off:
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
In the last 30 or 40 years, our culture has placed a great emphasis on learning the skills necessary to survive in the world. But it is only lately that parents and the people who run our schools have realized that along with development of skills, some character development needs to take place as well. There‘s been a lot of head scratching going on trying to figure out how to do this in the schools without promoting religion. Well we can’t wait for the schools to teach out children how to become successful human beings.
An article I read recently pointed out that the biggest mistake people make with their children is they forget the goal is not to raise children, but to raise adults. What we see more and more of are perpetual children.There are many youngsters around today (as well as quite a few older folks) who, as bright and smart as they are, lack character and self-control. How is it that we are raising all these successful people who come up short as human beings? Just go home and look in today’s paper and I’m sure you’ll find many examples of them.
I would suggest that today’s lesson from Paul to the Corinthians be a lesson for all of us and for all of our children on what it means to be an “adult in the Church” and a true human being in the mold of Jesus Christ. If there are any parents who are worried about developing character in their children to the same degree as they are developing computer skills, or soccer skills, or hockey skills, they could take this lesson from Paul and spend an equal amount of time with them teaching them to be patient and kind, and not to be jealous, pompous, rude, or quick-tempered. And remember, we teach best by way of example.
Two final little things worth mentioning here. First, for those of you who are married or who are contemplating marriage and want to practice the same kind of marital love as the kind Paul speaks of today, the latest Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper (in the back of church) has a listing of all the Natural Family Planning classes that will be held in the diocese in the upcoming months. Not only has it been proven that Natural Family Planning is at least as affective, if not better than, than any artificial contraception, but it is a hundred times better at improving the relational aspects of marriage through better communication and utilizing the building blocks of love Paul spoke of today.
Also our 8th graders are being confirmed here on Thursday, March 15th at 7:00. It is not a private sacrament. Any member of our community would be most welcome to attend and show their support for these newest, full-fledged members of Christ’s Church.
So, in closing, I pray that we may all become the mature, self-giving members of Christ’s body that we are called to be.