Since we head into the Lenten season in just a few weeks, I thought this would be a wonderful and opportune time to issue a heartfelt invitation to all of you who have stopped regular attendance at church — for whatever reason — to pray about this and consider returning.
Lent is a time in which we think a great deal about our spirituality, our connectedness to the Christian family and our commitment to Jesus Christ. It is a special time in which we prepare for and celebrate the incredible hope given us in the miracle of resurrection and new life on Easter. If you have been thinking about a new beginning with God, if you want to reconnect, if the Holy Spirit has been whispering in your ear, what better time than now?
I hope you know that you will be welcomed back with open arms. In fact, please know we have missed you very much and longed for your return. Because, as in any family, spiritual ones included, it is never quite the same if some of us are missing when we gather.
As I extend to you what our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, called “an invitation to joy” in reference to the life-changing experience of the Mass every Sunday, allow me to offer some thoughts about the importance of your re-engagement, and why new life in one of our parishes would not only benefit you, but also the church.
First, please know that we need you. We need your energy, your personality, your talents, all the wisdom you’ve gained from the experiences you’ve been through, bad and good. You see, we are all connected to one another, we sisters and brothers in Christ, and we learn from each other and support one another.
In turn, I believe that you will enjoy being part of the real, lasting community that is church. Isn’t a sense of community and of belonging more important now than ever? I imagine that life for you is as harried at times as it is for me, and sometimes a little frightening as well. Just listening to the evening news or reading the morning paper can make one feel the world is in chaos and its problems insurmountable. It’s hard to go it alone. In our faith communities, you will meet people just like you, people who share your faith, people who offer support, solace and the strength to carry on — people who have found what St. Paul called the “comfort and good hope” that comes through the grace of faith and community.
Indeed, at Mass you will find the conviction and the power to make this world — or just your little corner of it — a better place. Jesus gives us this special gift freely though the Eucharist and asks us to use it well. “The communities gathered around the Eucharist make up a kingdom of peace as wide as the world itself,” Pope Benedict XVI said in his Christmas homily. “‚Ä¶Christ gives himself to us and, in doing so, gives us his peace. He gives it to us so that we can carry the light of peace within and give it to others. He gives it to us so that we can become peacemakers and builders of peace in the world.”
In turn, we also give God a special gift when we make the commitment to come to Mass regularly. While God is, of course, in every moment we experience and in every place in our lives, we greatly please and honor God when we gather for the Eucharist, this public way of professing your love and gratitude to God. I think of David who sings joyfully to God in Psalm 122, “I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” Through its catechism, the church reminds us that in the Eucharist we offer “praise in thanksgiving for all that God has made good, beautiful, and just in creation and in humanity.”
There is, too, an added benefit: You’ll set a good example for others in your life, perhaps a spouse, a family member, a friend, and especially children. If you don’t bring your children or grandchildren to Mass every week, consider starting again. Besides the benefits for your own sense of well-being and the good feeling that comes from this self-discipline, you will provide them with a crucial anchor in their lives in this morally challenging world. You will help them learn a faith that has been passed down from generation to generation for more than 2,000 years. Soon, this wonderful opportunity for gathering as family every weekend will become a vital part of their being. It will nurture their faith in a loving God and give them a solid and holy foundation from which to tackle all the challenges to come in their young lives.
Once you get back into the flow, I think you will come to love the beautiful motion, the ebbs and tides, if you will, of the church year. Season passes into season, “ordinary time” to the rich and special depths of Easter and Advent, with all the changing liturgical colors, the decorations in the church and the cycles of the readings. This exquisite and ancient procession of time is quite comforting in this age of instant everything.
Through all of this experience as the weeks unfold, I believe that you’ll find that your spirituality will grow and flourish. You’ll learn more about God and the life-changing Gospel message. Your sense of awe and mystery, your connectedness to all that is good in creation will increase and, accompanied by other pilgrims on the journey to God, you will find many of the answers you seek.
I do hope you will consider my invitation and ask God for guidance and the conviction to act upon your desires.
If you long to know more about God, if you desire to feel a stronger sense of connection to Jesus, you will find your heart’s desire in the Mass. I can guarantee it!
Peace to all.