Thursday, January 30, 2014

Close Encounters

I recently read a story about Pope Francis visiting a very modest parish in a poorer part of Rome. The parish had recently built a new sanctuary, and fifteen families are now living in the old space. The story was about the Pope's visit and the homeless families, but one part that grabbed my attention was the interview with the local parish priest, Don Marco Ridolfo. He said, 
“When peoples’ intentions are sincere . . . a parish can become a school in which to learn patience and tolerance, which can be applied outside as well. Examples of enlightened people like Pope Francis help us do away with that cursed temptation to think that if you are a good person, you are alone. And then, because you are alone, you are weaker and you have to stay on guard, so it becomes easier to embrace all those things that hurt you, to let circumstances make you ugly. When you start to understand that there are other people that see things the way you do, who want to live, who want to believe in this kind of life even if it’s difficult, then it’s a completely different thing."
I was really touched by his description of church as a school for patience and tolerance, and by his honesty about feeling alone while trying to be a good person.

I think Don Marco has articulated two very good reasons for raising your kids in a parish or congregation. First, his point about patience and tolerance: The church is a family of equal siblings (all children of God, and equally beloved in God's sight.) As such, it is a great place to practice patience and tolerance. Just as we have to put up with relatives who we would never invite into our lives otherwise, at church we will be expected to learn to love and respect people we would normally avoid. It has become very easy to simply associate with people we like or who share our values. Most of the time we go places in our own cars, riding only with people we like. Most of us (67.9%) live in single family dwellings in households that average 2.6 people in size. We don't have to play well with others in our daily life! So whether you're the weird relative who is tolerated, or the cool relative who is doing the tolerating, your church family will welcome you.

Don Marco's second point about feeling alone as a good person is also very valuable. We sometimes feel that we're swimming upstream in our "goodness." It is tempting to give up on trying to do the right thing and just going with the flow. Assembling regularly with other people who are also trying to be good people is encouraging. It removes our isolation and gives us strength for the journey. It also allows your skeptical kids to see that other people trying to be good people, and to hear those people share their experiences. (Maybe someone cooler than you will inspire your child.)  Don't you want that for your kids?

I know these thoughts may idealize the church, your church, but you can help it be an ideal community by bringing yourself and your kids to take part. Give it a try!

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