From Fr. Joseph F Lorenzo, O.F.M., Pastor
All of our parishioners know that, when I preach, I usually like to tie in some story or anecdote, something that demonstrates everything that we are talking about. One of my favorite things in this world, as I think you can surmise just by looking at me, is food. As a matter of fact, for many of us, including my own family, food played a very important part in our lives. Some people look at food from a purely scientific point of view- you eat enough food so that the body can convert the calories to energy so that your body can perform its functions. But for members of my family- and, I would think, most families, certainly most Italian families, food has more of a function than calories.
You see, food was synonymous with family- with love and with caring. Whenever something important happened in our lives, it was celebrated at the table. Weddings, baptisms, and even funerals are all accompanied by great banquets. Holidays, holy days, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, were all celebrated at the dinner table. In fact, the dinner table and church were very closely linked. We went to Church together to be nourished spiritually, to celebrate the important events in our lives, and then we went home, or to the banquet hall, to continue our celebration at the table.
Certainly the food was very important- the pasta, the meatballs, that special focaccia my mother used to make, the seven fish dinners of Christmas Eve, the lasagna. We wouldn’t think of a Sunday without a giant meal with everything from antipasto to pasta, to meat, to fruit and pastries.
But there was something more important than the eating that went on. Our meals weren’t a matter of stuffing our faces as fast as we could, and then getting on with things. We dined in the finest sense of the word. We savored every morsel and tasted the wonderful spices. But even more than that, we shared ourselves.
Our meals were always a source of love- coming together, talking, sharing, hugging and kissing, watching the little children grow up, singing songs together, remembering grandma and grandpa, and today, remembering mom and dad. Our meals were filled with laughing, smiling, and yes, crying and mourning, remembering those who were no longer with us at the table, and anticipating future generations of children and grandchildren who would join us at our table.
The food was important, but not as important as being together and sharing our lives with one another. We didn’t want to leave- we didn’t want to get up from the table, because we would have such a wonderful time. Here our elderly grandparents and aunts and uncles were reverences and cared for, the children honored and smothered with affection, while all were welcomed at our table. The older kids brought their boyfriends or girlfriends, and, after considerable scrutiny, were lovingly accepted as members of the family.
We shared our lives. How are you feeling? What grade are you in? How are the kids doing in school? What’s going on in your life? If anyone was in trouble, we not only were concerned, we assisted them.
Our coming together at Mass, for church, to celebrate as a parish, is very much like a meal. As a matter of fact, Jesus reminds us that it is a meal. But what kind of meal is it for us? We know that today, people are too busy to sit down and dine together. Sure, occasionally, we go to a restaurant and have a leisurely meal. But most of the time, we are gulping down our food running from one place to another.
I have often thought of the two extremes- the wonderful banquet that we share as a family – the banquet I just described, and the other end of the spectrum- the McDonald’s drive through. And I think both of these can be compared to what we look for in church. For many, church has become like the McDonald’s drive through. We come for 45 minutes or an hour, get what we need to fulfill church law, to do our duty- and we’re gone. Perhaps on some days, like Ash Wednesdays, there are those who would prefer us to have a drive-in ashes dispenser. Pull up to the side of the church, and a disembodied hand comes out to give you ashes on your forehead, and then you can proceed to do your business.
But we all know that church should be, rather, a banquet, where we come to celebrate our relationship with God, with Jesus Christ, and with one another. Church should be a place where we love to be, not a place where we are constantly looking at our watches to see how long Mass is running or how long father is talking. Church should be a place where we come, not just for Sunday Mass, but at other times during the week, to share ourselves, to minister to one another.
The challenge of being church today- and the challenge to us at St. Francis Xavier Church is to use this day as a new beginning, with new opportunities. What we need to have here at St. Francis is a community of believers, believers who wish to share their faith, to challenge our community and our world, to build the City of God here on earth.
For those who like McDonald’s drive through, we will always be here for you to provide for your needs. But we challenge you to get involved in our parish community, to share your talents and your gifts through stewardship to the church and to get involved in our many wonderful ministries.
Our parish needs to take that next step, to be source of spirituality for the people of New Milford, to be an example of Christian living and service. We have a wonderful, vibrant, and active parish community. But activity cannot be the measure of our success. Our success will only be measured in how well we live and preach the Gospel, how much we adhere to the will of God for us in our lives, and how much we mirror during the week, what we celebrate on Sunday. People must see in us the challenge of the Gospel- as much as a struggle as it is being lived each day.
Not that we are a perfect community. As human beings and as Christians, we are also sinners. We will make mistakes. But, the wonderful message of Christianity is the message of the cross- the message of forgiveness, and we can always rise from our failures.
The gospel challenges us to be special. We are called to make our commitment to Jesus Christ and His Church the centerpiece of everything we do, not simply just another aspect of our very busy lives. Let us resolve that together we will work to build up the Body of Christ here at St. Francis Xavier Church.