Sunday, March 16, 2014

Do I have to?

I knew it was going to happen. I did it. My wife did it. I'm pretty sure you did it.

It was only a mater of time before one of our kids uttered the question some innocent Sunday morning. "Do I have to go to church?"

It actually happened some time ago with our oldest, now 11 years old. And yes, I felt like a bit of a failure as a parent. "How could my little baby say such a thing? What have I done to deserve this?" I got over it quickly. But when our four year old muttered the phrase recently, it kinda surprised me. How could she be so weak-willed to bow to the negative peer-pressure of her older sister? Monkey see, monkey do.

It surprised me also because she loves to sing at Mass, and participates well. Usually. Sometimes. Some weeks. She prays the Creed, so I'll take that as a sign that God's grace is at work.

From the first time the dreaded, "Do I have to?" came from the mouths of our children, I have deflected the complaint instead of meeting the conflict head on. I use language like, "We get to go to Church," instead of we have to go. It helps avoid much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Some of the sarcasm is lost on little ones, but I'll groan, "Oh no. The Creator of Universe loves me so much He died for me, and I have to spend an hour accepting His love and say, 'Thanks Jesus. Love ya too,' in my own wounded way." Then the eyes roll, so I know it hit home with the eldest.

Our Sunday obligation is too often misunderstood. We tend to see it as a rule we can rebel against. But really, it's a privilege that, as St. Paul expressed, is so tremendous our hearts, minds, souls—our very beings—compel us to act in some way (cf. 2 Cor 5:14). If we don't express our love and celebrate the day of the resurrection, something inside us will burst. If we don't celebrate the joy of the Spirit, the rocks will cry out on our behalf (cf. Luke 19:40).

I'm pretty sure it wasn't some rule that compelled the disciples to go back out preaching Jesus raised from the dead after getting beaten and thrown into prison, multiple times (cf almost all of the Acts of the Apostles).

I'm pretty sure the conversation did not go like this:

Thomas: Hey guys. This whole getting beaten thing sucks. Why don't we just call it quits. Jesus would never know.
James: And the prison food is not even close to Mom's cooking.
John: Maybe we can just say that Jesus was a really good guy. Maybe even a prophet.
Matthew: Yeah, people would buy that. At least it would be less painful for us.
Peter: But Jesus said we have have to. Ugh. So, I guess we have to. At least once a week for an hour.
Andrew: But I have to park my camel so far away, it's just horrible.

It's not fear or some sense of following rules that gets us to Mass on Sunday. It is (or at least should be) our love of Christ and our desire to grow in holiness, to grow closer to Him, to be with Him for eternity.

How are you, as a parent, modeling your Sunday obligation? Do you see it as a chore and find yourself thinking, "Move it along padre, the game starts in 10." Or do you present it as a joyful celebration in which we get to participate. Remember, your children are likely to follow your lead. Choose wisely. Act accordingly.

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