This past week our church, Prince of Peace Catholic Church hosted a Parish Mission with guest speakers from the Newman Center at the University of Texas @ Austin. Our speakers, Father Ed Nowak and Carol Filip shared with us over the course of the four nights how we as baptized Catholics could grow and share our faith through a deeper understanding and commitment to our discipleship.
What a perfect time of year to focus on experiencing a deeper connection to our faith and learning to share it with others. During Advent, as we eagerly prepare for the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ it is so important that we turn our focus to remaining in the Presence of Christ. It is so easy for us to be distracted and lose sight of just how precious a blessing our faith is.
On the first night of the mission we learned the importance of seeing others as Jesus sees them. So often we see the outward appearance of someone and think we know them, or perhaps we see someone behave a certain way and define them by their actions. God created each of us and he knows our hearts and souls, our weaknesses and strengths, our gifts and our needs. Imagine the difference in our society if we treated each person as if they were Jesus to us. If we looked at each person as if they were not flawed, but a blessing to us.
As a wife and mother, I try to keep this in mind as I go through my week. We will inevitably hurt or disappoint our spouse and they will also do the same to us. So, I try to look at my husband as Jesus would. If he says or does something that I find fault with, I remember that I too am imperfect and that I am certain there are times I disappoint or hurt him and little flaws or shortcomings are what make us beautiful. It is what we each do with our flaws that draw us closer to God.
On our second night of the Parish Mission, we learned to be a prophetic people and speak of our faith to others. In our daily lives, how often are we taking advantage of opportunities to tell others about Jesus? I am not saying to grab your soapbox and stand on the street corner professing the Gospel, this is a surefire way to turn others off to religion. I simply mean, don’t be afraid to share the good news of blessings in your life and encourage others to have faith and trust God. Father Ed shared a story of a time that he missed an opportunity to share his faith with someone. He said he was in a grocery store and the young man in line ahead of him was 25 cents short and he handed him a quarter. The cashier asked him why he did that and his response was, “We have all been a little short, I had the quarter, so why not help.” He realized later that he could have taken that opportunity to tell her that he was simply treating that young man as he would treat Christ. Our Commandments tell us to Love our God above all else and to Love our neighbor as ourselves.
It made me think of how we are living examples of our faith at all times. Our actions and the way we interact with others each day serve as testimony to others. We shouldn’t be afraid to stop and pray for others or tell someone we will pray for them. Also, when someone asks you a question about why you choose to live a certain way or make the choices you make, don’t be afraid to site your faith as a reason for your choices. Reminding others that a faith life doesn’t simply mean we attend church services each Sunday, but we make little choices every day that draw us closer to God and we perhaps don’t partake in certain activities because we don’t feel they would be healthy for our relationship with Christ.
The third night we learned about becoming the Light of Christ and passing along our faith in our daily lives. Father Ed told a story about a priest that said one of the reasons he became a priest was that there was a boy at his school who always prayed before his meals and he would see him do the Sign of the Cross and that served as an example to him of living your faith every day no matter where you are or what you’re doing. I chuckled to myself when he shared this with us because our youngest son has a friend whose mom shared with me that her son came home from school and showed his family how to begin and end your prayers with the Sign of the Cross like his friends Darby and Lincoln do, that was a proud mom moment knowing that my child was practicing his faith at school and sharing his faith with others. I often tell my children and my Religious Education students that knowing us is sometimes the only bible others will ever “read” so we can share our faith through our daily actions.
On our fourth and final night of the Parish Mission, we learned about Reconciliation and forgiveness. Not only does this mean reconciling ourselves with God, but being forgiving of others. Each day little choices we make chip away at our relationship with God, so it is vital that we examine our actions and reconcile ourselves with God. Little sins committed regularly can often grow into bigger and bigger sins driving us farther away from Christ and making us feel as though we have gone so far in the wrong direction that we may never see a way to come back to our faith. The same is true with our willingness to forgive others. When someone hurts us, they may not ask for forgiveness or apologize, but it is vital to our souls to be forgiving and to love others. If someone hurts you, know that whether it was intentional or not, they are only human and call to mind the times you yourself have hurt others and think how you would feel if someone didn’t forgive you.
We ended our evening with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Many Protestants ask about this Sacrament, wondering why we feel as Catholics that we have to confess our sins to a priest. I always explain it like this, we can confess our sins to God and ask forgiveness, but often discussing our choices and actions with a priest is very helpful in guiding us to not commit these sins over and over. I feel it holds us accountable for our actions and the advice of a priest gives us another perspective on the choices we make.
Overall, these four nights were such a blessing for our family and our parish. Not only were the lessons and discussions enlightening, but the fellowship during the social time afterward was nourishing to our souls.
I encourage you to find some time during this season of Advent to practice fellowship with others and examine your own relationship with God. Actively pursue your faith and encourage your loved ones and friends to participate daily in living the Gospel. If each of us focus on living the Gospel, our impact on the world will begin to effect others and society as a whole. Many of the current problems with society are directly related to our lack of faith and responsibility.
If you would like more information about this Parish Mission, I can email you copies of the notes from each night. Feel free to send me a request at [email protected] with MISSION as the subject.