It's one of the more discouraging aspects of my ministry. It might start with someone approaching me after Mass on one of the holidays. They have come out of Mass with a heightened sense of spirituality and ask, "Father, how do I become a Catholic?” I'm excited for them and tell them I'd like to introduce them to the parish Christian Initiation Team. They take instruction and receive the sacraments, but after a few months, I begin missing them at Mass, and they disappear. They didn't have staying power.
It also happens when parents approach me to arrange a child's baptism. I don't recognize them from Mass, but when they come for baptismal instruction, I try to give them my best pep talk and encourage them to be faithful now that they are about to assume responsibility for raising a child in the faith. I see them for a few weeks afterward, but they slip away. It also happens with families of Confirmation students who come to Mass while the child prepares for the sacrament but fade away soon after the celebration. They lack staying power.
Truthfully, I find it happens even with some people regularly in the pews. They might come to Mass often, but they aren't really here. Their souls are closed. They aren't open to conversion in their lives. They are only at Mass to fulfill an obligation, out of habit, or a sense of guilt. They are mere consumers of religion and don't see the need to offer anything back. While they wouldn't miss a Sunday Mass, you know, they aren't really open to God's grace by how they act the rest of the week. They have no staying power.
Jesus addresses the issue of staying power in today's gospel. Matthew wrote that Jesus taught in today's parable:
“The kingdom of heaven will be like ten bridesmaids
Who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.”
In Jesus's culture, bridesmaids had a different role than they do today. They did more than walk down the aisle looking pretty and smiling. They served as a welcoming committee for the groom as he arrived at the bride's home for the wedding.
Jesus said five bridesmaids were foolish and didn't bring extra oil for their lamps, but the wise ones did have more oil.
“Since the bridegroom was long delayed,
They all became drowsy and fell asleep.
At midnight, there was a cry. ‘Behold the bridegroom!’
The foolish ones said to the wise,
‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps have gone out.’
But the wise ones replied,
‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you.’"
The wise bridesmaids had staying power.
What is your level of staying power? Last week, I spoke about taking stock of our spiritual lives at the end of the Liturgical Year and as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches. This time of year is a good opportunity to evaluate our faith lives. How are we growing spiritually? Do we have more staying power?
Spiritual growth is essential throughout our lives. The most vital objective in life should be our spiritual growth because everything else in life feeds off our spiritual lives. We must spiritually grow because it helps us accomplish what God created us to do. It helps us become the best version of ourselves. We become more loving of the people around us in the ways we want to love them. We love and care for ourselves better when we are open to spiritual growth. Spiritual growth helps us experience more satisfaction in all aspects of life.
Just being open to spiritual growth doesn't make it happen. It takes hard work, commitment, and effort. Spiritual growth takes staying power. It can be challenging because so much in our culture discounts the need for spirituality. Rather than making it the most crucial aspect of life, our culture tries to convince us that everything but spiritual growth should be important. Spiritual growth doesn't have many influencers on social media.
If we are going to have spiritual growth, we need to devise a strategy for it to happen. We need to be very intentional with our plans. Last week, I told you that daily prayer and the celebration of the sacraments are essential for our spiritual growth. Daily prayer must be a big part of our approach to deeper spirituality. Since the Eucharist is the sum and summit of our Catholic faith, coming to Mass every weekend is vital for our deeper faith. Celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation, going to confession regularly, also feeds our spirituality.
Serving our parish and the broader community in ministry helps our spiritual growth and gives us staying power. When we become involved in parish life through participation in liturgical ministries of lector and Eucharistic Minister, when we join the Woman's Club or the Knights of Columbus, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, or another parish group, we gain a sense of ownership in our parish. Our participation makes us want to see our church grow and flourish, and we want others to share our enthusiasm.
Last week, the parish conducted a Ministry Fair. It was very successful. Dozens of people went downstairs to learn more about our parish groups and ministries. One new woman parishioner wanted to sign up for everything. She even tried to join the Knights of Columbus. Every organization recruited at least one new participant, and we received several pew forms back through the mail. From experience, I know how joining a parish ministry can stimulate a parishioner's spiritual life.
I also told you in last week's homily about a parishioner's experience of reaching out and sharing the faith with her family members who weren't attending Mass. She said it took courage on her part, but she found it very satisfying, and it encouraged her to risk it again. The coming holidays are an excellent opportunity to invite people without a church affiliation or who have strayed from the faith to return. We're going to help you invite people. During Advent, we'll be handing out little invitations to Christmas Masses you can offer people and ask them to join us for Christmas Mass.
Making a sacrificial offering to our parish is another way to grow spiritually and deepen our staying power. When we take our share of responsibility for our parish's financial good health, we grow spiritually. A deep relationship with God makes us want to ensure our parish has the financial resources to reach out to our community to share the Good News of Jesus. We invest our financial resources in what is important to us. Showing the depth of our staying power comes through the financial support we give our church.
While all these help our spiritual growth, one thing is still lacking in our parish. I feel this parish lacks one thing that would strengthen the staying power of people who want to return to the church or experience spiritual growth. If we offered this one thing to young parents desiring to share the faith with a new baby or with their young children, it would give them staying power. That one thing is the formation of small faith-sharing groups.
Small faith-sharing groups would offer our bigger church the chance to get small. Small groups would help people to gain a support system as they try to grow spiritually. It would support them when they face a crisis and share their joys when they accomplish something. Small groups would help answer their faith questions and bolster them when they need support.
This fall, I have started laying the groundwork for a parish program to help initiate small groups. Many parishioners might be wondering what a small group is. Some might feel intimidated about discussing something as personal as their faith with others they don't know well. I believe many parishioners might be skeptical about joining a small group.
So, I formed a committee to help me develop a way to introduce small groups in our parish. We are coming up with a plan. We plan a reflection day on Saturday, February 17, 2024, the first Saturday in Lent. We have enlisted Allison Gingras, a gifted Catholic speaker, to help renew our faith and explain the value of small groups to help us grow spiritually and strengthen our staying power. The day of reflection will allow us to experience small groups and encourage all parishioners to join a small group.
The committee plans to do a great deal to encourage your participation in the day of reflection and the formation of small groups. We'll invite you to participate in the reflection day and to join a small group often in the next few months. Mark your calendars today and plan to come to the day of reflection on February 17. As part of your prayer, ask God's grace to open your heart to being a willing participant in a small group, even if you have never done anything like this before. I'm sure it will grow your spiritual life and deepen your staying power like nothing your faith has experienced before.