by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
A couple years ago, I wrote about the book, “Night’s Bright Darkness: A Modern Conversion Story” by Sally Read.
She grew up in an atheistic family in England. Sally’s father taught her religious faith is for the weak and never to bow before any god.
As a young adult, she worked as a nurse and indulged in the many pleasures encouraged by the materialistic, secular, cosmopolitan culture of London.
Sally is also an award-winning poet and talented prose writer. Her journey from atheism to Catholicism is an inspiring illustration of how God’s grace can break through the many barriers created by the dominant secular culture.
Sally, as a young adult, did not think she needed a spiritual life. The Catholic Church appeared to be the enemy of everything she valued. Catholicism was the last place on earth she could imagine being her spiritual home.
Even before she understood and embraced all the dogmatic and moral teachings of the church, Sally possessed an intuitive understanding of God’s real presence in the Eucharist.
Her most recent book, “Annunciation: A Call to Faith in a Broken World,” was inspired by her daughter Flo’s question two days before her first Communion: “I don’t know if I believe in God. . . . I want the party more than Communion. Maybe I shouldn’t do it.”
Sally acknowledges her initial response to Flo’s inconvenient faith crisis conformed perfectly to the wisdom of the dominant, relativistic, secular culture.
She counseled Flo: “Don’t do it. Wait a bit. Do it when you’re grown up, if you like.” Sally was jarred by Flo’s reaction to her permission not to make her first Communion: “Immediately, I saw her disappointment in me. Would I let her slip away so easily? In her face I saw the panic of being let go alone, godless in the streets outside.”
Sally made a quick course change in her parental advice. She said to Flo: “The thing is, if you don’t receive Communion on Sunday, Jesus will be very sad. He wants you, particularly you. He doesn’t need you to know he exists in a clever way. He doesn’t need you to hear his voice or see angels. What he’s asking you to do is open a door so he can reach you better. Do you think that you could just open the door?”
Sally titled her book, “Annunciation,” because she recognized parallels in Mary’s “yes” to God’s request to embrace his desire for her to be the mother of the Redeemer and the much smaller, but nonetheless, important ways we are called to open our hearts to God’s will in our lives.
In particular, she was struck by the similarity of what was asked of Mary at the Annunciation and what is asked of each of us when we receive holy Communion.
Our embracing the Lord’s desire to make us his living temples and tabernacles that carry his very life within us is not so different than Mary’s willingness to accept God’s desire to make her the new Ark of the Covenant, carrying the Word made flesh in her womb.
Flo’s disappointment in Sally’s willingness to affirm her doubts and give her permission not to receive her first holy Communion is worthy of consideration for all parents in responding to the faith struggles of children.
Sally’s eventual advice to Flo is also instructive. Sally did not enter into a theological discussion about transsubstantiation or the Real Presence. But it was rather to remind her daughter of God’s unique and personal love for her.
Adult children are probably not going to be motivated by intellectual arguments or efforts to shame them to go to Mass. They are more likely to be motivated by knowing how both their earthly parents and heavenly Father miss them when they are not present for Mass.
Just as they would know our disappointment if they missed Thanksgiving Day dinner, they should know that it matters to us and God if they are absent from the Eucharist.
Ultimately, we want to make participation in the Sunday Eucharist something that our children value and desire. The most effective way to do this is by one’s own example of making participation in the Sunday Eucharist a personal priority.
However, children not only need to witness their parents attending Mass, they need to observe the difference the Eucharist makes in their lives. They need to see how the Eucharist is a source of strength and joy. They need to be able to witness the power to love that is derived from receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist.
Sally’s book has also prompted me to consider how I exercise my spiritual fatherhood for those entrusted to my care.
Am I willing to concede too easily those who have ceased practicing their faith as lost souls, who are the inevitable casualties of a powerful, agnostic, secular culture? How much am I willing to battle for each and every soul? Am I willing to pray for them by name and offer sacrifices for those struggling with the faith?
Among the most common prayer intentions that I receive from the people of the archdiocese is for the return to the faith of a loved one. St. John Mary Vianney began every day in prayer, interceding for the conversion and holiness of his parishioners.
The patron for priests was willing to fight daily for the spiritual welfare of his children.
Do the people of the archdiocese deserve anything less from me?