Who doesn't love to see a baby baptized? By baptizing infants, who have no say in the process (except to complain as it is being performed), we are saying that baptism and the grace it confers, is a freely given gift from God. However, should it be a freely given gift of the Church? In short, whose babies should be permitted to be baptized? The Church says that there should be a "founded hope" that the baby will be raised as a Catholic. Baptism is considered to be a sacrament of initiation, yet we baptize more than a few babies of people who aren't really part of our community--they may have been initiated years ago, but they haven't really maintained their membership. Does anyone belong to a parish that reaches out to new parents, particularly those who do not regularly attend Mass, to try to welcome them into, and make them a part of, the parish community? We had to attend the Baptism preparation seminar twice, since it had been more than a certain number of years between our first child and our third. I barely remember the first seminar but the associate pastor did stop by and knowing the kind of person he was, I'm sure he welcomed everyone but there was no follow-up after the class. The second time around we were there with two other couples who also had older kids. It was inconvenient for us and we learned nothing about baptism that I hadn't taught my third grade religion class that year. The preparation seminar seemed like a "hoop", nothing more. It seems to me that this could be a time to welcome a couple who hasn't been attending church regularly and to offer community support but instead of the meals for new moms that some Protestant churches furnish, our parish only offered a bad class.
The sacrament we love to hate. Yes, it feels wonderful once you do it, but getting there? Saying it? We don't really have to, do we? I could talk theology or something here, but I'll just settle for practical. Why are confessions always (at least in most parishes around here) in the middle of Saturday afternoon? Yes, it is an excuse, and yes, I know it is an excuse, but that really isn't very convenient for much of anyone except the 4:00 p.m. Mass crowd of old people. I keep reading that people should go to confession more often but if I was trying to "sell" confessions, I'd offer them right after Mass, and use the homily to encourage people to go.
The source and summit of our faith, or a weekly (if that) routine? I read a story once about a non-Christian foreigner who was being given a tour of town, including the historic local Catholic church. He asked about the tabernacle light and it was explained to him that we believe Jesus, our God, is truly present in the Eucharist, which is kept in that box,and that the light is there to show His presence. The man replied that the guide didn't really believe that. She replied that she did, it was the teaching of the Church. He replied that it may be the teaching of the church but obviously no one believed it because they were the only ones there and she was standing there talking to him, not on her knees before God. How easy it is to take the Eucharist for granted.
Talk about a sacrament no one knows what to do with. Is it graduation from religious ed? Is it something that should happen at the same time as baptism (as our Eastern brothers and sisters do), or at the same time as First Communion (like in some dioceses) or at the end of Catholic grammar school, or in high school? Is it a gift, or something that has to be earned? I say either confirm young kids (making it a gift, and counting on the Holy Spirit to do his job) or wait until people are adults and request it. In high school it is a carrot to get kids to religious ed (or more precisely for parents to send them for the required preparation) but church attendance after confirmation shows that it is not an adult claiming of the faith chosen for them as infants.
I wonder if our marriage preparation programs help or hurt when it comes to getting couples to participate in the life of the Church and to raise their children in the faith? Those of you who work in marriage prep, have you seen non-practicing couples return to the practice of the faith because of it? Have you seen marriage preparation programs change hearts from the secular view of marriage to the church view? Have you seen faith-filled couples grow in their faith as a result of your programs? If the answers to those questions are "yes" then do you think the "yes" applies to enough couples to make up for those who chose the easier path of marrying in another church or at the park? Have you ever considered that by discouraging pregnant couples from getting married before the baby's birth, the Church is playing into the "marriage is optional in child rearing" mentality?
I've heard ordinations are up, and that is a good thing!
Anointing of the Sick
I've seen this sacrament administered en-masse via a line at Mass that resembled the Communion line. Apparently that parish (we were visiting) did this on a regular basis and the church was full of old people (it was also the Saturday vigil Mass, which around here is generally the old folks mass). I've never seen it administered one-on-one. When my dad was dying, the priest anointed him before he left the hospital the last time, but not after he began active dying, even though the priest came by once or more daily during that time.
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