by Father Anthony F. Raso
I WAS ORDAINED to the transitional diaconate in January of 1974 and one week later, I arrived in the parish of SS. Simon and Jude, Gravesend, where I began one of the most beautiful parts of my life. I will always be grateful to God for sending me to that parish because there couldn’t have been better preparation for the priesthood than by serving as a deacon at “SSJ.” I remember that year and a quarter with a fondness that the years have never erased from my heart.
There was also a lesson in “reality” that I learned there: I began to notice a disturbing fact and one that followed me through the years. Each Sunday, there was a Children’s Mass that all of the students in the school and CCD program were required to attend. It was a joyful event.
However, what was not so joyful was the phenomenon – ruefully mentioned to me by the parish priests – which took place outside the church hall at 9 a.m. when the children entered, and at 10 a.m. when they left. It was the king of all traffic jams as parents dropped off their children for Mass, and skipping the 9 a.m. Mass themselves, returned to pick them up an hour later. No pretense was there at all that the vast majority of parents did not attend Mass. It was just an “obligation” that the school and CCD required for the students, but the parents were not bothered with such an obligation themselves.
Is it any wonder then that the churches are so relatively empty nowadays? A message was being sent to those kids, and they received it loud and clear. Through the years, the related phenomenon of parents sending their children to “get their sacraments,” and then return home to a family life where religion was not very much a factor, has been clearly evident. The children of the ’70s who were “dropped off for Mass” are now the parents, and they learned too well that religion was not in the main body of their lives. It is maybe a footnote but not much more. This, once again, was something I began to notice at SS. Simon and Jude, one of the wonderful examples of a parish that I have encountered.
But this is just not the way it is supposed to be, and in our readings today, we hear glorious examples of what the Lord intended for us – and of how wonderful life can be if we only listen to Him.
In our first reading today, Isaiah is a very young man who has a vision of God and is both awed and frightened by it. When he realizes how kind God turns out to be, his fear disappears.
Then, when his mother has been touched with the burning coal from heaven and the Lord asks, “Whom shall I send?,” Isaiah has gotten a message of quite a different sort than that received by those children on Avenue T all those years ago. “Here I am!,” he says. “Send me!”
He has been touched by God’s love and is ready to serve Him. That mystical encounter with God changed his life, just as the sacraments, also encounters with God, ought to do for our children today.
For that to happen though, our children need us to be for them what St. Paul was for the Corinthians: Examples of faith, who are ready to give witness, and leaders, who are only too eager to pass the faith onto them by the example we set and the love for the Church which we display. We may be, as St. Paul calls himself, the “least of the apostles,” but as he showed so well, even the least of the apostles can have the most lasting effect, especially on our children and young people.
In our Gospel today, we experience an “Oh! That’s where he got it from” moment as we read about Jesus asking His reluctant apostles to “put out into the deep,” a phrase used so well and effectively by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio. Peter and the others know better than this Carpenter about when, and when not, to toss their nets into the lake. However, He seems to be such a nice and holy Man, so why not?
Then they barely make it back to shore because of all the fish they’ve caught at the “wrong” time. Peter speaks for all of them when he tells Jesus to go find some better apostles who won’t be such “sinful men.” Jesus, however, wants them and is ready to make them the “fishers of men” they will soon be.
In the same way, He wants us, wounded by sin as we are, to “put out into the deep” with Him, and He wants us to give that witness to the next generation. When we do, we’ll be apostles. When we don’t, we’re just going to be part of a big traffic jam.
When something wonderful happens to us, as it did for me in SS. Simon and Jude, we want to, and should, shout it from the housetops for the rest of our lives. Well, our baptism, first penance, First Communion, confirmation and all the rest of the sacraments are exactly what to be shouting about. They must be our invitation to listen to the Lord’s call and then cry out, “Here I am, Lord!,” and shout it out so that the next generation hears it, loud and clear.
Readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 6: 1-2a, 3-8
Psalm 138: 1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8
1 Corinthians 15: 1-11 or
1 Corinthians 15: 3-8, 11
Luke 5: 1-11
Father Anthony F. Raso is the newly appointed administrator of Guardian Angel parish, Brighton Beach.