By Father Michael Panicali
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I attended the wakes of two men at very different points in their lives. One man passed away at the robust age of 58; the other, at the age of 94. Seeing this reinforces that you do have to be ready to meet the Lord at any point in your life. Like today’s Gospel reminds us, “Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming.”
I’m utterly amazed then, when I come across people – baptized Catholics – who have decided to go it alone. Like the rock band Fleetwood Mac suggests, they choose to ‘go their own way.’ They choose to do their own thing, which many times involves no longer attending Mass, no longer regularly receiving the sacraments and having little regard for Church teachings.
My sentiments have been sparked by someone with whom I am close – a baptized Catholic, a devout family man, a very good guy – who, despite my best efforts, has decided to go his own way. He no longer comes to Mass or receives the sacraments. He questions why the Church teaches the things it does.
He has ultimately decided that his judgment is better informed than thousands of years of Judeo-Christian practices and traditions. I am not sure if he has taken the opportunity to seriously educate himself on these matters. Nevertheless, he has gone his own way; but has he found the fullness of life?
Of course, people have different reasons for abandoning this very human Church of ours. It has definitely made its share of mistakes over the centuries. And God, who is Mercy, understands this like none of us can.
Pope Francis has so beautifully taught and emphasized the mercy of God – a mercy that is far beyond anything we as finite human beings can ever comprehend or fathom. And yet, there is no denying the many instances throughout the Gospels in which Jesus speaks clearly and definitively about attaining eternal life, and how we must prepare ourselves in this life.
Participating in the life of the Church is the means to do this. Taking Jesus’ instructions to heart and following them is the means to do this.
Many seem to not desire the fullness of the revelation of God. They want what their own limited insight can offer them. And sadly, they miss out on true life here – the fullness of life Jesus promises for those who walk in His ways and take His instructions to heart. For His burden is easy, and His yoke is light.
Jesus, by His actions on the Cross, has already done the heavy lifting for us. We no longer have to carry the burden of our sinfulness, waywardness and disobedience toward God.
By choice, we can live in the joy and freedom and understanding – and we can receive the graces of the Holy Spirit – that come with fully participating in the life of the Church.
It really is this simple.
Readings for the First Sunday Of Advent
Isaiah 63: 16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
Psalm 80: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1 Corinthians 1: 3-9
Mark 13: 33-37
Father Panicali, parochial vicar at St. Mark and St. Margaret Mary parish, Sheepshead Bay, was ordained to the priesthood for the Brooklyn Diocese on June 3, 2017.