I was struck by the sharpness and zeal of what last week’s readings say about what Christians will face. As we end the Easter season and prepare to reenter Ordinary Time, I’d like to reflect on fostering spiritual growth and strength based upon my experience raising two sons here in Brooklyn Heights and in St. Charles Borromeo parish. Today, in what I have boldly called Part I, I want to talk about faith formation—the groundwork that creates Christians strong enough to face fires. Part II will be based on Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment.
Peter’s message in last week’s Second Reading spoke about sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Father Bill made sure we did not miss the point by also referencing 1 Peter 4:3-4 and 12. St. Peter warns us to be prepared for “a trial by fire,” and to expect “vilification” for being followers of Christ.
But we need more than warnings to grow in our faith. If you ever trained a child to ride a bike, you probably did not start at the top of a steep hill, telling tales of how painful things might be. I think you started slowly, on level ground. You made sure they were safe and comfortable, and you emphasized little steps that would amount to big strides. Eventually, you had a strong and confident bike rider.
Strong and confident Christians grow in the same way. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Maureen Pond and her teachers, because that is where our young Christians start to ride their spiritual bikes. Of course, that work builds on what began in the home. When someone else with faith (Maureen, her teachers, an aunt, uncle, or grandparent) say the same thing a parent said, it sticks better. So, the start of faith formation is good roots. Roots need community ground, not a little pot. So, to grow strong Christians with strong roots, we need to a secure a safe plot of ground. St. Charles can be that.
Then they grow up, their parents start to get gray hair or lose it (double entendre intended). The children begin to interact with Peter’s “Gentiles.” I believe that the lesson there is not to screech about sin, but to be calm, informed, and respected advocates for the Christian view. We live in a diverse society (which I think is good) and we cannot bring many people to Christ by scolding them. If we can train a generation to do it right, we will have done something. And it is not all about avoiding the bad. At Friday’s food distribution at St. Finbars, a group of high school girls, who I think were from a sports team, were working to help distribute food. Faith formation is also about inculcating a generous and caring heart.
To be sure, we should expect and must accept suffering for being Christians, but we should not seek suffering for its own sake. We want to proclaim and live the Good News, not suffer unnecessarily for “points.” We must be effective advocates. And we await the chief Advocate.