Led to the Truth

God’s love is always worthwhile

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AckermanA priest that I was friends with from seminary told me a humorous story about traveling on a plane. He said that he boarded a flight once when he heard a woman scream, “Oh, yes!” as she pointed at him and waved. He looked rather perplexed as to her greeting. She promptly replied, “Now, we will not crash; Father is here!”

He laughed and told her that she gave him too much credit. At times perhaps, we may experience something similar from people who think that we have more authority than we do. I have had to remind people of this when they ask me to bless lottery tickets, playing cards and even race horses. We may also personally battle our egos, thinking that we always know best.

I knew a pastor who asked his assistants to report to him every evening about their day’s activities, which earned him the title Big Brother. However, all that we have and are is dependent upon God. It is his truth and Church that we represent.

I read a meditation not that long ago in “Divine Intimacy” (Baronius Press, $69.95) from Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD, which reminded me of our need to collaborate with God’s will and not go off on our own. “The apostolate,” he writes, “is not merely a personal activity … nor is it an activity which we can carry on according to our own ideas, and much less by our own powers.” Instead, he reminds us that we have to trust in God who alone can redeem and sanctify us. As a result, there can exist a tension between the desire to assist people who are struggling in life and faith while also adhering to a truth that we do not possess. I imagine that many of us have experienced the dilemma of trying to communicate this to people while attempting to be pastoral.

Baptism preparation and the selection of godparents has in particular become a rather strained endeavor at times, seeming more like a hostage negotiation than a joyous event. Occasionally, people choose godparents who are not attending church or who even have left the Faith. I would imagine that no priest or parish staff desires to make things difficult for a family. However, there also is a hope to help parents select godparents who can encourage, teach and witness to what it means to follow Christ in the Church. We are not Pharisees or legalists, but there is a desire to have some benchmark as a guide. “We are not trying to be difficult,” I have heard our secretary say, “we are merely trying to help you and your child grow in the Faith.”

A relative who was a director of religious education told me an exasperating tale of a woman who wanted her son confirmed. She brought her son into the parish and demanded that the parish confirm her son on the spot. “It’s wonderful that you want your son confirmed,” she replied, “but we have to do some preparation first.”

That did not go over well. She wanted to know why the parish refused to give her son the sacrament and subsequently bewailed that this treatment was why people left the Church. She even asked if she could take some oil home so that he could confirm himself. Although that might seem like a way to solve a clergy shortage, I am not sure that do-it-yourself sacraments are the way to go.

Pope Francis, in particular, has reminded clergy about the desire to be pastoral shepherds to people above all else. In his General Audience on Jan. 18, 2023, he reminded Christians to have a “pastoral heart [that] always beats for the person who is confused, lost, far away.”

I am certain that most of us do not have to search too far to find a scenario that requires true charity and care. It can be tough to minister to those who have no experience of the Church, but that should not prevent us from allowing the light of Christ to shine. And so, the next time we board a plane, meet with a couple, engage in sacramental preparation, or even sign a godparent letter, hopefully, we can lead people to the truth while showing them that God’s love is worthwhile.

FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the pastor at Resurrection Parish, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, and chaplain at Seton LaSalle Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.

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