As Mass begins, a new crop of Christians-in-training processes into Our Lady of Mercy Church in what has to be one of the most moving ceremonies of the church year. They stand in the center aisle, facing their sponsors, who begin by tracing the sign of the cross on their foreheads as the priest prays, “It is Christ himself who now strengthens you with this sign of his love. Learn to know and follow him.” We pray as the sponsor crosses the catechumen’s ears, eyes, lips, shoulders, heart, and hands, ending with: “Receive the sign of the cross on your feet, that you may walk in the way of Christ.”
A blessing of such beauty and power makes me wish that all Catholics could get one like it every year or two, to strengthen and focus our faith. Consider for a moment just the blessing of the feet. Let’s be concrete: Where might the way of Christ take my feet during the months ahead? To what places are our family’s calendar commitments actually bringing us?
The way of Christ sometimes takes our family to the homeless shelter, although certainly not often enough, and only because my husband writes it on the calendar instead of allowing us to wait for the mythical “free moment” to fit it in. And so we have an encounter like this: Last week in the basement of the shelter, we were helping the guests choose from among the donated clothing and blankets. Let’s call my next guest Ray, a polite young African American man. I notice he is clutching a book, and when I look closer I see it is Plato’s Republic. “How do you like it?” I ask him.
“I’m not too far,” he says with a grin, “only at the part where Socrates is debating Thrasymachus—however you pronounce that—but I really like it.”
The thing is, my 17-year-old daughter is right now reading Plato’s Republic in philosophy class at her Catholic high school. Ray, not much older, is taking a different philosophy class, the kind where you try to figure out how you ended up living on the streets wearing someone’s castoffs from a homeless shelter. I hope Plato can help him to navigate his much more difficult lesson.
To learn a truth like this about our common humanity, we usually have to get out of our comfort zone. Perhaps as a family project for Lent, we could scrutinize the family calendar to determine where we are actually spending our time during these 40 days. Yes, we can say that as parents we’re doing the works of mercy by “feeding the hungry” and “clothing the naked” in our own homes, but Lent can nudge our families toward expanding our reach out into the community.
“Can you get too caught up in family, so that you don’t have to think about what it actually means to be a disciple?” asks Julie Hanlon Rubio in U.S. Catholic. Hanlon Rubio, a mom herself, asks, “How do we bring the works of mercy and justice to family life?” Sports, for example, can take over a family or a parish. “But if that’s what we’re doing all weekend long, then how can we possibly have time to do other things? Could we come together to create community around a nursing home instead of the soccer field?” she asks. “If I really believe that I am trying to form my kids as disciples, then I have to ask: How does each activity contribute to that? . . . Let’s really ask: What do I want my kids to be?”
So let’s look at where our feet are taking us this Lent. After all, we are followers of Jesus, the teacher who walked all over Galilee and who said, “I am the way.”
By Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2013 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past four years running. Here’s a sample issue.
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