Some weeks ago, in fact during the November meeting of bishops in Baltimore, you may recall that I wrote of a luncheon I had with two seniors at Loyola Baltimore. One was from our diocese, Brendan Stack who wrote so well in this space of his experience with Catholic Relief Services in India during the summer of 2009 and his roommate whom I had never met until then, Patrick Sullivan who attended Chaminade High School in Mineola, New York. I asked both men what the Church could do generally and what I might do specifically as bishop to staunch the flow of young people from leaving the Church of their baptism for other faiths or no faith. Patrick must have spent some time reflecting on the question because shortly after I returned home he wrote me quite a letter which I think is very appropriate to share with you today. I have his permission and what follows in strictly Sullivan and not Lynch:
“As I was thinking more about our conversation, particularly about our ‘losing’ of practicing Catholics, I thought about our families being the foundation of our faith. I can not tell you the amount of times I have heard from my friends, even those strong in faith, that prayer in the home is few and far between. I can speak from personal experience; my mother is extremely involved with the Church, spending the majority of her day working with those who form men for the priesthood. My father is a recent convert to Catholicism whose fervor for the Church is paralleled by few. Even with their strong convictions, though, familial prayer is something that is hard to find in my home. Perhaps, if we stress the noticeable presence of Jesus within the Catholic home, the foundation that Brendan alluded to might be formed on more solid ground and so would be less likely to fade away in the relativist storm that is the university. The effect that our families have on our faith formation is paralleled by few others. If prayer and familial worship become a normalcy in Catholic life, imagine the type of young men and women entering the world. Built on a strong familial prayer life, imagine the influx of young men and women entering the ordained and consecrated life.”
As I think of this traditional feast, I often think of things in my own life as a child which might have been formative. We were not all that great on family prayer except before every meal and occasionally when we were “monitored” at night before going to bed but there was one annual experience which still looms large in my memory and life sixty-five years later. On our annual June family vacation trip to see my paternal grandparents and large family in the Boston, Massachusetts area, the evening meal had to be finished by 6:40 pm so that all of us, three generations could move from the Dining Room to the Living Room and kneel down on the floor while the radio (there was no TV) was properly tuned. At exactly 6:40pm a male voice sounding something like what I thought an archangel would sound like announced, “Live, from the Cardinal’s Residence on Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton, Richard Cardinal Cushing will now lead the faithful of the Archdiocese in reciting the Rosary.” If the announcer had an archangel’s voice, my brothers and I thought the Cardinal sounded like God – nasal, prolonged pronunciation of words, stentorian – it had to be God who spent twenty-minutes each night leading us in this prayer which we seemed only to say in Boston, where God lived. Beyond the sound of the radio, however, remains the image of my then eighty year old plus Grandfather, rosary in his hand, his wife of sixty years, my grandmother with a rosary in her hands, my grandmother’s spinster sister who kept an account of our sins and misbehavings with a rosary in her hands, my mom and dad with rosaries in their hands, and we three boys, skillfully provided the necessary beads by our Mom who feared reprisals if her kids did not have the proper equipment for prayer, all as one family joining God in Hail Marys and Our Fathers and Glory Be’s. As Patrick Sullivan said above, there is power in a family at prayer.
Perhaps on this great feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph those who still have a family about them could think about more time together in prayer. While I desperately want an increase in vocations, I want more young people to remain true to their baptism as Catholic Christians and enlighten the world.
Some words later in the week on the meaning of Epiphany and then more silence as I am on retreat. Back for the Baptism of the Lord.