We need to sanctify Sunday mornings. We have allowed other entities to sneak in and snatch the sacredness of Sunday mornings from us. When Divine Liturgy is not the priority on Sunday morning, and we allow sporting events, science projects, and undone chores from earlier in the week keep us from worshiping, we are sending the wrong message to our youth.
The Church community and the weekly practice of liturgy is to strengthen and encourage us to face the challenges that lay ahead. It would be great if no one endured pain or suffering in life. If only we could protect ourselves in bubble wrap to never scrap a knee, twist an ankle, or suffer other tragedies. Truth be told, none of us sit and wait for the storm to hit, it just comes. How prepared will we be?
People assume as clergy we have arrived at a level of faith that is “sufficient” and that our hearts are immune to doubt. This is certainly not the case. To make a long story short, last August and September my faith was tested. My brother developed an illness called Guillen-Barre Syndrome, and it left him paralyzed. I prayed for a miracle, waiting for God’s might to lift him and return him to his home, loving wife, and beautiful children. The doctors explained to us that this condition may not ever be reversable and that it would take months for Peter to heal or adapt to his body’s impediment. In midst of his ailment he noticed me praying by his bedside and asked, “Bro, what you prayin’ for?” I said, “For you to get out of that bed, walk into your home and pick up your kids.” He responded quickly and swiftly, “Nah. That’s not the prayer we need. Pray that God gives me courage and patience to deal with whatever is to come.” He laughed and jokingly added, “You’re the priest, you should know that.” His response blew my mind!
The miracle we prayed for occurred just a few weeks later. On a Sunday afternoon I received a text from my dad. It was a video of my brother walking (YES!! WALKING) up the aisle at Saint Demetrios in Seattle to receive Holy Communion. Through the prayers of many loved ones and the intercessions of several saints, Peter made a miraculous recovery. Immediately, from coffee hour at my parish of Saint Demetrios in Camarillo, I called him. He was leaving Saint Demetrios in Seattle. Overjoyed I asked, “Pete, they sent you home?” “Yep,” He said. Then quizzically I said, “And you decided to go to church this morning?” Again, his words astonished me! He said, “Bro, that’s what we do on Sundays. Plus, in the prayer that Father Photios read over me he said something about ‘may I gain strength so that I can return to the Lord’s house and give Him His due glory.’ I needed to get to church as soon as possible.”
The investment our parents made in Sunday mornings shaped our faith. We were raised by devout parents that utilized the resources of our local parish. Mom and Dad made it clear that Sunday mornings were a time in which we all went to Church. Going to church doesn’t make life painless, but it does provide ministries and programs that assist us to endure life’s challenges. The bonds and friendships that were established through participation in the life of the Church aided Peter during his suffering.
All the weeks, days and hours spent at Summer Camp, GOYA basketball, Greek Dance practice, winter retreats, dances, and an event that was called, “A Day of Champions,” instilled within us the blessedness of our rich faith. Even though we faked every illness imaginable to get out of Greek School, we still look back and smile at those memories. We were at Church on Sundays for services (some Sundays we traveled for Youth Basketball games). Mondays we returned for Youth Night meetings, Wednesdays for Greek Dance practice, Thursdays for basketball practice, Fridays for Greek School and on Saturdays we called our Church friends to hang out. We wanted to be together.
Despite being at the Church multiple times a week we all finished our homework, studied for exams, prepared for tests, played high school sports, participated in school activities, even applied for and got into good schools and universities. Missing Sunday services was never an option. We went to Church, we served as Altar Boys and went to Sunday school, because we were expected to. If we had homework or projects to do, they were to be done outside of Church hours, that is, because, Church hours were for Church. Our parents laid a solid foundation of faith for us.
Today, the diversions that keep us from an abundant Church life will not bring us comfort in our times of distress. In times of confusion or despondency where will we turn? Are we giving our kids the tools they need to endure the challenges that will come their way? Are we allowing our kids to learn about our faith and have the same experiences we did when we were their age? It’s sad that soccer tournaments, homework, and other excuses keep us from an intimate relationship with Christ.
I never expected to see my brother endure ugliness like he did. Thank God he is better and getting stronger every day. As I explain Peter’s progress many take it upon themselves to point to their hearts indicating Peter’s strength, but if you ask Peter, he points to Christ, the Church and his faith. Peter has taught me a lot during this trial.
We both have realized that his strength comes from the foundation of faith set by our parents – their investment in Sunday worship and all that goes with it. You can participate in the life of the Church too. Carve out time, in the business of life, create bonds that will bring light in periods of darkness. Sanctify Sunday mornings and commit to a greater life of faith and communion with Christ and His Church. Invest in the ministries of the local parish because the rewards will be reaped for eternity.