I've just been on Twitter and I see someone complaining about attending a catholic First Holy Communion ceremony. I thought it was a free country? Why do these people feel forced to go to these church events when they would clearly rather be elsewhere. Maybe its because they've a child making First Communion perhaps?
I wonder what it might be like to have a conversation in Ireland about what could happen if we take First Communion and Confirmation out of the schools system. If parents want their children to make First Communion they come to the parish and there, along with the support of the parish, there is catechesis and the children are prepared to receive the Body of Christ. One of the benefits of this is it could end the frenetic pressure on parents already hard-pressed to spend money on suits and dresses. The ceremonies (which are very well prepared by great and hard-working teachers by the way) would be down-sized and their would be perhaps better attention on the Mass and the preparation of the children in receiving their First Eucharist.
Continually we are seeing in Ireland a critique of how power in society; politics, the banks, the church, etc. was misused over a long period of time. The church in Ireland is geting smaller in size. Small is beautiful. I remain spellbound by St. Francis as he knelt before the cross of San Damiano in the little ruined church down in the valley near Assisi. He was confused and afraid and praying for direction and he heard a voice inside; "Francis, go, repair my Church which, as you can see, is falling complectely into ruin." The message was clear. Initially, he begged for stones and mortar to literally rebuild the broken little church building. But as others came to see what he was doing, they were captivated by his freedom and joy. They too wanted to be part of the solution and not the problem. Still others came along. This was the beginning of the Franciscan movement. Soon, it would become apparent that the church was not so much to be repaired stone by stone with bricks and mortar, but with living stones. People.
Francis of Assisi was never interested in disobedience or publicly criticizing those in authority. He was too conscious of his own sinfulness. He preferred to humbly lead by example. "Preach the Gospel," he said, "if necessary use words." He was never interested in self-promotion or cynicism. He wanted to be always a 'lesser brother;' a frate minore. And that is why to this day in the Franciscan Order, we move from place to place and if we're called to serve in positions of responsibility it is only for the time being.
I believe the life of St.Francis of Assisi has much to say to today's society. He was happy and joyful because he had nothing. His life was clutter-free so as he could have a direct and unimpeded line to God through Jesus Christ. His life was a prayer. His life is a counter-witness to a society which raises up beauty on the outside which graces the pages of magazines and where inner moral beauty seldom gets a headline. His life is a counter-witness to those who seek power and control. His life is a counter-witness to the pursuit of fame and the limelight. He preferred to stay in the background and collaborate. His life is a counter-witness to a society that holds the most important word in the alphabet is 'I'
"Preach the Gospel, if necessary, use words."