Thursday, September 04, 2014

One from the Heart, the Head AND the Hearth! Fostering good habits.

The idea of Sunday morning Church as a "good" habit came up this last week at my parish's monthly meeting of our Stewardship ministry. This ministry isn't just about raising money for the church. It is also about helping our parish find its way to being a more welcoming and faithful community to the newly arrived, and it labors to find ways to encourage those who are already members to discover new and deeper ways to connect to the life of the parish (and to the life of Christ.)

Making Church a good habit seems like a given and desirable thing to aim toward in life. Many people are able to do that. Some make Church a habit by dint of will...or by the momentum of a lifetime's practice of not missing a Sunday...or by being brought to it by a faithful and committed companion. For some, the idea of the good habit of Church is just....well....routine. Like waking up or taking the next breath, some can't conceive not being at church.

But beyond church as a good habit (and others as "less good?!?") there lies the truth that we are not just deciding on "good" versus "bad." We seeing more and more people having to choose between "good" versus "good."

If we are to believe the polls, more and more people are NOT making life in the Church a good habit because other good habits are beckoing. Distractions and other choices for time spent constructively abound. Beyond just snagging a few hours of extra sleep after increasingly demanding work/study weeks, there is also the desire to have at least ONE morning together as a family at home. Beyond that, there is the call of extracurricular activities, sports teams and programs. Beyond that, there beckon all the charity runs, walks, rally events that use Sunday morning for their use, in place of Church and noble of purpose. Beyond that? Fill in the blank....

Complicating matters more for some families, Sunday is also a transition time for children making their pilgrimage through the vagaries of joint custody. Sunday morning away and apart means just a few more moments of together time with one parent or another.

Oh, and don't forget...more and more people wind up working seven day weeks.

So, the list of "good" habits that challenge us from making Church life a habit abound. Making Church a good habit is more than just dumping a bunch of "bad" means making value-based, life-impacting choices to be in one community over and against life in another.

As to personal bad habits: I can try to go to bed earlier; I can try to put down the screens (tablets, phones, computers, televisions); I can try to eat less, and better. I can try to move more and to be more faithful on follow through. I can strive and sometimes succeed in setting down bad habits in favor of good ones.

But how do I convince people that one good habit, one good discipline is better than another? Church is a good habit. We can agree on that...but un-exercised and undeveloped, Church is just another thing demanding attention in our already busy lives. The downside to overcoming the inertia of not making Church a habit in life is that when we aren't there, Church isn't. When we aren't in Church, then Church can easily (as any other habit can be when displaced) be simply forgotten.

Church is the body of the faithful gathered, and when we are all present it is the best thing in the world. God is praised, we are uplifted. Life is just a little bit more complete. But only when we chose that community does that desired state become a reality, and now-increasingly-that choices is complicated by other demands that don't make Church a priority.

I am not crying out for a perfect world. Nor am I attempting to say that my value of making Church a good habit on a Sunday morning is a universal and un-debatable absolute. What I am saying is that if you love Church, celebrate that you are choosing the "good" habit...but when you find that distractions (good or bad) draw you from making Church community your priority, then it might be time to reassess, redirect and refocus. 

I once had a parishioner, one we had not seen in quite a while, remark to me after attending a Sunday service that she had actually forgotten just how much she loved her Church community, how much she felt like she was home. She loved her Church but observed, "I guess I just have to try to remember how I feel when I leave...maybe that will help me get here on Sundays. Does that sound silly?"

Not at all. Makes sense to me.

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