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FRIDAY HOMILY - Discipleship: It Only Takes a Spark

By Fr. Randy Sly
September 13th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

One of the stark realities of parenthood, as well as other areas of influence, is that we are role models. This is not an assignment we can accept or reject; it is a given. We must determine whether we will be a good model or a bad one.

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Jesus told his disciples a parable:
"Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?
No disciple is superior to the teacher;
but when fully trained,
every disciple will be like his teacher.
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?
How can you say to your brother,
'Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,'
when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?
You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter in your brother's eye."
(Luke 6:39-42

There are many reasons why I came into full communion with the Catholic Church. One of them would be what I call "Protestant autonomy."

Depending on what branch of Protestantism you affirm - and you can basically choose whichever one fits your personal beliefs - the criteria for salvation changes. For all intents and purposes, it really is up to you to determine your eternal destiny. There is no Magisterium to determine the true body of belief.

In becoming Catholic, I have entrusted my life to the pillar and foundation of faith, as the Scripture calls her. Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets in Holy Scripture, the Church Fathers and Sacred Tradition, the Catholic Church has maintained an unbroken body of belief since the time of Christ.

The protestant approach to me is like a blind person guiding a blind person. Or, in many cases, like a blind man trying to find his way alone. We can say, "Well, my Bible gives me all the direction I need," but the great heresies in Church history and most of the cults have begun through a personal interpretation of Holy Scripture.

At the same time I say this, there is one area where I see great strength among Protestants, a generational embrace of the faith. It has given me pause for serious thought when I see the number of families where the children no longer are practicing Catholics. 

In the Protestant world, particularly among Evangelical churches, the number of children walking away from the faith at an older age seems to be much smaller. Some of that, obviously, can be attributed to the smaller number of more committed parishioners. At the same time, the passing on of the faith was a much more effective pursuit.

I have heard a many say that the Church has fallen victim to faulty catechesis in recent generations, which I'm sure has had an impact. The issue of ineffective strategies for religious education, however, is not the only problem. Perhaps a major area of failure can be seen in a breakdown of spiritual support by the home as well as the church. Are clergy, teachers and parents working in concert, providing the same message and - more importantly - same model of Christian life?

One of my favorite Norman Rockwell paintings is called "Sunday Morning." Here you see "Dad" in the foreground, slouching low in his chair with a cigarette and cup of coffee, reading the Sunday paper. In the background, "Mom" along with their two daughters and a son are walking out the door, dressed in the Sunday finery, on the way to Church.

The two daughters, like their mother, have their faces fixed in a forward direction, ignoring their father. The son, however, brings up the rear but looking over at his dad. It always reminds me of the line from the old Harry Chapin song, The Cat's in the Cradle, "I'm going to be like you, dad; someday I'm going to be like you."

One of the stark realities of parenthood, as well as other areas of influence, is that we are role models. This is not an assignment we can accept or reject; it is a given. We must determine whether we will be a good model or a bad one.

It is not merely a need to endorse or affirm, as a parent, the teachings of the Church. Watching families over the years, I can almost hear some of the children saying to their parents, "Your life is speaking so loudly that I can't hear what you're saying!"

There are so many things we could cover in today's gospel, but one phrase really sticks out, where the Lord speaks about disciples and their relationship to a teacher. In one translation it reads, "A disciple, when he is fully taught, will be like his teacher."

Here, Jesus reminds us of a powerful principle build on the fact that one who is blind should not trust his or her future to another who also walks in darkness. One must trust enlightened leadership. Christianity, then, is not simply a matter of passing along the facts of faith but a heart of belief.

When we are in places of leadership and influence, particularly in the home, our job is communicating likeness - our heart of belief. This believing heart comes from three key components: Identity, Affinity, and Love

Communicating Identity
"Christian" should not merely be a category that describes what I believe, but who I am. I should look at life through that lens and in line with that identity.

When I was young, my father passed along to me a love for golf. At first I was given a junior set of miniature clubs then, later, graduated to a larger set. He taught me how to swing the club, make contact with the ball and select the right club. I also took lessons which supported what I had already learned and enlarged my awareness of the rudiments of the game.

I had learned the basics of golf but my father also wanted to help me truly become a golfer. "Randy, there are some things you need to know about the game - how you behave on a golf course and certain rules of etiquette." These were learned in the process of playing the sport.

Golf school began in the locker room as I listened to him talk with his friends about different things and, of course, golf. When we played together I continued my learning: don't let your shadow fall on someone's "lie;" don't step on another "line" on the green; be courteous. There were also mental lessons about temper, how to deal with a bad shot, etc.

 Over the years, I've seen a lot of people who could swing a club and even hit some good shots. However, you can really tell the golfers because there is so much more to the way they carry themselves during a round of golf.

How wonderful it is when we teach our children about the faith the same way. In Mass, they sing because we are singing; they pray because we are earnestly praying; they have a devotion to God because we are devoted.

Several years ago I was talking to a group of adults about the influence their parents had on their faith. We were discussing memories from their childhood and one of them shared a powerful image from the past. "I remember one night," she said, "when I walked in on my father in my parents' bedroom. He was kneeling at the bed and pouring out his heart to the Lord. I'll never forget that."

Communicating Affinity
Affinity can be thought of as like-mindedness, possessing a Christian worldview that influences our ways of thinking and acting. This aspect of a believing heart is powerfully expressed in a section from Deuteronomy, verses 4 through 9, called the "Shema," which means "hear."

The "Shema" is a portion of Scripture of great importance to the Jews. In fact, they would place a strip of parchment containing these verses in a pouch on their hand and forearm, called a "phylactery," as well as one on their doorpost called a "mezusah."

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.


The Jews were exhorted to teach the commandments to their children. Here the word "teach" literally means "whittle to a fine point." Rather than a command to rote learning, this is a call to craft or shape a life in the precepts the Lord carefully and strategically. Such a work takes time and consideration - determining how this can best be accomplished in a particular individual.

Also, teaching is done "when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up." In other words, the ways of the Lord are communicated in the normal course of life, using all aspects of daily living, not just during a specific "class time." Bringing the Lord into the various phases of life underscores the importance of forming a worldview based on his life being formed in us.

Communicating Love
It breaks my heart, when talking to young people to hear such statements as, "my parents said we were too busy to go to Mass;" "I was with my stepdad last weekend and he wouldn't take me to church; in fact, he made fun of my faith;" or "my parents said that coming on Sunday is not a big deal; we will go when we can."

Not only are these parents putting their children in spiritual jeopardy, but also revealing their lack of love for God. They are modeling a spiritually lukewarm life that will bear no good fruit in the child.

Back to the "Shema," children need to be shown that their parents do love the Lord their God with their heart, soul and strength. You may remember that, when Jesus was asked by a scribe to name the greatest commandment, he didn't pick one of the ten. Instead, he recited the "Shema" and added a verse from Leviticus regarding loving your neighbor as yourself.

How important it is for our children, as well as others with whom we have influence, to sense our love for the Lord.

When I was discharged from the Navy, I had just come through a major spiritual awakening, totally in love with the Lord. I couldn't get enough Scripture and prayer was like breathing to me.

At that time I was invited to attend a Wesleyan Methodist worship service. What an experience! These people really believed what was being said and sung. They were enthusiastically in love with God and encouraged others toward the same. This was so much different than what I experienced in my Episcopal parish.

Today, I see the same thing at daily Mass, at adoration and other special times. Here are people who love God and are sold out to Him dramatically.

On Sunday, however, we encounter a sleeping giant. Here we see scores of families, some of whom are simply going through the motions. Should they ever catch fire by the Holy Spirit, they would become a driving force of discipleship, kindling the hearts and minds of their children and others in the parish.

There's an old youth group song that goes, "It only takes a spark to get a fire going." For the sake of future generations, I pray that the sparks really start to fly in the Church.

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Father Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and a priest with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (http://usordinariate.org) established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. He is currently the chaplain of the St. John Fisher Ordinariate Community, a priest in residence at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church and Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Ordinariate. He is a popular speaker for parishes, apostolates and organizations.

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