Measured one way, the family potluck I organized after the 5 p.m. Mass in my parish tonight was a bit of a bust. We thirteen took up three small tables in the large Parish Hall. Two sets of brothers showed up, along with our 14-year-old son. Three moms came, too. My own husband couldn’t make it because our 10-year-old was playing a travel soccer game 30 miles away.
Our parish Deacon arrived with a bowl of homemade meatballs, his wife and their three teenagers. When he led us in grace before our meal, he mentioned how Jesus really didn’t have too many apostles. Just a band of 12 men. And yet their faith spread. He reminded us that Christ tells us: “Wherever two or more are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”
Sometimes, being a practicing Catholic in suburban New Jersey feels eccentric. Most of our friends and neighbors do not practice any faith tradition. Among our children’s teen friends, the trendiest thing is to declare oneself an atheist. Over meatballs and roasted chicken, our Deacon told the moms that when he was a child , the parochial school had 50 children in every classroom. He grew up in a family of five. The mothers, all of us cradle Catholics, nodded. We’d all grown up in large Catholic families in active parishes; the family of four children I grew up with was the smallest one among us. How the world has changed, we all were saying.
And yet, a couple was married at our parish today, the first marriage in more than a year there. A baby will be baptized tomorrow morning. Three children are preparing to make their First Communions and the CCD class has at least five Confirmandi. And at another table, five teen-aged boys – all of them altar servers -were playing Apples to Apples. They were laughing, eating pizza and brownies and perhaps realizing on some level that their bonds run far past this moment and into eternity.
As we were leaving, one of the boys said to me: “When can we do this again? It’s nice to have a meal together.” I felt the Holy Spirit had stopped by too, encouraging us parents as we guide our children along the paths to their destinies.