Jumping out of bed with no complaints at 5:15 a.m. is usually a drudge, but there are things that can motivate such an action. A few weeks ago that motivation was to get from Camarillo to St. Mark Church in Venice for the annual Grandparent’s Mass at 8 a.m.
This is no easy task on a weekday morning given Los Angeles commuter traffic. So my sister and I headed out very early with coffee in hand to make it on time.
It was an act of kindness on my sister’s part as it was the last day of her visit to California before heading home to the cold snowy hills of South Dakota. And, she does not have grandchildren yet so there was a hint of wonderment on her part since we had already been to St. Mark’s the previous Sunday for Mass and to hear the school choir.
We arrived with a few minutes to spare and got seated just as the children started filling the pews. There was an air of excitement as each grandparent spotted his or her special child. It was also a bit of deja vu for anyone who had gone to Catholic school: Teachers were making sure children were in place and there was the whispering and giggling many of us remember from our own Catholic school days.
St. Mark’s Church and School offer a small oasis in the midst of the sprawling and sometimes unconventional area of Venice. It sits on a quiet tree-lined street and while it does not resemble the huge Italian basilica in architecture or grandeur it shares one prominent commonality: two large lions guard the entrance to the school. The church is not large; rather, it is a traditional worship space that feels comfortable and familiar, and on this day it surely awakened memories of times past for many of the people gathered.
St. Mark’s has a practice of including the family of a child on the altar when that child is lectoring or reading petitions. When the child steps forward from the assembly to read, he/she is accompanied by his/her family, who then stands with them. It is a lovely practice that emphasizes the importance and solidarity of the family in the faith formation and practices of the children. And of course, on this particular day grandparents hearts swelled with pride and love as they watched their son or daughter and grandchildren on the altar.
At one point Father Mike invited all grandparents to gather in the sanctuary near the altar. Perhaps this presence spoke more to the children than anything else. Here were significant adults in their lives, affirming their faith. Certainly, this was the best form of teaching.
Father Michael Rocha, St. Mark’s pastor, welcomed everyone cheerfully, as is his custom. He recognized the fact that not all gathered were of the Catholic faith and focused on the shared reason for being there so early on a Friday morning --- the children. Skillful in weaving the ordinary into a deeper context, he engaged both the children and the adults.
At one point Father Mike invited all grandparents to gather in the sanctuary near the altar. The focus moved from the children to the adults, some who had travelled across the country to be there. Perhaps this presence spoke more to the children than anything else. Here were significant adults in their lives, affirming their faith. Certainly, this was the best form of teaching.
My sister and I exchanged glances during the liturgy. We had spent time over the course of her visit on the circumstances of the church today. We both have deep concerns. One of those concerns is how our adult children will embrace the Catholic faith, if at all. We are painfully aware of the disconnect between many young adult families and the Church.
It was ironic that, despite our concerns and discussions, we ended up at this liturgy filled with moms, dads, grandparents and children specifically celebrating the bond of family and faith. It was a moment that suggested we remember that God is present in the joys and the struggles and in the midst of our concerns.
We were witnessing the passing of faith from one generation to the next. It was a good day.