Q: Why is the Catholic Church strict on tradition and does not modernize the service like other religions?

A:   Good question. Tradition has been handed down to us from the Apostles, and tradition contains our very faith beliefs.  For example, we have no right as human beings to change the meaning in the Apostles’ Creed, but we have to painstakingly find the right words to articulate the truths it contains. The tradition we practice, of course, is dependent on God’s revealed word in sacred Scripture and the apostolic succession from the first Apostles – we call that the magisterium.

As for “modernizing” our tradition, I believe what we need to address constantly as members of the body of Christ is how we convey that tradition. People can misinterpret tradition as “hanging on to the past” or appearing to be inflexible when actually we are protecting a truth handed on by Jesus Christ himself. Without tradition, we would not have a Bible. You and I are part of a faith family, which is unique in this world of ours. Still, we should be ever aware how we may better share that tradition in which more may be involved in our faith. That could be done through improvement of sacred music, or if I may dare say, better attention to homily preparation. I personally am constantly focused on the latter, of course.

Q:  Is it a sin if you don’t feel like going to church, but you still go?

A:   Thanks for the transition from the first question, for we will keep with the liturgy, or Mass theme. What you are describing is temptation and not sin. I trust at your age that there is no discussion regarding whether or not you are given a choice by your parents to go to church.  Good for your parents, for that is courage and conviction on their part. Still, all of us are tempted not to go to church from time to time, especially with the worldly and immediate distractions of our day. Soccer or football practice is no substitute for Mass, and actually makes us weak if we choose that alternative. Stay focused on going to church every week, or even daily, for some day you may be driving your reluctant teenager to church.

One of the most common excuses for not going to Mass each week is, “I get nothing out of it.” We must be able to draw a line between Mass and a spiritual pep rally, for rallies cannot maintain momentum over long periods of time. Most importantly, at Mass we receive Jesus’ body and blood, and we listen to his word in the readings, which are stories about us. What you may wish to ask yourself is what you can do at Mass. I was an usher (hospitality minister) at my parish growing up and my brothers were lectors. I am convinced that our youth should be more involved in our parish liturgies, for we actually are a young church.  You may have to arrive a little earlier at church if you have a particular role at Mass, but then, arriving early to Mass is not a sin.

Q:  Do you think the attitude in Steubenville has changed you or motivated you?

A:   The short answer is “yes.” We are so blessed to be part of the Ohio Valley family, but like any community, we accept the good with the bad. Coming from the Detroit area, I am not unfamiliar with a challenging economy nor with social problems. The city of Detroit has lost nearly two-thirds of its population since the early 1960s. The Ohio Valley has lost a significant part of its population, and we are reminded of the societal woes in our community through the news each day. But did you know, Detroit was one of the five largest cities in the United States in the first quarter of last century? Just like Detroit, we too are in a transition period in which we can either adapt to the ever changing times or sit helplessly. I choose action, albeit well thought plans, which have a future.

We as a community can either continue to complain about the trials and tribulations of a 21st century society, such as the lack of respect for unborn children and the compromise of the definition of marriage, or do something positive to improve our lives and the lives of others. We have a lord and God in Jesus Christ who constantly reminds us there is always hope.  Life is not a video game in which you and I have multiple players or can just restart the game of life. We are given one life by a God who loves us and whose generosity is more than we can imagine.

You and I have the gifts to improve our communities and our families, if we are willing to make the effort. The easy choice is to complain enough that someone else may take on the challenges for us. The better, but more difficult, approach is to address our difficulties together with a spirit of hope and promise. I am willing to do just that, and I hope you will join me as we celebrate the gift of life, a gift God has so graciously and freely given us. As I have said frequently at my sacrament of confirmation Masses, “None of you is a mistake,” but we can make the mistake by taking our life for granted.  The Bible, more specifically the Book of Genesis, instructs us that you and I are made in God’s image and likeness. The choice to make a difference is ours.