Establishing what is valuable to us

The month of May brings many happy events as well as warmer weather. A few days ago, the 20th to be exact, my classmates and I celebrated our 47th anniversary of our ordination to the priesthood. It is hard to fathom where the years have gone.

While I was tempted to reflect on the joys and struggles of those years, it would interest only a small bevy of readers. Therefore, it is better to recognize the many special events occurring in May.

We know it is a special month dedicated to our Blessed Mother, Mary. Marian shrines, May crownings, processions and floral bouquets in her honor abound in churches and schools throughout the world.

All Saints Catholic School in New Bedford had our “May crowning” and floral presentation last week on the anniversary of Our Lady’s first appearance at Fatima on May 13, 1917. One of the girls from our First Communion class crowned the statue of Mary (from Fatima itself — a gift to me, from the then-Bishop O’Malley) before Mass on Sunday. We set up a small Marian shrine for the months of May and October.

May is a month of graduations as well. Most graduations from colleges occur in May while high schools tend to graduate in early June. Weddings, not so common now, are celebrated in May and Mother’s Day occurs on the second Sunday of May.

Most First Communion celebrations are held in May, while the Confirmation season usually ends in May as many of our Catholic young adults and others complete their initiation in the Catholic Church with this Sacrament. It is a wonderful month filled with many memories.

Unfortunately, for some, it is also the end of church attendance when these special celebrations are concluded. I knew Pope Francis was a very pastoral and honest man when he noted that for so many, Confirmation is the “Sacrament of farewell.” He easily identified a fact that many pastors unfortunately can attest to, namely, that many of those who are Confirmed do not return to church after their Confirmation. The same can be said for many of those who make their First Communion. They take the “summer off” when there is no Religious Education. It is a sad fact and it is even sadder that over these many years there has not been a successful manner to keep these Christians involved. Although there are some notable and good exceptions, in general we lose many young parishioners after their Sacramental reception.

Each person must establish what is valuable to them. Each person must define their own values. Family, school and the Church play a part in these value formations, but only a part.

A person’s values provide direction for the future. It is similar to a Global Positioning System. That system, whether it is in your car, on your computer, or an application on your cell phone, gives you directions to your destination. However, the basic beginning point of any GPS system is that it begins where you are. 

Whenever I go to a meeting, if I am unfamiliar with the area, I look it up on the computer using “MapQuest.” Regardless where I am traveling, it always starts with “present location.” In a way, our value system is our “present location” as we make choices and live our lives.

There was a family in China who had lived under house-arrest for many years. Although the house was small, it was comfortable, but they longed to return home to America.

One day a soldier came and told the family, “You can all return to America, but you may take only 200 hundred pounds of belongings with you, no more, no less.”

The family had been there for years, 200 pounds was not much. So the family got out a scale, and then the arguments started between the husband and the wife and the two children on what they would take with them. Each had things they wanted to take.

The father, a professor, wanted to take some books. The mother wanted to take a table cloth and lamp from her parents’ home. The daughter wanted to take all her DVDs and CDs, while the son felt it important to take along all his video games. There was much arguing among them regarding what was to be included in the designated weight amount.

So they weighed everything, until the family got it precisely on the dot: 200 pounds.

The soldier came in the next day and said, “Ready to go?” The parents said, “Yes.” He said: “Did you weigh everything?” They said, “Yes.” “Did you weigh your children?” he asked. “No, we didn’t” the parents answered. “Weigh the children,” he demanded. And in a moment, most of their cherished items went into the trash.

Perhaps each of the wonderful and special celebrations we experience this month can help us to develop and express our values in our daily living. 

I pray that our blessed Mother Mary, who guided and formed her Son, Jesus, may help each of us. May our values give us direction in our lives, enabling us to love God and one another.

Anchor columnist Msgr. Oliveira is pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford and director of the diocesan Propagation of the Faith and Permanent Diaconate offices.

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