Discipleship

There were two neighbors living next to each other. They each had fenced in back yards. One of them liked to buy live animals that he would later butcher nd BBQ. The only problem is that he would put it in his neighbor’s back year. She was a Sister with a heavy East Texas accent. She’d work all day and come home to find a turkey or a goat in her back yard.  She was not happy. One day she scolded him. He would get all pious and mumble some words, like “Jesus loved the animals.” Finally she said, “Dis ain’t got nuttin’ to do with Jesus. Dis is between you and me!”

I mention this because we have a tendency to think that some things have nothing to do with religion or Jesus. There is an attitude that some things are religious and others are just outside the realm of religion or faith or Jesus.

Recently Pope Francis made the comment—often misinterpreted—that we shouldn’t proselytize. We should evangelize.” It was misinterpreted as meaning “Don’t invite people from other religions to become Catholic.” That’s not what he meant. What he meant was, “Don’t just invite them to believe a few things, keep a few commandments and then call themselves Catholic.” And then you’re done.

Evangelization has two dimensions. Jesus refers to the first one in the Gospel. Our faith is not simply about keeping some rules, especially if we look for loopholes. It is about becoming his disciple and modelling our lives on his life and teachings. We can use different words:

  • Being a disciple,
  • Having an encounter with Christ,
  • having a relationship with Jesus,
  • Jesus is my personal lord and savior,
  • God is my co-pilot,
  • I am in love with Jesus Christ.

All of these try to express that our Faith goes to our very core. Personal conversion and faith and trust in Christ is at the center. Christ is more than some one we know about. Christ is some one whom we know and who is at the center of our lives.

And there is a second dimension. It doesn’t remain only internal and personal. Our faith is not just a Sunday event, it is a 24/7 event. It changes the way we see and act in every dimension of our lives. It changes our perspective on the world. It challenges us to see the world through the eyes of faith;

That is why Gaudium et Spes from Vatican II begins: The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Christ’ disciples see and act in the world differently than others. We see the world, each other, and others through the eyes of Christ.

Our baptismal call, our being disciples of the Lord, our being Catholic calls us to first develop a deep love with Christ which transforms us. It changes our vision. It makes us see everything in the light of the Gospel.

We don’t see our Faith as only being how we feel about God, or something that we do as a private, personal hobby with others who share those interests. But now we see our faith and relationship with Christ. St. John Paul II authored part of Gaudium et Spes that speaks of how the Church relates to the world: But out of this religious mission itself come a function, a light and an energy which can serve to structure and consolidate the human community according to the divine law. As a matter of fact, when circumstances of time and place produce the need, (the Church) can and indeed should initiate activities on behalf of all people, especially those designed for the needy. Gaudium et Spes, No. 42

Our relationship with Christ, our baptismal call to holiness sends us into the world. We are on a mission from God.  God places our baptismal call, our sharing at the Eucharistic table before us: He wants to be our God and for us to be His people. As the book of Sirach says this morning:

Before man are life and death, good and evil,
whichever he chooses shall be given him.

In a few moments, we will again profess our Faith in God. We will offer Him gifts from the bounty He has blessed us with. We will recognize that though they are made by human hands and the fruit of the earth, they come to us through His goodness. We will renew our commitment, that He is our God and we are His people by renewing and celebrating the new and eternal covenant once again. Then we shall be sent into the world as His disciples.

Love Is Work

“Love is work.” So begins Scott Peck’s book, “The Road Less Travelled.” Scott Peck was a psychiatrist who believed that half of the people who sought therapy wouldn’t need it, if they just understood some basic things of life, such as “What is love.”

We begin life by experiencing love as something that others do for us, especially our mothers. They gave us life, they feed us, care for us, nurture us, pick us up when we fall down, and protect us. Later we begin to experience love as an emotion, when we “fall in love.” But as Peck says, we need to understand that love isn’t just what others do for us or an emotion we feel. As adults we need to learn to do for ourselves. The feelings of first love disappear, and “the thrill is gone,” or at least it is not the same. As we mature as human beings, we need to learn love is what we do, especially for others.

This is true, not only in our human development, but also in our spiritual growth. We may have moments of great emotion in our relationship with God. I once heard an old monk describe how he felt overwhelmed with joy when he realized deeply and fully that God loved him with all his flaws and failings. We might feel such things, especially in receiving forgiveness from sin or God’s protection from harm. These are good things. They help us grow. They can sustain us. We gather for Eucharist precisely so that together we may experience the joy of the Lord’s death and resurrection.

But our faith and relationship with God is more than feeling.

When Yahweh appeared at the burning bush, he did say that he knew the pain and suffering of the Hebrew slaves.  But he didn’t just say, “I feel their pain.”  He also said, “I mean to rescue them with mighty hand and outstretched arm by sending you to Pharaoh and to lead them to freedom.”  On the last day, Jesus won’t ask us how we are feeling. He will judge us on what we did or didn’t do for the least of his brothers and sisters.

“Love is work.” We grow in love and in our relationship, not so much by how we feel, but rather by what we do.

You will discover, if you try it, that we can change our feelings about others by what we do. We often choose to help those for whom we already have good feelings. We help our friends. We give to the charities we like.

But there is another approach: “Love your enemies. Do good for them.” If you do good for those for whom you do not already have good feelings—of even have bad feelings–if you pray, if you do good things, if you are genuinely kind to them—even though it may be hard—especially at first–you will discover that after a while your feelings will change.  If you do good for them, you will eventually grow to love them.

Today Jesus tells us that we are to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world. We are not to just blend in with the rest of the world, but to be exceptional, to be different. We become the salt of the earth, not by what we believe or how we feel, but by what we do. This morning the Church suggests we think of Isaiah’s examples:    Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own….remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted;   …Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
your vindication shall go before you.

Christ the King

In religious life, we have a practice of the provincial visit. Once a year the provincial superior visits each person, talks with him about his life, his health, his work, etc.   One year one of the provincials visited a fellow who was known as not exactly a hardworking fellow. This guy said he would like to bring up the issue of retiring from active work. His provincial asked him, “What would be different?”

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. We picture Christ as sitting on the throne and wearing a crown. We can then ask, if He were in charge, if His rule were recognized by all—all over the world—What would be different?  What would the evening news, the local news look like? How would we live.  In other words, what would it be like if the Kingdom of God were among us?

That’s an important question because in our baptized we were anointed to continue the work of Christ Priest, Prophet and King.  As Christ the Priest, we celebrate the Kingdom of God, especially at Mass. As Christ the Prophet, we are called to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Through the eyes of faith we see the world as being a Kingdom of love, justice, and peace. As Christ the King, we are called to build that world. We have a mission to the world.

The goal of evangelization is not just to get people to believe and to pray, but to change the world. That’s why in his document Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI said:

  1. Lay people, whose particular vocation places them in the midst of the world and in charge of the most varied temporal tasks, must for this very reason exercise a very special form of evangelization.

Their primary and immediate task is (not to establish and develop the ecclesial community- this is the specific role of the pastors- but) to put to use every Christian and evangelical possibility latent but already present and active in the affairs of the world. Their own field of evangelizing activity is the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics (, but also the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media.

In other words, the Church belongs in the world of politics, society and economics, so that we can build a world where human beings and families can live as God intended at creation.

Because of our baptism we are called and sent into the world to so that there is authentic human development, that is, we are called to build a world so that people can live as God had created them to live, according to their dignity as children of God, without poverty, with their talents developed, keeping their families together, living where they can find work and community, and so forth.

At Mass, we are hearing the Word of God: It describes the world as God intended it should be. It describes the Kingdom of God. We will pray together as the Body of Christ, praying to Our Father, asking that His Kingdom come, After we share the Body of Christ we will be sent into the world, as followers of Jesus Christ, Priest, Prophet, and King. We are sent there to build up the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of love, justice, and peace.

We are on a mission from God.

At 13 Years Old??

Jesus tells us to be careful about what we put our hope in. “Don’t look at this fancy Temple that is being rebuilt!”—It was indeed destroyed around 70 A.D.

But there are other things we have trusted—and with good reason—for a long time, but we are experiencing that they too can fail.

Just take a look at the shift in attitudes of faith and religion, especially in the young.

I am taking most of this from Bishop Barron’s reports to the U.S.C.C.B. meetings. He has headed a committee of bishops on Evangelization for about 2 or 3 years. We face a very serious problem with passing on the Faith in the United States.

  • Currently, 24% of Americans are unaffiliated with any faith.
  • 50% of millennials—born between 1981—1996, those whom we baptized in the last 30 years have left the Catholic Church.
  • For every person coming into the Church now, 6.45 are leaving.
  • 1/6 of millennial Americans are former Catholics.
  • 80% of those who leave are under 23 years old.
  • Perhaps most sobering. The median age of people who leave the Catholic Church is 13.

Demographics of the Church are shifting. In the recent past, the Church has not appeared to shrink because of the growing number of immigrant Hispanics and now the U.S. born Hispanics. But the Hispanic population is affected by the same cultural pressures:

  • Today just under 50% of Hispanics in the U.S. are Catholic. The biggest loss is not to the evangelical churches but no unaffiliated.
  • Only 2% of Hispanic children are in Catholic schools (compared to 5% of African-American children).
  • Only 40% of Hispanic children are in Catholic religious education.
  • 58% of Hispanic children are not affiliated with the Church.

Why do they leave? Bishop Barron says it isn’t just opinions that we have. We have libraries filled with research and answers from those who have left. They leave because:

  1. They no longer believe the Christian “story.” They do not accept the basic tenets of Christianity.
  2. Relativism: “Well, that’s your truth, that’s what you believe.” But there is no objective truth. It’s all relative.
  3. Bishop Barron calls it “The Culture of Self Invention.” I make up my own beliefs and goals.
  4. The clash between religion and science.
  5. Church teaching on sexuality, especially towards gays and transgenders.

Bishop Barron and his committee have 5 suggestions for our work with young people:

  1. “Lead with justice.” Young people value those things which really help people in need: the poor, the hungry, immigrants, the sick, etc. Bishop Barron suggests we become involved in community organizing, soup kitchens, pro-life, the homeless, and so forth.
  2. The way of beauty,
  3. The Lure of Faith: Teach the Faith deeply.
  4. Use the social media
  5. Parish as mission, we need to be missionary disciples. We go out to others. We don’t wait for them to come to us.

The overall takeaway I want you to have is that we have to do things differently. We will need to re-envision how we do religious education: We can’t just think of it as preparation for sacraments. We probably will need to think about how can we make better connections with the entire families in religious education. And we need to take Bishop Barron’s suggestions seriously. The future of the Church and the spiritual well-being of our children and grandchildren are at stake.

God first!

Two stories: both true. They happened to me.

I used to be on call for the big city hospital in Austin, TX. One night I was called to come about 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning. The hospital was quiet. I got on the elevator, and one of the heart doctors were already on the elevator. He was a tall man. I think he was from India or Bangladesh or Pakistan. I didn’t know for sure, but I assumed so because of his appearance and accent. We saw one another in the hospital frequently, but we didn’t know each other.

Suddenly he turned to me and said, “God first!!  Then my patients, then my wife. My wife…She does not understand this!” The elevator stopped and he got off without telling me the rest of the story, which I am sure was interesting.

The second story. I was having breakfast a few weeks ago with a Holy Cross bishop from India. He was very concerned about his country. . India is about 2-3% Christian. There are 200 languages, with 20 official languages. There are Muslims, but most are Hindu.  The current prime minister of India is pushing very hard with the theme: “One nation! One language! One religion!” He wants to unify the nation by having everyone speak only Hindi and being Hindu: no English, no Muslims, and no Christians.  Whether by law or by social pressure, all would speak only Hindi and be Hindus.

Political leaders over history and even today often use religion as a way to unite the country, and usually put it under their rule or influence.

The Chinese today have no problem with Catholicism, as long as it is part of the Chinese national Catholic Church. Foreigners—like a non-Chinese pope—should not be naming Chinese bishops, and the Church should be under the control of the Chinese, at least in their opinion. China and the Chinese Church should be for China.

Our closing hymn today will be “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as a way of honoring veterans. Do you think they will be singing that hymn in Catholic churches in Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas? I don’t know, but probably not.

This is exactly what was going on in the first reading. The king wants to maintain control over his people. They are to obey the king first. Just obey the law—disobey God by eating a tiny bit of pork, and all will be well. But the seven brothers insist, “God first! God is more powerful. His rule extends even beyond this life into eternity.

This question is before us. In church we pledge loyalty to God. We profess our Faith. But there are other voices: political, social, economic that clamor for our loyalty.

In American Grace, Robert Putnam of Harvard and David Campbell of Notre Dame, study American society and the role of religion in American society. They point out that when Americans have a conflict between what their churches teach and what their political perspective says, they solve it by changing religions.  God first?

Glenn Beck of Fox News would tell Catholics that if their priest was preaching social justice, it was a code word for socialism or communism, so they should change parishes. I don’t know how he accounted for Pope Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict and now Francis all having a Secretariat for Social Justice, but I find it so ironic that U.S. Catholics would get their Catholic social teaching from a fallen away Catholic who became a Mormon.  God first? Or a political position first?

When we look at the issues before us, is it God first? When we say all human life is sacred from conception to natural death, is it all human life, or just the ones that my political position likes? Does it include the unborn, the undocumented, and death row? If God is first, both liberal and conservative causes stand in God’s judgment.

We are the Catholic Church, a universal church that embraces all peoples, from the rising to the setting of the sun. We believe God’s love is extended to all, regardless of borders, regardless of citizenship, regardless of social status, regardless of race.

Pope John Paul II made a distinction between nationalism and patriotism. As patriots we are called to love our fellow countrymen and women. We are called to help them. But we are not nationalists. Our love—and God’s love and concern—are not extended only to our country. We love our country, but it is God first.

 

A Different Way to Converse

Today’s readings offer us some very practical advice on how to deal with some very difficult situations and issues:

g the pagan conquerors, who have brutally subjugated his people. And he is trafficking in images of a false God—Caesar by handling coins all day. He would have been as popular as a flag burner at the American Legion convention.

He starts with a little natural curiosity. He just wants to see who this Jesus is…what does he look like.

But Jesus does something very dramatic: He takes a first step. He calls out to this little guy in a tree by name and says: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”

Jesus does two things here:

1. He takes a first step. He reaches out to Zacchaeus. He doesn’t wait until Zacchaeus repents, wants to meet Jesus…Jesus takes the first step.

2. Jesus begins a relationship. I am going to stay with you—eat and sleep. (Remember: eating for the Jews was a sacred act—it’s a bit like communion.

Pope Francis coined a word in Spanish “Primerear.” Take the initiative, take the first step. Don’t wait for people to come to you—You go out to the edges, you take the first step.

It’s only in relationships that people can grow, change, or develop. We all know this—“Who do you listen to about politics, religion, other things?—Only people you trust.

There’s a saying: Social change happens at the speed of relationship. Relationship happens at the speed of trust.”

Social trust is at a low these days. People are staying within their safe social, political, religious cocoons. We watch the TV news that gives us the news to confirm what we already believe. We don’t have many, if any friends, with different political or religious views. We expect newcomers to town or to the church to be just like us. IT’S NOT WORKING!!!! Our nation and perhaps even the church in the United States are extremely polarized. We will have an election for president exactly one year from today. What kinds of nonsense, anger, bigotry, name-calling, divisiveness will we encounter? We are tearing ourselves apart. We will lose the ability for democracy and self-governance. We will cease to be a church and become political, religious social cliques.

What can we do?

Take the first step. Try to reach out to a person different from yourself. Do an individual meeting. Get to know them.

Try to stand where they stand. See the world from their perspective: their joys, hopes, fears.

We have been trying these cross cultural dinners in very small groups, and they have gone well, but try to do it on your own as well.

Tips for Engaging in Civil Dialogue:

1. Listen first and seek to understand the whole picture.

2. Ask questions for clarification.

3. Use ‘I’ statements—not so much, “you,” or “you people” or “they”; pay attention to body language.

4. Listen to what feelings are present and pay attention to how you respond.

5. Summarize what you’ve heard and ask for feedback.

Whether it is religion or politics or even the weather our conversations can be divisive and\or tense. “How are you thinking of family Thanksgiving dinner?” We are people of faith…with a great political tradition. God has blessed us and expects better of us.

As Pope Francis said a couple years ago in Egypt: “May you be sowers of hope, builders of bridges and agents of dialogue and harmony.”

Lazarus and Dives and World Day of Migrants and Refugees

Today is the Feast of St. Michael—our parish patron saint. We’ll have our picnic this afternoon. We celebrate, not only St. Michael, but that we are a parish: a stable, defined community. We gather together to hear the Word of God. We partake of the Body of Christ to be strengthened as the Body of Christ. We come together so that together we can support one another, so that together we carry on the ministry of Christ. We support one another, and together we are sent into the world.

Today is also the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, as declared by the Church. The Catholic Church in the U.S. has been celebrating this every year since 1914.  That is significant for our parish: This celebration was important 100 years ago, and it is important today.

Catholics were outsiders and “suspect.”  Catholicism was a foreign religion. Catholics were called “Papists,” pledging loyalty to an Italian pope, head of papal states.  Catholics were hated by the KKK which was very strong in northern Indiana—They paraded down Michigan Rd in Plymouth.

Our stained glass windows reflect our parish root. In one of our windows we have St. Patrick. The Irish had gone through terrible trials. In New York 150 years ago, their homes were burned—one a night by the Know-Nothings until Bishop John Hughes went to the mayor and threatened retaliation. The movie The Gangs of New York accurately depicts the bitter struggles between the Nativists and the Irish.

The window with St. Boniface reminds us that portion of our parish was German—. German-Americans were also thought to be unpatriotic and sympathetic to the Kaiser. Woodrow Wilson commented—referring to German-Americans– “Any man who carries a hyphen about with him, carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic when he gets ready.” Public libraries got rid of books in German, German schools, such as one in Rolling Prairie closed. Some German-Americans Anglicized their names from Schmidt to Smith.

And of course, migrants and refugees today are in the national news and in Plymouth.

Nationally, it is the growth of immigrants that has kept the Catholic Church from shrinking as dramatically as the other churches in the U.S.

Locally in Plymouth, the population has basically stayed the same since 2010. However, 29% of our population is now Hispanic. What would Plymouth look like today without the presence of migrants and their U.S. born children?

Immigrants today—like those of earlier generations—are on the margins of society–much poorer than those whose families have been here for generations. The Church 100 years ago and still today, serves and protects those who are poor. We started Catholic schools to teach the Catholic faith to our children—and to protect them from the nativist Americans. The bishop of Fort Wayne invited the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ to come from Germany to teach the German speaking children in German. The Sisters were to serve and to protect. That is still our mission today. As a parish we continue to support and protect one another, especially those on the margins, the poor and the vulnerable, those who do not have legal status: the unborn and the undocumented.

Today’s readings remind us of the centrality of works of charity and social justice to the mission of the Church. It’s part of what we do as the Body of Christ.

We tend to think of the social mission of the Church as “something extra,” or as something just from the goodness of our hearts, or something we do after the real mission of the Church is done. But charity and justice are at the core of what we are called to do. As the 1971 Synod of Bishops said (a world synod whose document was approved by Pope Paul VI) said:

Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel,…that means if we do not serve with works of charity and justice, we are not evangelizing in the Catholic tradition (No. 6)

In the first reading last week, Amos condemned those ”who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land.”   This week he goes after “the complacent in Zion,” stretched out comfortably on their couches, drinking wine from bowls, unaffected by the poverty and ills that hurt others.

Amos’ God—our God–keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, loves the just, protects foreigners, sustains the fatherless and widows.

Jesus made serving others—including the welcoming of foreigners—the basis of entering His Father’s Kingdom at the Last Judgment in Mt. 25. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, it is the foreigner who acts as neighbor.

In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, it is service to those in need that is the basis for entering the kingdom. We only know two things about them—First, one was rich and the other poor. Second, one was in need, and the wealthy one failed to help him and so he is sent to hell. There is no mention of whether they prayed, were faithful in their marriages—only that one was in need, and the other failed to do anything for him.

Today, as we celebrate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, we are the richest country in the world, with people—like Lazarus, seeking asylum, have people like Lazarus at our doorstep, seeking asylum, fleeing poverty or violence—or both, or living in our midst in the shadows, in fear.

It is the mission of the Church to protect and to serve. We are called to be guided by love. Pope Francis’ call to Encounter is meant to call us to, not only serve one another, but get to know and love one another: the entire Body of Christ, the entire parish, across race, social class, and nationality.

As we celebrate our parish Feast Day, share in our parish picnic, I am reminded of a theme for the Congregation of Holy Cross: “Crossing borders of every sort.” Today we have the opportunity to cross borders of culture, perhaps language, perhaps nationality to break bread with fellow parishioners.  I encourage you to meet some one who is different from you. Ask them about their family roots, their hopes for their children, their dreams, their Faith. You may discover you have much more in common than you think—and find a new friend.