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.