28 Jan 2018
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
It was about twenty years ago. I was looking through some pictures, and I saw one of me. And it just grabbed my attention because I saw that, oh my goodness...I was really overweight. You know what they say, “The camera doesn’t lie!” It was one of those life-changing moments. And right then I committed myself to getting in better shape, which I did. But it wouldn’t have happened without that one snapshot. That’s what opened my eyes to see that something needed to change.
And I wonder sometimes if that’s how it is with us in our lives of faith—as individuals and as a Church. Do we at some point have an “awakening,” where we get a glimpse of ourselves and say, “Oh my goodness, I’ve really gotten off track here!” Does that happen?...because if it doesn’t, then maybe that’s something to pray for—the gift of self-awareness, and the fortitude to change what needs to be changed.
As a “shepherd” in the Lord’s flock, it’s something that crosses my mind quite a bit. Not too long ago, I was at a Church gathering; it lasted about an hour and a half. And, except for the opening prayer, Jesus was never mentioned once in that ninety minutes. Not once. You wouldn’t think that would happen in the Church. But it does; every now and then we lose our grounding, we get off track; we forget what we’re about. Jesus, God, faith...they all seemed to be absent during that meeting.
At the Second Vatican Council (and since about the 1890s), there had been a strong push for “fully conscious and active participation” during the Mass. People were concerned that the faithful (and even the ordained) weren’t really “engaged” in what was happening at Mass. And so, the “push” for active participation was an attempt to get the Church “back on track” in its worship.
Now, it’s interesting to note that the original Latin word [actuosa] from Vatican II we translate as “active,” can be translated as either “active” or “actual.” And think we’d all agree there’s a difference. “Active” generally means “doing things.” But “actual” means to “make something real.” So when the Church made that call for “active” participation in the Mass, it makes more sense to think of it as a call for “actual” participation.
After all, we can be singing, standing, kneeling, responding, and so on...we can be “doing” everything correctly, but still be totally disconnected from what’s going on. We can be “actively” participating, but still off track. And so, we want to be “actually,” consciously involved in what’s going on here.
For example, our psalm today, Psalm 95, is a song of praise and adoration of God: “Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord; let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us bow down in worship; for he is our God and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.” It’s a really heartfelt, deeply felt kind of song. The question, though, is: Did we mean what we sang? Were we “actually” singing that psalm?
Of course, that’s a question we each have to ask ourselves: Did we mean what we sang? And it doesn’t matter if we sing well or not, or even if we sing at all. That’s not the point. The question is: Is the sentiment of that psalm in our heart, in our spirit? Do we feel those words of praise and adoration inside?...because that’s where “conscious and actual participation” happens...deep within each of us.
If we don’t feel it—if we’re not actually participating in the words we sing, in the gestures we make, and so on—well, then there’s a disconnect. And when we feel that disconnect, it’s like seeing a snapshot of ourselves and saying, “Oh my goodness...something’s not right here. What happened to Jesus? What happened to living faith, and hope, and love? Something has to change.”
It can be one of those life-changing moments to be aware of that disconnect. But it can be also very empowering, because it motivates us to make a change.
Now, here in the parish (and in any parish, it seems), when building projects are in discussion, those discussions can be a major “dis-traction” from what we’re all about. And it takes an enormous amount of effort to stay on track; to remember our priorities, to remember what’s important. But if we get off track, if we lose our focus, then something has to change.
Now, last week we had a joint meeting of the Pastoral and Finance Councils. And the meeting was a result of my feeling that “something had to change.” It’s no secret that discussions and disagreements about buildings have dominated the life of the parish for far too long. We’ve lost focus on the Lord, on our mission, and our basic call to love one another.
And so, I sent a recommendation to the Councils regarding our buildings; which they generally accepted. And it contains some definite changes and some concrete direction. And it’s a recommendation which should resonate with parishioners because it’s based on what I’ve heard the parish community say—as a whole.
“Something had to change.” And what had to change was the plan itself; to make it more in line with what parishioners (generally speaking) desire. And so, if it’s acceptable to you—to a vast majority of parishioners—we will keep and use our three churches for the foreseeable future. We will do necessary upgrades and upkeep on them. We will also build a new Parish Center on our new land. And it’ll serve as a place for continued growth in unity as friends and neighbors in Christ.
We’ve been talking with an architect. And we could be fundraising as early as September—if it’s what parishioners generally want. Now, I’m not going to go into all the details of this in the middle of the homily (I’ll say more about that at the end of Mass). Something needed to change in order to get the parish on track again; in order to be “actually engaged” in what we’re about: love of God, love of neighbor, and the call to go out and share the gospel.
Now, if we look at more snapshots of ourselves as a Church, we see how many of our youth have fallen away from their Catholic faith. And that’s disturbing. You know, the fact that we’re unable to keep our youth in Christ’s flock should be like a red warning light: “Something’s not right; something needs to change.” And that’s a tough one. It’s a tough one…for several reasons.
None of us lives in a bubble. And that’s especially true with our youth. Our circle of influence isn’t just our neighborhood; it isn’t just the people we see every day. The circle of influence for our youth is, quite literally, the entire world. There’s been global communication before, but not like there is today. There’s instantaneous sharing of ideas. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
But it does mean that, today, the Catholic Church is easily just one voice among many, many others for our youth (and adults, too). What some anonymous person puts on YouTube can be just as influential as (or more so than) what a bishop or the pope says. And that isn’t a fault of our youth; it’s just the situation we find ourselves in today as the Church. But, still, something isn’t right here; something has to change.
And one area of change here at the parish is in our Discipleship Formation program. We’re basically overhauling the whole thing. You know, it isn’t enough to simply tell our youth what to think or believe. That has its place, certainly. But when youth get to high school, they have the ability to think for themselves. And so, in the Discipleship Formation program we’re going to start teaching our youth how to think. We’re going to have an entire semester on critical thinking skills. They’re going to learn how to make an argument, how to recognize a good argument from a bad one, and so on.
And they’re going to take those skills and apply them to real life situations. And they’re apply those skills to the teachings of the Church. As a parish, we’re not going to run from the challenge of global communication and social media; instead we’re going to teach our youth how to think, how to engage their Catholic faith intelligently, and how to engage other ways of thinking and believing that are out there. And that will be a major change in the Discipleship Formation program.
But another area of change, with respect to youth, is in the home. You know, our youth can go to Wednesday Discipleship Formation, they can go to St. Clare School, and they can learn about the faith, our values, and such. But unless that’s supported in the home, it’s almost pointless. Is there a change that needs to happen at home, regarding faith and our youth? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know. If you were to see a snapshot of home life—and how faith is part of home life, what would you see? Is there a change that needs to happen?
Do the kids know they’re loved? I know it sounds like a wishy-washy sort of question, but it’s important: do the kids know they’re loved, that they have a home, a place where they absolutely belong? And that’s not just a question for parents; it’s also for grandparents, aunts and uncles, and…the the parish community. Of all the places someone should be able to expect love and acceptance it should be in the Catholic Church. It’s what makes us “catholic.” Jesus loves everybody; he welcomes everybody to follow him.
He went out and touched the lepers who were literally the outcasts of society. He welcomed prostitutes and ate meals with them; he wasn’t ashamed to be associated with either of them. The same went for the “tax-man;” imagine Jesus having the Commissioner of the IRS over for supper. And he even loved those people who hated his guts.
Do our youth know—and, for that matter, does each of us know—that we are unconditionally welcomed by the Lord? Welcomed and cared about...
It always strikes me as sad, but especially as tragic, when I read or hear about a youth who commits suicide because he or she felt unloved, unwanted, and unwelcome. I mean, where was the Church for that lost soul? Was it too busy strategizing about finances, or reorganizing committee structures, or what? Did the Church get off track and forget to “go after the lost sheep”? Or did the Church do everything it could? I don’t know. But it makes me wonder.
If we were to come across a snapshot of ourselves as a parish—with regard to love of neighbor, with regard to our youth—we’d probably (hopefully) say, “Oh my goodness, we have some work to do there; something has to change.”
Just recently, Bishop Ricken asked parishes to do some “mission planning.” And the questions we’re going to be asking are these types of questions. The planning isn’t going to be about how to boost Mass attendance, or how to increase financial giving; it’s not going to be a survey about Mass times or anything like that.
The planning is going to ask questions like: Are people satisfied with their lives? Do people have it in their hearts to be of service to others? Do people feel welcome, and invited, to share themselves, and to give of their talents to their community? Is this a spiritual home for people? Does each and every person—young and old and in between—know that he or she is deeply loved by our God?
And whatever snapshots we come up with in that planning, we pray that God will give us all the courage to notice what needs to change, and then to actually make those changes.
You know, twenty years ago when I first saw that picture of me being a little overweight, my initial reaction was, well...I was shocked. But it made me determined to make a change. And I did, and it was great.
God helps us to see ourselves—as individuals and as a parish. He holds up a snapshot of our lives and, very gently but firmly, he points to it and says, “You might want to fix that. You’re going off track right there.” May we see what God sees, and change our lives…for our own good, the good of our neighbor, and for his glory.