Wednesday, August 28, 2013

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C–Share Your Faith, Broaden the Narrow Gate

Before I entered seminary in 2005 I was a software developer for an investment firm in Louisville. I was on a team that made in-house software that our portfolio managers used to track their performance. I did that for about 2.5-3 years and it was during that period that I discerned the priesthood. I felt like God had led me to Louisville via that job so I decided to study for the Archdiocese of Louisville rather than the Diocese of Owensboro where I was born and raised.

Toward the end of that job, I decided to send an email out, not only to my software development team but to the whole company, all the traders, portfolio managers, finance folks, etc. to tell them how happy I was to work with them and to explain that I was resigning in order to study to be a Catholic priest. After I sent that email, I got replies from many people who I had interacted with off and on over those three years but who I had no idea were Catholic. They would say, “Hey, I think its great what you’re doing… I’m Catholic too!” As I thought back on that later I realized that there was a piece missing from that whole experience. Why did I not recognize so many of my coworkers as Catholic? Why did they not express their Catholicism to me until that email at the very end? I think our readings this weekend provide several phrases we can use to piece together an answer to this type of problem: rubbing shoulders with people day-in and day-out without our Catholic faith being known.

“I come to gather nations of every language… that have never heard of my fame or seen my glory… to Jerusalem, my holy mountain, says the Lord” to the prophet Isaiah. On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus walks with a crowd of disciples and followers. One shouts out a question, “Lord will only a few people be saved?” Jesus doesn’t answer them directly. He answers the question they should have asked. They should have asked how to be saved, not how many. He said, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” By this our Lord implies that it is not easy to be Christian or to be saved. It is difficult. It is a “narrow” gate.

It is not enough simply to belong to the Church, to the new covenant People of God. We should not have false confidence. In our Lord’s parable, when the people knock on the door of the kingdom, they say, “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” How else do we eat and drink in his company than by the Eucharist? How else does he teach in our streets than by the proclaiming of the Gospel and of our faith? But, it is not enough to simply be passive receivers of these. For our Lord replies, “I do not know where you are from… you evil-doers!” It is not enough to simply belong and receive, we have to DO well. We have to DO good, animated by our Catholic faith.

God desires all to be saved. In order to bring that about, he commands each one of us here today, in the Responsorial Psalm to “Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.” “So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees,” the second reading said, “Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed, but healed.” We have an image of someone bowed low by the difficulties of this life. Nevertheless, our Lord wants us to go out to all the world, with our heads held high, with confidence and with zeal to work with him for the salvation of souls. It is a call to be exemplary, to encourage those who are wavering or have less strength of faith. When someone who has great suffering can still be a joyful witness, that makes a profound impact on people.

I will send fugitives – a better translation is “survivors” – I will send survivors; survivors of the difficulties of this life “to the nations and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations”… and from the Gospel we heard that “people will come from the east and the west, and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.” This has been fulfilled; the Church proclaims the Gospel in all four corners of the globe, but it is not yet complete. There are still so many who do not know Jesus. We must say with John the Baptist to those around us, “Among you stands one who you do not know.” Among you stands one whom you do not know.

We must play a part in the Church’s evangelizing mission. We each have a responsibility to help others to find the narrow gate that leads to heaven. A document from Vatican II, on the apostolate or the active ministry of the laity explains, “Inserted as they are in the Mystical Body of Christ by Baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, it is by the Lord himself that they are assigned to the apostolate… to bear witness to Christ all the world over” (Apostolicam actuositatem 3).

It is not about doing something odd or peculiar or neglecting our family or work to do it. Since I had been such a lukewarm Catholic for most of my life, when I had this life-changing conversion upon researching answers to my girlfriend’s questions about Catholicism in my senior year of college, my mom was rightly concerned that I would be this obnoxious Bible-thumper, all up in everyone’s face! But that’s not what this is about. It is precisely in the midst of our family and work, where we already are, that we find the place for this mission. It may even be a silent witness. Often it is simply the peace and joy with which we live our lives that has a more profound effect on others than any argument or statement we put together.

We can bring Christ to where God has placed us in several ways: By our example, the way we live our lives; by putting our faith into practice; by being cheerful, being someone people can easily approach; by refusing to be perturbed by the difficulties that are the common lot of all mankind; by encouraging others with the joy that comes from following Christ; by giving new hope to those near despair, fighting the temptation to always just mind our own business; and by helping others go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. With this last one I have in mind many of our elderly who have an acute desire for this sacrament but have no one who is willing to take them.

These last few weekends we have found much fruit in these readings for our nightly examination of conscience. Some questions this weekend that we can ask ourselves are: Do those who know us recognize us as disciples of Christ? Do we rub shoulders day-in and day-out with people who have no idea that we are Catholic, like I did at my old job? How many have we helped take a decisive step toward heaven? How many have we spoken to about God? How many have we recommended a good book too, that may provide that extra encouragement someone needs? How many have we explained the Church’s teaching to on marriage and family? How many have we shown the joy that comes from giving of ourselves?

And again I think about confession – and this is going to take me away from my outline but I don’t care – How many have we helped to go to confession? This time I refer to our children and youth. You all are going to get tired of me preaching about this, but it is too important for me to ignore. I have heard the confessions of very few children and young adults since I’ve been here. This worries me because I love you all and I know that we cannot grow in holiness on our own strength; our souls are fragile, we need the help of that sacrament. I know that our children who go to Catholic schools go to confession once or twice a semester but that is not enough. We need to be helping them find the narrow gate by bringing them to confession.

I have heard the horror stories, about being forced to go to confession when you were young, every Saturday, whether you had something to confess or not. I have heard how you had to just make something up to get through the confession only to have the priest be mean to you or rush you along. These stories weigh heavily on my heart. It doesn’t have to be this way, once a month is a healthy practice. And I promise to all of you that I will never be mean to you. I will never yell at you. I will never rush you to get you outta there… though I may ask you to be succinct if Mass time is approaching. I will be serious, but I will always be merciful with you. I am nothing to be afraid of. This sacrament is too important for some jerk priest to turn you away from it forever.

Back to my outline, my final point is that what the soul is to the body, the Christian is to the world. Is that said of us in our family, at work, at school, or at a football game? Are you the soul of wherever you happen to be? No one is excused from this type of mission and no one is excluded from receiving it from us. Every generation needs to redeem and sanctify its own time. True, we are faced with ideologies which use powerful means of communicating a contrary message. Just think about those closest to you and start with them. Don’t worry about feeling like you can’t share your faith very well or you are too few to make a difference. Our Lord will multiply our strength and the Queen of Apostles will assist us. If we cooperate with them they will make the narrow gate broad for us.

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