One of the beauties about being a Catholic is that there is no expectation that we go it alone. We belong to a church that is crawling on being 2000 years old and stretches into eternity. There are over 1 billion of us on this planet now and at least that many that came before us. We are connected to the saints in heaven as a matter of believing that the death and resurrection of Christ, as St Paul tells us in Romans, has destroyed the veil of death that separated us from God and each other. Most importantly, we are the adopted sons and daughters of God, through Baptism, who are children of a God who desperately loves us, wants what is good for us, and gives us a continual stream of His grace to enable us to continually fulfill the mission of Jesus Christ and to lead us in a life of true peace and contentment. If we utilize all of this, how can we fail? If we allow ourselves to engage in the will of God, we are guaranteed final victory!
All of this said, it does come down to our making the choice to utilize these things in our mission as a parish. Too often, we can follow the wisdom (or lack thereof) of the world which tells us that if we are to succeed in life, it will be only through the hard work of our own efforts and in the gathering of all the benefits from that work to oneself. We live in a world that encourages us to turn inward; we belong to a faith which demands we turn outward. We live in a world that tells us that life is all about what we can get (and by any means necessary); we belong to a faith that tells us life is all about what we give. This world leaves us as a group of isolated individuals who have no choice but to argue and fight with one another over the scraps of this world; we belong to a faith that binds us together as a family rooted in mutual interest and towards a common goal. We have to choose which side we wish to belong.
If we look at the main mission of the Church, to gather the nations into one with God and one with each other ( cf Mathew 28:18-20, John 17:20-21), and we are members of that familial bond known as the Body of Christ through our baptism, then God will give us all we need to accomplish this task. In our goal this year of calling back all who have fallen away from the practice of the faith, we do not walk alone. We walk with each other, with the company of the saints, and most importantly, we do it with the grace of God.
Most important is the grace ( the unmerited help and aid of God) that God gives us to accomplish the mission to which He has set us and the grace He gives us to live faithfully to the Gospel of Christ. As Catholics, we have concrete avenues of grace in the sacraments of the Church, all established by Christ Himself, and in the day to day actual grace God gives us to navigate out day to day lives. It is always present and awaits our positive choice to use it. The more we mindfully engage in the use of this grace, the more joy we find and the more we are able to stand to the tasks our faith requires of us. It gives us the courage to invite back, it gives us the depth to provide a good example, and it gives us the strength to bounce back from indifference and hostility to our faith. Seek out that grace when you feel inept, afraid, troubled by temptation, and consumed by the world’s ‘wisdom’. Grace reminds us that God does not create us slaves of the world, but creates us as free men and women who are not bound by fear, apathy, or weakness!
God does not have us walk alone and without examples to bolster our resolve that the life of Christ can be lived and lived in triumph. He gives us the intercession of the Blessed Mother and the saints. He gives us their example. He gives us their friendship. They have but one task: to give glory to God and to pray for us. We can look to their lives and see how they overcame sin through God’s grace, how they stayed steadfast in the world in which they lived, and how their living of the faith inspired others to live the faith as well. Their lives remind us that no mountain is ever so high as to be a permanent hindrance. They evangelized. They gave themselves over to the will of God despite persecution and ridicule. Because they cooperated with the will of God and lived lives that professed Christ, they now stand before God eager to help and eager for us to be joined with them. We do well to ask for their help and intercession. We do well to use the examples of their lives to remind us what can be done. With so powerful intercessors before God, cooperating with Christ who wants us to be joyful and successful in His Mission, again, how can we lose heart or be afraid?
Finally God also gives us each other as companions in His mission and as brothers and sisters who look out for each other’s good. There is no person ever baptized into the Body o Christ who does not somehow share in its mission. We are to help each other and encourage each other along the way. The idea that the Body of Christ should be so fractured in this world with Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant congregations out of union with one another and then split within themselves, is a sad testament to man’s desire for power. Divisions cannot be nurtured or apathetically allowed to exist. This is especially true in two areas within the Church: divisions with congregations and indifference or hostility towards vocation. There are no sins or past grievances that are so total that they must infest a parish continually. These grievances usually come down to an anger that someone else got their way and I didn’t. We are not each other’s competition nor are we to be each other’s judge and jury. When these things happen, it shows that the focus of the person is worldly (self-centered) instead of Godly (other centered). We can not be worldly and expect anything but division and strife. It will also weaken us as people ignore their vocation (which by its nature seeks to serve as God wills) and place ‘success’ on how much power, wealth, and pleasure can be gained at any cost. A people who are looking out for each other are naturally going to be inclined to seek God’s help in finding out where within the Body of Christ they are best suited to serve. We need our own to see marriage as a vocation from God to help build up the fundamental building blocks of the Church (the family) from which arise the next group of priests, deacons, and religious. We need our current families to be incubators of young people who will fearlessly seek and follow God’s will, and if it be to the priesthood and religious life, that it be pursued with vigor and courage. The stronger we are within the parish, the stronger the ability to fulfill the mission we set ourselves to in following Christ. God gives us this grace, let US as individuals within the parish and as a parish together be bound by the Eucharist we commonly receive to be what God calls us to be: a city on hill that bears light and witness to the transforming power of God! We do not ever walk alone in these tasks!