Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Catholic and Proud of it
From its very inception, the Church has been, as Pope Francis put it, ’a field hospital’ , a respite for sinners. We have never been a museum of the sinless and ‘living- still-among-us’ saints. We have been and continue to be a beckoning light to our fellow sinners who so desperately need the light of Christ in their own lives. We have been blessed over the ages by a ‘Great Cloud of Witnesses’: men and women who gave selflessly of themselves in the name of Jesus so as to preach and teach the message of Christ and to actively engage in the addressing of the needs of the human condition. We belong to the single largest giver of aid and charity in the world. From this great cloud of witnesses came institutions so very common to us now: college and universities, hospitals, and the advancement of the sciences. Catholic institutions continue to be at the very forefront and vanguard of aid and assistance to the poor and needy. We were before our time in the education of the poor, women, and our schools were desegregated long before the public schools in this country were.
To be sure, the Church in her 2000 year existence has not been without her troubles and scandals. Ambition and intrigue are not foreign nor have ever been foreign to her day to day life. We have had true scoundrels in our midst. As the Church is populated by human beings, both in her clergy and laity, all of the faults, failings, and foibles will continue to ensure that the message of conversion and repentance never go unneeded. Yet, for all of our failings, the Church still thrives; more a testament to the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of our Triune God than to any merely human efforts. The gentle hand of God guides us along, sometimes despite ourselves.
We belong to a faith not given to following the latest trend or whims of society. She has been around for millenia; she has seen these trends flow in and out with the regularity of the tide. She doesn’t attach herself to such whims and stays steady even when that steadiness is challenged or even reviled from within or outside of the Church. We might tweak how we do things, but we do not change why we do things. Christ built His Church on rock, not on sand. Even if we are the last one standing in defense, we do not cave in to ’modern’ trends. We look beyond the present moment, casting our lot to eternity itself. We are undeterred by the slings, arrows, and persecutions that every age of Christians has suffered. Truth is truth. We are its stewards. Her teachings are steeped in many years of thought, prayer, reflection, and practice. We readily apply age old principles to new challenges and problems. It is not our nature to flee or surrender.
Knowing all this is important, because we are the next line of both offense and defense. We are the caretakers of this message and the latest round of witnesses. We have the task of challenging, being challenged, and inviting all into a relationship with Christ and His people. This is not an easy task. In fact, this task can be overwhelming to the unprepared. It is hard to witness that which we do not know. The most dangerous type of Catholic is the one who lacks knowledge of their faith. There cannot be action without knowledge. The Catholic life has a very specific look and flavor; a life marked by an adherence to humility (truth), mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and charity. It is not a passive identity, but an active identity. It is not a spectator sport! It is a life in which engagement is everything!
When we have a proper pride in who we are (better yet, in who Christ is), it shows in every aspect of our lives. The Gospel becomes something we long to savor, not an impediment to our time and pocketbook. It becomes the prism by which every priority is set and every attitude established. It becomes that which tempers evil and seeks longingly for the good. It sees service as desirable, not as a burden. It helps us to own our Catholic heritage. It helps us to realize that faith must be pursued with a great gusto, born of a realization that it is one of the few things we take with us after our deaths.
This requires two things: first a knowledge of not merely what we believe but why we believe it. Our faith is so much more than a collection of facts, theories, and other intellectually based items for us to mentally store like multiplication tables. Faith spurs us to act out of that knowledge with great joy. Time must be spent in study and prayer. It is why we offer two adult education programs in this parish. It is why we spend the monies, time, and energy we do on the education of our youth. It has never been our intent to send soldiers onto the field of battle unarmed or without an awareness how to use their armaments. It is why we have a parish library. It is why we keep attempting to have a youth program. It is to expand the possibilities of what can be done that we have the new building. As I tell our students, I cannot make anyone learn anything. I simply lack the power to do such things. I can throw out seed, so to speak. But each one of us has to want to know, want to believe, and want to be the witnesses and servants Christ asks us to be. We stand accountable before Him. No one presently in this parish will be able to say there were no opportunities or materials. Thus the second thing needed is an openness to engage others with the gifts of knowledge and wisdom afforded us.
There is so very much work that needs to be done. Many hands might light work. As I said in a previous homily, this parish does not merely exist to give one a convenient time and place to go to Mass. This parish, as are all parishes and Catholic institutions, exists to continue the mission of Jesus Christ in the proclamation of the Good News. We receive grace through the sacraments specifically to give us the strength to engage. No member of the parish can say that they do not have a role to play in this mission: if you are baptized, you somehow share in this mission! We must be a place that provides welcome and rest for the weary and the seeking…all of them! How will you engage in this mission? How will you be made ready to use the appropriate tools? In this parish, there are no shortage of options, I have personally seen to that. There is work to do; those in need of what Christ offers await. It is time for all of us to suit up for the Kingdom of God is at hand!