Posted: 11 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT
One of the key issues in our church today is that we are disconnected. Regardless of whether the church is full or its empty on a Sunday, most of the attendees hardly say a word to the people next to each other.
Much of St. Paul’s epistles are spent documenting the growth and life of the Church. He is very specific to comment on the community of the faithful. In St Paul’s writings, it is clear that the growth of the early Church was very deliberate, it was filled with action and purpose, with a vision of uniting in faith and sharing the praise of God.
This is how the early Church lived, in Acts 2:44-47 Paul writes: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need…They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
In the last few months, I have made a bit more of an effort to meet a few people at my parish. Some have been a tipoff from other friends of people to look out for, others people who I have crossed paths with once upon a time. Some of these people I have seen many times over the years, but never actually spoken to. Others have been there all along, but I have never even noticed. Either way, this is clearly not good enough.
Many of these people are living a Church life of anonymity. They live in the unknown, where they have no means to live their faith out with other Christians, nor do they have the opportunity to share their lives with others. How could we live like the early Christian church, when we know nothing about the person sitting in the pew next to us?
If we are to realize our potential as a Church, we must bring the faithful out of the shadows. This is not just those not going to church, it is also those who attend each Sunday, but are not actively engaged and living the reality and fullness of the faith. The signs and indicators are there. They may turn up late, hide in the corner or the back, leave after communion or exit without even looking at another person, and these are included in the minority that are considered as ‘practicing Catholics’.
There are many things in the world of which we as Christians have limited control over that is affecting the way in which people perceive the Church. Commonly we hear lies and misrepresentations of the Church by outlets such as the media, educational institutions, internet forums, celebrities, politicians, other religious beliefs and from within the church itself. Despite lofty ambitions and good intentions, there is limited opportunity for most individuals to do much about this.
However the decision to reach out to our neighbour from within the Church is completely within our power. There is nothing but fear that stops us from reaching out to our neighbour, and bring light the fullness of the Catholic faith. There is an abundant joy in sharing the love of God with another. It is so rare among Catholics that we smile and rejoice in the life that we have been given.
This is what Jesus saw in humanity when He called on them to share Christ with the world. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16)
The engagement with the anonymous Church is purposeful and deliberate. It requires us to make a decision to reach out to someone each week. Many people we see at church do it as a routine, with varying degrees of why they are there. We are working on a scale of a cultural or habitual practice to a deep and engaged faith, and many, many people in between.
The disruption to this is us: the words of the Mass are predominantly consistent, the message has not changed for centuries. It is for us as missionaries to go out and disrupt the normalcy of the faith and reinvigorate it through God within us. When we reach out to people in our church, we are unveiling the face of the church and representing Christ to people in a real and personal way. The distant God becomes present and comes alive through human interaction. It creates an opportunity for the faithful to join in celebration and praise of God in a meaningful way.
It is our decision to bring the Church to life. It is time for us to raise the veil of anonymity and bring to light the love of Christ. “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14). It is within our power to take Christ to the world. Let us rise, for we can choose to live this way: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).
Posted: 11 Apr 2014 08:18 AM PDT
Easter is coming; fast! I mean the action, not the adjective. It’s a command.
Once Easter comes, it seems, we forget about this wonderful act of self-denial. We break our fast and indulge in whatever it is we gave up for the past 40+ days. (Yes, Lent is longer than 40 days, and actually ends on Holy Thursday, but don’t break out the chocolate until Easter, please!) While this is not wrong or sinful, the Church reminds us that we don’t simply place sacrifice on the shelf until next year.
By fasting and abstaining during Lent, we learn to control our desires, to conform our desires, and our will to the will of the Father. We learn through this voluntary act of self-denial that it is possible to reject the things of this world. We learn that itis possible to turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel, as we heard on Ash Wednesday when ashes were placed on our heads. Repentance and conversion are brought to life when we fast and abstain.
This is a life changing undertaking. The act of denying our desires and our wants, if done correctly, can be mini-conversion moments for each and every person seeking to follow Christ more closely. In a recent homily, Pope Francis exclaimed that “conversion is not the question of a moment or a time of the year, it is an undertaking that lasts one’s entire lifetime.” Conversion is not just limited to one part of the year. Therefore the acts that lead us to personal conversion cannot be limited to one time a year. This is why the Church, in her wisdom, has instructed the faithful to partake in one form of penance each Friday during the year and not simply during Lent.
Rather than forcing people to do something, the Church, following the example of Christ, invites us to commit an act of penance every Friday of the year. Those in this “New Evangelization Generation” can ask their parents and grandparents if they had meat on Fridays during the year. The answer, if they were practicing Catholics, would be “No.” While the rule has been altered, the principle remains—Catholics are to treat each Friday as a day of penance, a day of conversion.
Canon Law states that
“The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).” (CIC 1438)
Furthermore, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a Pastoral Statement on this very topic. In it, the Bishops state, ”Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.” (no. 23)
The Bishops also give Catholics in the United States ideas for how they might consider carrying this out. (For the entire document, click here:http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-resources/lent/us-bishops-pastoral-statement-on-penance-and-abstinence.cfm)
This is something that we can truly make our own in our individual and family lives. This past year, my family and I have been trying to abstain from eating meat every Friday. This year, we may try something different, like adding family morning prayer to our morning routine or fasting from sweets and snacks. However, the what is not as important as the why in this instance. We fast and abstain to allow Christ to transform our lives by saying no to desires and yes to conversion.