Sunday, December 20, 2015

Invite people back this Christmas (Sunday homily)

Many times you’ve heard me talk about the importance of sharing our faith. This week, I saw an article in the National Catholic Register – and I decided I wanted to talk to you about it.

The headline is: “The No. 1 Thing I’ve Learned From Talking With Fallen-Away Catholics.”

The author, Katie Warner, has worked for ten years with a group called “Catholics Coming Home.” From time to time, you may see some ads they run on TV, that invite Catholics who have gotten away from their faith, to get back to it. They are very nicely done. A few years ago, the Archdiocese ran a series of those ads right around this time.

In this job, she would talk to a lot of inactive Catholics, and she said, “the messages I receive from (them) range from cordial to scathing, and it didn’t take me long…to see that there are common threads in their conversations.”

She goes on to say:

“Many of these people are hurting; many are angry; many are lost. All have stories; all have reasons for leaving — reasons ranging from ‘I just drifted away’ to ‘I don’t believe in these teachings’ to ‘Someone in the Church wronged me.’” She also explained that the first and the last reasons are the most common. That is to say: either that people drifted away or someone wronged them.

But the most important lesson she drew was this: “Almost all of these fallen-away Catholics want to know that someone cares.” That someone notices they aren’t there. That we’re sorry to see them go. That it matters to us.

There is cause for hope. Ms. Warner reported that often, people would go from being angry, to opening up. And I can confirm that from my own experience. Many times I’ve spoken with someone who was hurt, years before, by a dispute in a parish – maybe with the priest, maybe with other parishioners. And the person was angry. But the fact that I or someone else reached out to them made a huge difference. Hearts can be softened.

Our gaze is toward Christmas Day. It’s a few days away. One of the things I learned from a wise priest, Father Tom Grilliot, who has gone to his reward, was that this is a time of year when people are more open spiritually. All around us, there are TV specials and marketing campaigns, and even though they try to avoid mentioning the word, we all know it’s about Christmas! Now, we may want to be irritated, but don’t be. Instead, seize the advantage: we all know this is the Christmas season – we all know it. So don’t be afraid to talk about it.

People are hungry. They are like the people of Israel who were waiting, and longing, for a redeemer. The trouble – both now, and when Jesus was born – was and is that we all have reason to be cynical. Time and again, people have their hopes raised, only to be dashed. It was true then; it’s true now.

So what do we do? 

Well, Ms. Warner says that when we talk to people who are away from the Church, the first thing to do is “tell them they are missed and that you care that they are away.” Second? “Invite them home.”

There are about 800 folks who routinely come to Mass here every weekend. That’s really good. A lot of my priest friends are envious, because our church is mostly full on the weekend.

But there are about twice that many Catholics in our parish boundaries. Some of them are away at college; some are homebound. But many of them are just…drifting. 

There’s never a bad time to invite and welcome people, but this is a particularly good time. If people want to know, I’ll be hearing confessions on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from 7 to 8 or so.

There’s no need to hit people over the head. Just invite. Ms. Warner said that when they would ask people who returned to the Church, why they returned, they’d respond, “because you invited me”!

Sometimes the most powerful things are the simplest things. 

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