Sunday, February 12, 2017

Our plans as a parish to 'step it up' (Sunday homily)

In the Gospel we just heard, the key words are when Jesus says this:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

That is the key.
Jesus is what Moses and the Law and all the Prophets hoped for.

Another way to understand what Jesus teaches is this:
Moses gave us the bare minimum.
Jesus says, “let’s step it up; let’s get to the heart of it”:
which is, that we don’t just follow rules,
we seek to know God, to follow him closely, to share his life.

We might think of what happened when the Apostles James and John,
and Andrew and Peter first met Jesus,
he didn’t give them commandments or any task,
but he simply said, “Come, follow me” – and they did.

This is a good time to talk about something
that I’ve been working on for two years, something big.
It’s time to make an announcement.

If you read my column a few weeks ago,
you saw me mention some “Pastoral Priorities”
that I’ve been working on with the staff and the Pastoral Council.
It’s time to share this with you. But I have to back up a bit.

When I first came to Saint Remy,
and after talking with so many parishioners,
you may recall what I said that,
despite all the good things going on in our parish,
I wanted to make sure we weren’t complacent.

So I began sharing with our staff and the Pastoral Council
a book I had just finished,
called Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Waddell.
I’d heard her give a talk in Dayton three or four years ago,
and I’d been impressed: she made sense.

But the first thing she talked about that was so powerful
was her diagnosis of what’s wrong with the Church in our country.
If you pick up this book, prepare yourself:
the first two chapters are brutal!
Let me share some of that with you now.

Ms. Waddell shared the following points – all carefully documented:

- Of all American adults who were raised as Catholics in this country,
how many still practice their faith? 30%.
- One in ten American adults were once Catholic, but no longer.
- When people leave the Catholic Faith,
4 out of 5 of them are gone by the age of 23.

Where are they going? Many are joining other religions,
especially Evangelical Christianity.
But many others are becoming so-called “nones,”
meaning they have no religious affiliation.
And one more sobering fact:

- Mass attendance, by age group, breaks down like this:
of those over 65, it’s almost half. Of those between 41-64, it’s 20%.
And of those just out of college, so called Millennials? Only 10%

What does this mean? It means that something is badly wrong,
and if things don’t change, a storm is going to hit.
Churches that are accustomed to seeing 500-600 people
on a Sunday will, before very long, see only 100-200.
The word for that is “collapse.” There is no other word.

Now, this isn’t what we’re experiencing in Russia,
and in this part of the diocese.
But we’re not walled off from the rest of the world.
So let’s not kid ourselves; we’re affected by this too.

Ms. Waddell says it simply:
“what worked before doesn’t work anymore.”
And I think she has that exactly right.

OK, that’s the end of the bad news.
I didn’t come here to deliver an obituary.
All that was simply to get your attention.
Now you see why I feel this strongly,
and why I’m now coming to you to communicate this urgency to you.

The reason I like Ms. Waddell’s book so much
that the staff and Pastoral Council and I took a year
to read it together, is this: after two chapters of bad news,
she lays out a compelling – and practical – way to respond.

And it boils down to this: the new way
must be to go beyond just following
the rules and emphasizing checking the boxes
of baptism, confirmation, first communion and marriage.
The way forward must be helping one another
to grow in our personal and intentional relationship with Jesus Christ.

Just what Jesus said in the Gospel:
following the commandments is good; that’s a starting point.
But he called us to step it up: get to know him –
that’s the whole point of it all!
That’s the whole point of the sacraments;
of the Mass; of our parish; of the Bible; of the Catholic Church.

The whole point is knowing Jesus;
following Jesus; letting Jesus change our lives.

There’s more to say, but that’s our task in one sentence.
From today, the reason this parish exists,
and the goal everything we do must aim at,
is to help everyone to know Jesus, to follow Jesus,
and to experience him changing our lives.

One more data point from the research.
When people were asked,
why they left the Catholic Faith to become Evangelical,
70% said, “my spiritual needs weren’t being met”;
62% said, “I felt called by God.”

In short, people don’t leave because they want LESS;
they leave because they hunger for MORE.

Now, let’s get into the specific priorities
the Pastoral Council and I have identified. They are as follows:

Our first priority is devout worship.
The first commandment, after all, is to love God and put him first.
As a parish, we will “foster worship and prayer that is full and faithful,
especially through the Mass and other forms of prayer.”
That’s not to say we aren’t doing that now;
but we identified that as the starting point.

Second is more disciples: it will be my task and yours
to help each other
“discover and deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ.”
I will be asking every organization, every group,
from pre-school to senior citizens,
to ask how they can grow in a personal encounter with the Lord.
As part of this, we will be seeking to discover
the spiritual gifts Christ gives us,
and how these can be put at his service in our parish.

A third priority is “better welcome.”
This means how we open our doors in every way:
here at church; in our encounter with our friends and neighbors;
in all our activities.
It also means how we reach out to those who are mourning,
those who have experienced a crisis, perhaps a divorce,
and how we treat those most in need.

The fourth priority is, quote, to “seek out.” Who? Everyone.
Catholics who are inactive; people who have no church home;
people who have never really met Jesus.
We will help each other find the ways
to share the gift we’ve been given.

And the final priority is simply “to pay for it.”
Not very exciting, but it’s important to mention
that some of these things may cost something,
and that’s something we’ll talk about as we go along.

Yes, there are storms and troubles out there, and sooner or later,
they will come here. But there’s no reason to be fearful,
and absolutely no reason just to sit still.
Jesus told us in the Gospel to step it up; know him in full.

It’s hokey to say, but it’s so true:
you and I don’t know what the future holds,
but we know who holds the future, amen?
We don’t have to reinvent anything; we don’t have to discover anything.
We only have to share with others what God shared with us:
Jesus Christ!


AMDG said...

Always praying for you and your parish, Father. I'm relatively new to your blog and, I must say, I plan to stick around!

rcg said...

I can't tell ypu how much I like this, admire this pastor and a happy for the parish of St Remy. I can't do much to help, but I can steal ideas and gain inspiration. Way to go.

johnnyc said...

I have not read her book but have talked to people who have and what concerns me is the idea that we need to bring people to Jesus before we bring them to the Church. We need to be careful not to put forth the protestant notion of a personal relationship with Jesus. That is a relationship without the Church and seems to be more akin to having a personal Jesus. Jesus Christ and His Church, the Catholic Church are One and the Same. Any personal relationship with Jesus must include the Sacraments He instituted for us (I will be with you always) and His teachings (Doctrine.....If you love me you will obey my commandments).

I have heard the derisive label 'pray, pay and obey' that is given to faithful Catholics by those who don't think they have this 'personal relationship'. In fact, we are commanded to do all three in Scripture.

Fr Martin Fox said...


I suggest reading her book.