Friday, August 22, 2014

A reflection on priestly life -- part 9

Enough with the whining, now for some suggestions: 
The Catholic powers that be in the business of religion need to learn a very important maxim: GOD HAS NO GRANDCHILDREN. The Old Testament has a hereditary covenant. God loves Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; therefore he is good to their descendants.
The New Testament doesn’t work this way. Jesus said, ““Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matt 12 48-50. This means you are not Catholic because you are Irish, or Mexican, or Polish or even Italian. You are Catholic because you think it’s the truth. You have made a decision for Christ and His Bride, the Church.  No one is born Catholic.
In the glorious 60’s at the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius the churches started to empty out. The clergy, knowing that life would go on as usual said, “They may be leaving now, but they’ll be back when they marry and have children.” That was fifty years ago. We now have three generations whose return we the clergy are awaiting.  They’re not coming back. They could care less about us. Face it. The soap bubble is bursting. Schools close. Parishes close. Dioceses declare bankruptcy and sometimes it seems that all we can do is try to keep all the pie plates spinning like some circus act.
If we don’t admit that GOD HAS NO GRANDCHILDREN we will have no Church. If all we believe is that this Catholic stuff is something that’s good for you and a nice religion, we might as well close the buildings, sell the real estate and give everyone a refund. If we believe that this stuff is the truth and makes the difference between heaven and hell, then the whole thing is salvageable. If I love you and believe that the best and perhaps only way for you to live in eternal happiness is the Catholic faith, then I am going to do my best to share the faith with you. That is called evangelism.
Everybody talks about evangelism’ “The New Evangelization”, “The Dynamic Catholic” and so on. And everybody forms a committee, has a retreat, holds a bake sale and waits for someone else to do the evangelizing, whatever that is. I’ll give you my definition of evangelism. It’s one I learned about 30 years ago.  It’s still the best I’ve ever heard. Evangelism is to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  It’s that simple. Not an historical knowledge, not a theological knowledge, not a philosophical knowledge — a saving knowledge.
Evangelism is not to argue someone into agreeing that Jesus and the Catholic Church are the best things since sliced bread and the pop up toaster.You don’t need books, or a lecture hall, or any electronic device. You need those for Catechesis, not for evangelism.  All you need to have for evangelism is a little bit of bravery and the willingness to pray with another individual.
St. Alphonsus Ligouri said, “Those who pray are certainly saved; those who do not pray are certainly damned,” and is so quoted in paragraph 2744 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  To evangelize is to bring someone to Christ, not to church, not to the sacraments, not to a Bible class, not to a lecture. To evangelize is to bring someone to an encounter with a living person, not as concept nor a dead philosopher nor a distant concept.  Here are a couple stories. 
Before I was ordained a young man who was very interested in a young woman who was attending a prayer meeting at a Carmelite monastery spoke to me. He said that he didn’t understand this Christian philosophy. It was so restrictive. He had tried to combine the best elements of the philosophies and religions that he had studied, but he couldn’t understand the exclusive claims of the Christian philosophy. He particularly liked those philosophies that would encourage that particular young woman to be more open to a more intimate relationship. Her Christianity was getting ion the way of taking their relationship to the “next level.” I looked at him squarely and said “Christianity isn’t a philosophy. It’s a person.” To which he replied, “Huh?” 
I said, “Close your eyes. I’m going to pray for you.” I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Lord Jesus, you found me when I was in the same place as my friend here. Please touch him and let him know that you are real.”
I walked away leaving him in the chapel alone. As I stood talking to a few friends in the vestibule he walked out of the chapel and simply said, “Wow. I’ve never felt anything like that.”  I have no idea what happened to him. That was 40 years ago, but he understood that Christ is not an idea. Christ is someone.
First you might say, “That’s just hokey. I could never do that.” Why not? Are you ashamed to pray? Are you ashamed of Christ? “Well, what if nothing happened? I’d feel like a fool.” If nothing happens it’s not your problem. It’s God’s problem. You aren’t responsible to save anyone. He is.  And besides, better to feel like a fool than to be one.
Next you will say, “That’s just foolishness it’s just emotion, just a feeling. God isn’t a feeling.”  Absolutely true, but feelings are part of the human experience. They are reactions to perceived realities. God isn’t a feeling, but he can certainly cause feelings. “Taste and see how good is the Lord!” (Psalm 34:`8) Your job is to help them taste the Lord. If they do, they will want more.
I can hear you say, “It doesn’t sound very Catholic.”
Have you ever read St. Teresa of Avila, or John of the Cross, or Thomas of Kempis, or St. Bernard of Clairvaux, or St. Therese, the Little Flower? They’re pretty Catholic and out of their intimacy with the person of Christ, they had faith enough to change the world.
“Well, that’s all fine and good, but what about sacraments and Mass attendance and catechism and the pope and all that stuff?”
 The whole glorious edifice of Catholicism is like a great pile of firewood that can cause a blaze big enough to light the world, but if you don’t light the match, what good is it? We catechize before we evangelize. We tell people the facts about Jesus before they have met Him, and all those facts and requirements bore people out of their skulls.
If the world could be saved by a sermon it would have been saved long ago, but to experience the nearness of the Lord? Once you have met the Lord, you can’t know too much about Him and you long to know what He requires and to obey Him. The person who has tasted the Presence of the Lord is hungry to know more and more, but you will never be hungry for food you have never tasted. Unless Catholics once again learn how to pray with people, and not just for them, the Catholic community will continue to wither.

Next week: If this stuff is so great, why didn’t we used to talk this way? 

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