If you are able to remember your High School chemistry class, perhaps you can recall something called a litmus test. This is a very simple test in which you take a strip of special paper and dip it in a liquid. Depending on what color the paper turns, you know right away if the liquid is acidic, basic or neutral. It is such a quick, simple and accurate test. What if I were to tell you that there is a kind of litmus test that will tell us immediately if we are a committed follower of Jesus Christ or not? You would probably want to test yourself, wouldn't you? Well, I think that there is such a test and I will tell you what it is … just not right away. Let’s try to figure out together what this litmus test could be. We will begin with the incredibly loaded question that Jesus asks at the end of the gospel.
“When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth”? Jesus wonders aloud if, upon His return to earth at the end of time, He will find people of faith on the earth. This question is the key to understanding the parable we heard in the gospel. At first glance it seems that the message of the parable is this: keep asking God in prayer for what you want and eventually He will relent and grant you your request just as the unjust judge did to get the widow off His back. There is a problem with this interpretation, however. God is not an unjust judge. The question cannot be whether God will grant us what we ask for in prayer. God is a loving Father, He always will give us what we need; we don’t need to wear Him down. The question is not whether God will be faithful but whether we will remain faithful to Him. The question is whether, through all the ups and downs, struggles and joys of life, we will continue to have faith in God, trust Him, pray to Him and desire a relationship with Him. Jesus holds up the widow as an example for us because she did not grow weary, she preserved and did not give up. When the Son of Man comes, will He find people like this widow? Will He find faith on earth?
When we look at the world today, the answer does not seem very promising because the number of those possessing the faith of the widow is decreasing in many places. In fact, we can become discouraged because it can appears that the longer Jesus waits to come back, the less faith He will find on earth. We have all probably heard stories in the media telling us that religious practice is on the decline. When we look at the numbers, we find a more complicated picture. Globally the number of Christians is increasing. In 2010, the number of Christians in the world grew by a net 28 million. Looking closer we find that the Church is growing in the global south while it is shrinking in the West. Let’s discuss Vancouver in particular. When the archdiocese of Vancouver did a census in November 2012, it was found that just under 100,000 people were attending its 77 parishes. This makes Catholicism this region’s largest religious group by far. Many parishes are in fact growing in numbers, particularly as a result of immigration. But there is another side of the story. Though about 100,000 Catholics were counted at Mass on a given Sunday, there are approximately 250,000 baptized Catholics in the Vancouver region who do not practice their faith with any regularity(more). I do not mention this to depress us. It is however the reality and should get us thinking and hopefully move us to action. The numbers lend an urgency to Jesus’ question: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth”? When we look around, especially in the West, the answer does not seem very encouraging.
The Church has a mission to ensure that when Jesus does return He will find that there is still faith on earth. The Church exists to evangelize. We have the job to help increase the number of people who have the faith of the widow in parable. Certainly as Catholics we want to nurture those already within the Church, but if we stopped here we would not be fulfilling the mandate of Jesus to make disciples of all nations. This Sunday we celebrate World Mission Sunday. As Archbishop Miller wrote in his letter we read last Sunday, today the global Church has the opportunity to recommit itself to its task of bringing the gospel of Jesus to all people, both those who have never heard it before and the baptized who are inactive in their faith. Today we have the opportunity to support missionaries, both with our prayers and with financially in the collection. Today we are also reminded that we are called to bring others to know Jesus Christ. Again, the Church exists to evangelize – it is our reason for being. We have a mission to ensure that when Jesus returns He finds that there is still faith on earth.
As Christians we should have a natural desire to evangelize. If Christ is the center of our lives then we should naturally want to lead others to come to know Him. The world “missionary” sometimes brings to mind the negative image of a Bible thumper, someone who uses guilt or fear to get people to go to Church, someone who shoves their beliefs down other’s throats. True evangelization is not like this. I think of it this way. Have you ever watched a movie or read a book that you enjoyed so much that you couldn't stop telling people about it? Don’t we go around telling people, “listen you have to watch this movie or you have to read this book”? If we have experienced in our own life a glimmer of what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and what it means to be part of the Church, will we not want to do the same? Being a missionary is not about imposing our beliefs on people, it is saying to people “listen, we have something truly incredible here, come, join us and share in it!” This doesn't have to be intimidating or scary. It can be as simple sharing with people your own experiences of faith in a truthful, non-judgmental way. You can talk about your struggles of faith, how you trust God to help you change in your life or how you are really trying to live like Jesus even though you fail. Or it can be as simple as asking people the right questions to get them thinking. Maybe ask them what they do when life gets hard. Or if they share some struggle or joy, ask them where they see God in all of this. Evangelizing doesn't need to be complicated but it is not optional. When we encounter something truly good in our lives we have a natural tendency to want other to share in this. If we never feel a desire to lead others to come to know Jesus then we should stop and ask ourselves why that is. If our commitment to Jesus is true, then we should have a natural desire to evangelize.
There is really a simple litmus test that can help us determine whether we are really committed to Christ and His teaching. No one else can do this test for you and in the end the results are just between you and God. If we feel we fail the test, we should not get discouraged; we are all really a work in progress. At least we know that something needs to change. If you have not guessed what the test is by now, here it is. To know whether we are in fact committed Catholics I think we only need to ask ourselves two questions. Do I have the desire that those around me have a relationship with Jesus? Am I taking some practical steps to make this a reality?