Showing posts with label Evangelization. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Evangelization. Show all posts

One way to get people back to Church

Matthew 21:33-43 (27th Sunday of Ordinary Time)

Recently I watched a panel on the news discuss the question of "why religion is no longer relevant". They offered different reasons explaining why many people no longer prayed, went to Church or even believed in God, including “science makes belief in God obsolete” or “belief in God was just an idea used to control people and is no longer needed.” Watching the discussion, I became frustrated; I wanted to jump through the TV and join the debate myself! The question the panel was discussing is valid and  by no means new. The reality is that people have always, for one reason or another, chosen to exclude God from their lives. The question is, what can we personally do about it? The Gospel of this Sunday provides a clear answer.

Jesus’ parable of the vineyard is a presents Salvation History, which is the story of how God has interacted with humanity, in the form of an allegory. Like any allegory, each character or element in the story corresponds to some reality. We need to unpack this parable in order to properly understand its message. A landowner built a vineyard. Jesus roots his parable in the image from the prophet Isaiah we find in the first reading. God is the landowner. The vineyard is Israel, a people God chose and formed to think, act and love like Him. Since the time of Jesus, the vineyard also refers to the Church. We are the People of God.  The landowner protected the the vineyard with a hedge and watchtower. This means that God always watches over His People and protects them. Since the purpose of the vineyard was to produce wine, the owner placed in it a wine-press. He then leased it to tenants and went on a journey. We, the tenants are meant to produce something, we have a purpose and mission. After some time, the landowner sends servants to gather in the the produce. These servants represent the prophets and leaders that God who who challenge and encourage us to do the mission God has given us. The tenants, however, brutally reject these messengers. Throughout history, we too often reject those God has sent who call us to conversion. Finally, the landowner sends his son, who the tenants seize, drag out of the vineyard and kill. This son is Jesus Christ, who was dragged out out of Jerusalem and crucified on Calvary. This, of course, was not the end of the story. Jesus did not remain in the tomb, but rose again, taking control of the vineyard.

Christ and Saint Mina. 6th-century icon from Bawit, Egypt, now in the Louvre, source
This parable reveals to us, the People of God, our role in Salvation History. Notice that the tenants were not told to hang out in the vineyard, sit on lawn chairs and relax while eating grapes! No, the tenants were supposed to produce wine. The landowner sends his servants and ultimately his son to ensure this happens. When the tenants still refuse to do their job, the vineyard is given to other tenants who will follow through. We have been given a mission. Like wine, our lives are meant to be something good and enticing.  When we live as Jesus wants, by striving to become holy, we should become like magnets. People should see our joy and peace and desire to have the same thing in their lives. Simply by the way we live as followers of Jesus, we should draw people closer to God. In carrying out this mission, we do not act as God’s puppets. We are tenants. God trusts us and gives us freedom. It is a privilege to be able to participate in God’s work of salvation. Though we are not puppets, we are also not in charge. In killing the landowner’s son, the tenants wanted to take control of the vineyard for themselves. Humanity’s great temptation is to push God out of the picture and try to take control of nature and civilization. We want to make the rules and say what we should be doing with our lives. The reality is that we are tenants, all we have is a gift from God: nature, our bodies, our mind, our creativity and our talents. We are given these things in order to fulfill God’s mission. If we refuse to carry it out, He will find other people who will do so.

We need to face the fact that one reason why numerous people exclude Jesus and the Church from their lives is because we are not living lives that draw people closer to God. Going back to that panel I heard on the news, we could say that some people find religion irrelevant because we, the vineyard's tenants, are not producing abundant wine. How do we convince people that God is relevant and they should follow Jesus? The parable of the vineyard gives a clear answer: live a holy life. Arguing and finger-wagging will not get people to go to Church or to pray. Consider saints such as St. Francis or Mother Teresa who produced such great wine in their life. In their lives people saw a glimpse of Jesus and were drawn to follow him. Do our lives have the same effect on people? Jesus’ parable of the vineyard provokes us to answer a simple question, “does the way I live attract people closer to Jesus and the Church or not?” Bl. John Henry Newman composed a beautiful prayer called Radiating Christ. It expresses in a beautiful way the desire we should have to produce in our lives good wine that draws people closer to God. Today let us ask God for the strength to do this.

Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance wherever I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly, that my life may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through me, and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!
Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine, so to shine as to be a light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from You; none of it will be mine.
It will be you, shining on others through me.
Let me thus praise You the way You love best, by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my example, by the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,
the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.

A question that needs answering

Matthew 14-23 (19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, year A)

Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour? I was in university the first time an evangelical Christian friend of mine asked me this question. At the time I was struggling with my faith and could not honestly answer yes. I remember feeling uncomfortable and uneasy. I became defensive and avoided answering the question. I dismissed the question in my mind, thinking it sounded too “Protestant”. My opinion has changed. I now think that it is a good and valid question for Catholics to ask of other Catholics and for each of us to personally consider our answer.

The gospel of today teaches us that in order to be Catholic we need to consciously and continually accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour. Let’s review the events quickly. It is dark and Peter is in a boat with the other disciples. He sees someone walking on the water. At first he thinks it is a ghost, but later he discovers it is Jesus. Jesus then calls Peter out of the boat to walk on the water with Him. Peter steps out of the boat, walks a bit, loses sight of Jesus and begins sinking. Peter then cries out to Jesus for help. Jesus reaches down and saves Him. Now try to imagine what is going through Peter’s head during all of this. Peter must have had incredible trust and faith and Jesus to leave the boat. He put his entire life into Jesus’ hands, believing that Jesus would care for Him. In other words, in getting out of the boat, Peter accepts Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior. Though he makes progress, Peter loses sight of Jesus and begins to sink. Again he cries out to Jesus as His saviour. Each one of us are called to imitate Peter. The boat in the the gospel is a symbol for the Church, a boat we are all in. Jesus invites each of us to follow Him on the water. We each need to personally have the trust, courage and faith to place our lives into His hands. If we don’t accept Him as our Lord and Saviour we will never leave the boat. As we follow Christ, we often lose sight of Jesus and begin  Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour not just once but time and time again.

Unfortunately, as Catholics we are not often challenged to make this decision. Recently you have probably been following the terrible news coming out of Iraq. There, certain Muslim fundamentalists are brutally killing those not of their specific religion, including many Christians and even other Muslims. Christians have been rounded up and given the choice to convert or be killed. Many have been terribly murdered rather than renounce their faith. This incredible commitment to Christ as their Lord and Saviour is remarkable. This situation is in stark contrast to that in the West where we encounter no persecution and yet people are leaving the Church in large numbers. You know the bad news yourselves, probably from first hand experience among your own family and friend. In the United States, and I assume number are similar in Canada, “former Catholics” are the second largest religious group. Among those who are still Catholic, perhaps only 25% attend Mass with any regularity. Why are people drifting away from the practice of their faith like this? Though there are many factors and keeping in mind that everyone has a different story, I think that a main reason is that Catholics are not challenged to personally choose to follow Christ. We can go through years of Catholic school and catechism lessons and never be challenged to make a personal decision to commit our lives fully to Jesus. Not surprisingly, when we become an adult we can easily drift away from the practice of our faith because we never made it our own.

This is something we can change. We need to take steps to ensure that we are continually renewing our decision to accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour and encourage others to do the same. In our own life we can become more aware of our continual need to put commit ourselves to Jesus. Have you accepted Him as your Lord and Saviour? Is this reflected in the way you live? When it comes to encouraging others to deepen their commitment to Christ, I think we should take a cue from the world of advertising. In order to get people to buy their products, advertisers like to appeal to people’s desires. The good news for us is that the deepest desire of every human heart is for a relationship with Jesus. I think it is about time we did some advertizing of our own! Why not advertise more to our friends and family members the many great programs offered by our parish that could allow them to grow closer to Christ? We can do this simply by letting them know what is available and kindly inviting them! This is a particularly timely thing to do as programs will start soon in September. Maybe you know someone who is interested in becoming a Catholic, or was baptized a Catholic but never received Confirmation and is now an adult. Why not invite them to participate in RCIA? Perhaps you know parents who have children in elementary school that are not receiving Catholic education. Why not tell them about the PREP program? Maybe you know or even have teens in High School who do not yet participate in the parish youth ministry program. Invite them! Twists their arms if you need to! It is a wonderful group and they will surely enjoy it. We should give people a chance to say no for themselves and not say no for them by never inviting them.

Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour? Now I would answer, yes, I have accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior and it is something I need to do time and time again. I couldn’t always say this. The fact that I can is on account of other Catholics who invited me to become more involved in the Church and in this way deepen my personal commitment to Jesus. I am happy they did! Let us do the same for others. As September approaches, let us encourage friends and family members to become involved in parish groups that might be appropriate for them. In this way they can draw closer to Jesus, He who is our Lord, Saviour and the deepest desire of our heart.