Showing posts with label witness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label witness. Show all posts

Are you a commercial for Christ?

John 1:6-8, 19-28 (3rd week of Advent, year b)

Advertizing is all around us, particularly as we prepare for Christmas. Television is full of commercials. Open a newspaper and there is advertizing everywhere. Whether it be on the side of the road, at bus stops or on the skytrain, billboards are all over the place. According to a conservative estimate, the average North American is exposed to 250 commercials - also called marketing messages - each and every day. Ads are so common that sometimes we can forget their power to influence us.

The purpose of commercials and advertising is to kindle a desire within our hearts for the promoted product. For this reason, advertisers try to put their products in the best possible light, showing their most appealing aspects. It goes without saying that advertising does not dwell on the negative aspects of what is being sold, this would not entice people to buy it! For example, a commercial for a hamburger will focus on how delicious it would be to eat, rather than the fact that it is bad for our health. A travel brochure for a vacation destination will show pictures of all the most beautiful beaches and locations rather than the dirty and rougher neighbourhoods. Advertizing for cars will focus on how fun it is to drive or try to convince you that if you buy it your life will suddenly be more successful and adventurous life. It won’t say much about the danger associated with driving or the negative effect it has on the environment. Good advertising is able to make us desire to have the product it promotes.

Our lives are meant to be commercials for Jesus. People should see the way that we act and speak and, knowing that we are Christians, should have a desire grow within them to become followers of Jesus as well. But, you object, it sounds a little crass when we speak about advertizing for Jesus. Perhaps you think it is impolite and unCanadian to push our beliefs or religion on others. To this, I say that we should not be shy to advertize for Jesus! We tolerate so much advertising in our lives for products that are ultimately disappointing. Things are never as good as they appear in a commercial. With Jesus, it’s just the opposite. He is always better than we can describe with our words. Further, Jesus is the only thing that can satisfy the human heart. He is the only “product” that will never disappoint. In the end, He is the one thing in the world worth advertizing!

In fact, we often talk about advertizing for Jesus, we just don’t use that world. The “churchier” words we use to describe the advertizing we do for Jesus are witness and testimony. In the gospel, we heard how John the Baptist came to be a witness and give testimony for Jesus. He did this by what he said and by how he lived. With his words he led people away from himself and towards Jesus. His words had weight because of the good, virtuous life that he lived. His life is an incredibly effective commercial for Jesus. Our way of living should do the same. Sometimes we are not good witnesses and our lives do not entice people to follow Jesus. For example, when we are bitter, unforgiving, selfish, cruel, dishonest and speak crudely, people will rightly think to themselves, “if this is what is means to be a follower of Jesus, then I want no part of it.” On the other hand, when we are joyful, honest, generous, peaceful and kind people will think to themselves “it seems that knowing Jesus really does make a difference, I want that in my life, so I need to come to know Jesus.” Our lives are supposed to be good commercials for Jesus.

One important way we give witness is by how we use our voices during Mass. What comes out of our mouths while in Church is a commercial for our faith - either good or bad. I always love celebrating Mass for the school children at the school. Above all, I am struck by one thing: their singing! By the way that they sing with enthusiasm, the students make an incredible witness. If newcomers were to walk into the Church and hear them for the first time, they would think that they really want to be at Mass, that Mass is something important and that they want to praise God with joy. Hearing them, makes you want to join in!  On the other hand, what type of message does it send when people do not participate in the singing at Mass? If people were to walk into a Church for the first time and hear half-hearted, joy-less singing, what would they think? Probably that what goes on inside the Church isn’t too important and that those present don’t really want to be there. Would a visitor want to be part of community that is lacking in joy? No way. Let’s consider what our participation in the singing at Mass, as individuals and as a community, says about us. This is a very timely as we approach Christmas. At the Christmas Masses many come who don’t regularly attend Mass. We have an incredible opportunity to witness simply by our singing. Hopefully those who attend the Christmas Masses will be encouraged to return more regularly! I realize that not everyone is talented when it comes to singing. On the one hand, some people sing loudly who should probably be singing more softly! On the other hand, most of us can sing with more enthusiasm. Pope Francis has recently encouraged us to overcome our embarrassment and hesitation and sing more during Mass. It does not matter, he said, if we are good singers. It is impossible to imagine that “you are able to shout when your team scores a goal and you cannot sing the Lord’s praises, and leave behind your composure a bit to sing.”

During Advent, we tend to focus on what we are doing to help prepare ourselves to welcome Jesus at Christmas. This Sunday, let us ask a different question: what are you doing to help others welcome Jesus into their heart at Christmas? Like John the Baptist, are you a good witness by what you say and act?  In particular, today we can consider how well we participate in the singing at the Mass. Is the way you use your voice at Mass an appealing commercial that leads people closer to Jesus?

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.