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.