You have likely heard the saying, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” Well this Sunday’s First Reading definitely encompasses that. The Lord destroys His temple, uses pagans to punish Israel for their unfaithfulness, and then, using a different pagan king, He rebuilds the temple.
We are now into week four of our series on discipleship. We started by affirming that we are all called to be disciples through Baptism. In the second week, we talked of God’s love and how accepting that love gives us the strength to be disciples. Last week, we talked about God cleaning our hearts to remove the things, the idols, that stop us from realizing our great calling. Remember that a disciple is one who participates in the mission of Christ and that mission is to love God and our neighbour as ourselves and to make disciples of all nations.
Today we look at what happens when we are not disciples. What has the cost been to us by not being disciples? I remember an experience I had, that if someone told me about I would not have believed. I visited Detroit, Michigan where the auto industry was king. It was not king anymore. There were blocks and blocks of abandoned houses, nice houses with pillars and fancy porches with roofs starting to cave in, massive factory buildings abandoned and empty. It was a sight I thought was impossible to see in a developed country, but there these buildings were, abandoned. I am sure the people there thought they would always have high paying auto jobs but it all left Detroit and it was like a car without an engine. The cathedral, once in an affluent part of the city, was almost in a ghetto.
This is sort of what has happened in the Catholic Church in our country. They say if you want to find the largest Catholic congregation in a city in the USA you go to the Assembly of God Church. As we look across the border in Canada, many dioceses, especially on the East coast, are closing and amalgamating Churches. I remember going to the city of St. John, New Brunswick and walking up to check out the Cathedral and being surprised with all the land and surrounding buildings, but being even more surprised that they all stood there lifeless. At one time perhaps schools, convents and hospitals. Now empty. The West coast seems to be more insulated, perhaps by greater immigration and slightly more faithfulness to the Church, but we are all feeling the pinch. At our next clerical gathering, we will discus the selling of two Church properties. Our congregations are getting older, many churches have more funerals than Baptisms. One fellow gave us a talk on evangelization that for every one you baptize, four will leave your Church. I guess we could stop baptizing but I don’t think that was his point. We are losing members. We are not making disciples and if we don’t take a hard look at the way we are doing things, we will continue in this decline. The Church will always exist, thanks to the protection of God, but it may not exist in our town. In the book of Revelation there are letters to seven Churches with warnings to shape up or you will cease to exist. They have all ceased to exist. It might be slightly interesting to note that every Auxiliary Bishop is bishop of a diocese that has been suppressed. There are many Auxiliary Bishops that means many dioceses have been suppressed.
I know this sounds quite grim and I could give you many statistics that speak of the real decline in our country of the Church and in Europe. You and I can even look in our own families and see this decline, even among our siblings and children. The truth is heart breaking and shows that the Church has lost its relevance for many people in the world, and even for many Catholics.
This is what happened in the First Reading and God took it away from them, put them into exile and then rebuilt when they were back on board. Some people think that the answer is to become more conservative. Let’s shut the doors and not let anyone else in. We must protect the Church. We will become a museum of faith. It won’t help because it is never helpful to be stuck anywhere. We could perhaps slow down the decline, but it would only be doing that. Some say, If only the Church was more liberal it would be okay. It would draw more people. Get rid of that divorce law and the clerical celibacy and all the Church rules. But we do not see growth in liberal churches, they are closing faster than we are. We can’t remain stuck in the past. We must know our past, love our past, but we can’t be looking at our belly buttons and think that it is going to save us. We also can’t throw out who we are in order to attract people because we wouldn’t be attracting them to the Catholic Church.
So, you might be asking, “Well, what is the answer then Father?” We see there is a problem and we can’t bury our heads in the sand any longer. This is very depressing so why do I mention it? I mention it because there is some very good news attached to all this. We can totally reverse this trend, we can stop the decline and fulfill our mission to sanctify our ourselves and families and this city. Yes, it is totally possible and not only possible, it is what we are called to do. So what are we supposed to do? The answer, my brothers and sisters, is awake sleeper rise.
We are where we are because we have thought we could just exist, we could just baptize, we could live our lives, tip our hat to old mother Church and continue like the people of Detroit. No, we need to raise up, brothers and sisters, and become the disciples we have been called to be. We need to accept where we are. Cleanse our house of our apathy.
First we need to convert and ask God for the grace to love Him with our whole heart.
Next we need to start thinking of others who often come here and leave unnoticed, uncared for. I see it all the time on Sundays now that I know many of your names. I see that many of you don’t know each other’s names. Not in this holy sanctuary, but in other places, people got mad if I didn’t remember their names, which was something I was trying to do. But do you care to know your brothers’ and sisters’ names here? Do you know that we are more closely related through the Blood of Christ than through our flesh? I need to know your names, not because I am the leader here and customers feel better if you know their names, no, I need to know your names because you are my children and I am your father. And you need to know each others’ names because you are brothers and sisters. Do you feel the brotherly love here? We must start by stopping of thinking about our ourselves. This is our Church, our family. How do others feel when they come here? Do they see a family who loves one another, who care about each other or do they see an assembly of people each doing their own thing not knowing or caring really about others? If you feel uncared for here, start caring about others because you are in this, too.
We celebrate the greatest act of sacrificial love. We celebrate the greatest, most generous act of mercy, but is it being lived out here? I don’t really see it. I agree and take responsibility, too, for this, that I have not lived out the mission of the Church. But I can see that it is possible.
I want you to imagine for a moment if you had no faith background or you were a struggling person or hadn’t been to Church for awhile. What would you want to see when you got here?
Would you want to see reverence? Perhaps if you know this is where God dwells you might want to see that.
Would you want to hear inspiring music?
Would you want to see a community that loved one another and cared about each other?
Would you want to feel like an outsider?
Would you want someone to say hi and maybe offer to sit with you to show you how to make it through Mass and not do something you shouldn’t?
Now, do unto others as you would have them do to you. You who complain that I don’t know your names, you know how much it hurts so now go and learn other people’s names. You who like it that I know your name, learn other people’s names so they will like it. You will be here longer than me, mostly likely, so you have to love one another. In this way you are the Church they meet. You are the Christ they meet. The Cheers motto: You want to go where everybody knows your name and a place where they are always glad you came.
We need to be connected to each other. We are showered in love and mercy at Mass now we have to show that we have been cleaned and nourished by using that grace to build our community, our fellowship, our brotherhood in the Lord. No one should enter here without someone saying hi. What if your cold response to someone is their only experience in coming to a church? Do you want that person’s soul on your conscience, because we couldn’t love each other? Jesus came to search out the lost. Are we doing that? Even in our own parish communities are we telling people, “Behave, then you can belong”? Is that the model Christ used? It looks like he let them belong so they could behave. Yes, this is risky business, being a disciple. If people came in here and said, “Look how they love one another,” as they did to the early Christians, they would join and be saved. You know it amazing to think that people joined the early Christians, even though it was a death sentence, because the love was better than life itself. We, like Detroit, have lost our engine but God is waiting to give it back and raise up the next generation of disciples. Are you willing? If so, pray right now, “Lord, I want to fulfill your plan for my life. I want to say yes to your call. Raise me up to intentionally follow you and make other disciples for Your Name.”