It is too little, the Lord says, for you to be my servant;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
– Isaiah 49:5-6, today’s first reading
Maybe our church has little effect because we Christians think small.
Those of us who are older may remember being trained in our faith to follow all the rules, to go to Mass and receive the sacraments, and to pray (all wonderful things, by the way); but the goal was, I think, too often a narrow one. We heard that this way of life would “get us into heaven” or “save our souls” (both I hope true, by the way). But I know I didn’t hear the point of all this, even though I said it several times a day. The goal was never pointed out to me in a way I could understand, if it was pointed out at all.
In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Thy kingdom come.” Jesus taught His followers to pray this way because this was the urgent center of his preaching and his life’s mission: To bring the kingship of His Father back to its proper place, from which it had been usurped by sin. His goal was to begin a movement that would turn an upside-down world back rightside-up, bringing justice, peace, and reconciliation – and he recruited others to share in that task. Those “others” include us.
It’s possible to misunderstand this charge: in every generation, including our own, Christians have tried to make the secular world conform to Jesus’ way by force. (Just think of the “culture wars” going on in our country, not to mention examples from our past.) Some even seem to confuse discipleship with adherence to a particular political agenda, which has been a tragic mistake through history and is probably one again today. But a retreat into individual “soul-saving” is not the correct response to that sort of abuse.
So where is the proper path, if it’s not to impose a political platform on society, and it’s not to retreat into individual piety? The answer is in the “Great Commission” which Jesus gave to his apostles before the Ascension [Mt 28:19-20]: Go and make disciples! It is by conversion, one person at a time, that we prepare for the Lord’s return. What does this mean in practice for us?
Recent popes have called our task the “new evangelization”: it has three parts.
Part three is the missionary work of the church, not our everyday preoccupation (except insofar as we pray for and support the missions). But the first two parts are our job – and they’re exactly what we’ve been calling “growing engagement.” Gallup gives us proven tools for doing #1 and #2 on that list; that’s why growing numbers of parishes across the country are using Gallup’s tools just as we are: they work.
But they work only when a critical mass of parishioners use the tools – including the leaders, but not just the leaders. That’s why I’m encouraging everyone to focus this year on encouraging and affirming others: it creates an atmosphere and energy that people want to be part of. And it works against and, to a degree, compensates for the effects of sin in the parish’s workings. (Remember: It takes four engaged parishioners to undo the damage caused by one actively disengaged parishioner.)
So be a part of spreading light in what you say and do; here, certainly, but in your family and workplace and neighborhood as well. People know you’re a Catholic and a member of our parish. Let them see by the way you treat them that they might want a share in what God is doing here.
Until next week, peace.