What is our parish for? That’s a good question to start us off with in this new season. My answer is, it’s for two things: First, it’s to increase the holiness of its members – so we can help one another to do God’s will, to “get to heaven,” to become saints. Second, it’s to do the work of Christ to “seek out and save what is lost” [Luke 19:10]. I’m convinced we can’t effectively do either unless we do both. We all need to grow in effective discipleship -become more holy – so that our work for “the lost” has better results; and we can’t grow in holiness unless we’re imitating Christ’s own care for those in need.
Who are the “lost” today? I’d single out three groups. First, even though the word doesn’t strictly apply and could be misinterpreted, I’d name the young people of our world. People aren’t born with a sense of how to grow into a flourishing, happy, virtuous adult – we all have to be taught. So helping young people to find the “way” to true life – as human beings and as followers of Christ – is clearly part of our job.
The second group is the “spiritually lost.” These are sometimes former or non-practicing Catholics, and at other times “spiritual seekers” who may have little or no religious formation. It’s our job, at the very least, to make it easy for them to find us and to welcome and help them when they seek us out.
And the third group of “lost” people is composed of the ones society forgets about – the poor, the elderly, people in nursing homes and prisons, peoplewith chronic disabilities, the long-term unemployed, the homeless, the recent immigrant…
How do we learn to care well for these people in Christ’s name? That’s the second part of the Holy Work: We become more like Christ, become more holy. You know the basics: daily prayer, weekly Mass and Holy Communion, spiritual reading, spiritual guidance in some form… But there’s one key item that many of us miss: growth in self-knowledge. Think of Jesus’ words about ineffective attempts to help others because people don’t know themselves:
[pullquote_center width=”90%”]Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. [Mt 7:3-5][/pullquote_center]
In my experience many people truly seeking holiness, people who not only use the sacraments regularly but practice private devotions, go on retreats, and the like make little progress – because they have never heard about the importance of working toward deeper knowledge of themselves.
Consider these words from St. Theresa of Avila:
[pullquote_center width=”90%”]Prayer is not just spending time with God. It is partly that–but if it ends there, it is fruitless. No, prayer is dynamic. Authentic prayer changes us-unmasks us–strips us–indicates where growth is needed. Authentic prayer never leads to complacency, but needles us–makes us uneasy at times. It leads us to true self-knowledge, to true humility.[/pullquote_center]
[pullquote_center width=”90%”]I do not know whether I have put this clearly; self-knowledge is of such consequence that I would not have you careless of it, though you may be lifted to heaven in prayer,[/pullquote_center]
How do we learn about ourselves? How do we truly help the “lost?” These are good questions to think about.
More next week. Until then, peace.