April 26, 2013 – One God, One Church

Well thankfully this past week was somewhat quieter than the last, although that’s not to say there are no hardships out there that folks are dealing with.  Locally the high water is causing problems for those in the flood plains, and globally there is continued unrest in Syria, where it appears chemical weapons may have been used by the government against rebel forces.  We have much to be thankful for, and we must give praise our God who gives us all good things.  However, there is never a lack of intentions to pray for, and this is certainly our duty as Christians also.

Although he has only been our Pope for about a month and a half, I think it is more than clear what the College of Cardinals saw in Pope Francis that led them to believe he would be a wonderful leader of the Catholic faithful.  His humility and simplicity of lifestyle have been great examples of being a true witness.  He has recognized the need to reform the Curia by appointing a group of 8 Cardinals from all parts of the globe to advise him in this task.  And hardly a day goes by that he doesn’t say something powerful and significant. 

 This past Tuesday, during Mass with some members of the College of Cardinals, Pope Francis spoke in his homily about something which was of interest to me, and should be of interest to all Catholics – active and especially non-active.  Some of those who do not attend church regularly make the argument that they can be prayerful people and can live good lives on their own – that attendance in a church is not required to be a follower of Jesus.  Pope Francis, however, made clear in his homily that this is not the case.  He tells us that “the Church is increasingly a Mother, a Mother of many, many children: she becomes a Mother, ever more fully a Mother, a Mother who gives us faith, a Mother who gives us our identity. But Christian identity is not an identity card. Christian identity means being a member of the Church, since all these people belonged to the Church, to Mother Church, for apart from the Church it is not possible to find Jesus.  The great Paul VI said: it is an absurd dichotomy to wish to live with Jesus but without the Church, to follow Jesus but without the Church, to love Jesus but without the Church.  And that Mother Church who gives us Jesus also gives us an identity which is not simply a rubber stamp: it is membership. Identity means membership, belonging.  Belonging to the Church: this is beautiful!”

Pope Francis then elaborates on that day’s Gospel reading, in which Jesus said “But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.  My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  He tells us “Let us think of Mother Church, who is increasing, growing with new children to whom she gives the identity of faith, for one cannot believe in Jesus without the Church. Jesus himself says so in the Gospel … unless we are “Jesus’ sheep”, faith does not come; it is a faith which is watered down, insubstantial.”  This message is particularly important in today’s society, in which there is more of a trend toward “believing without belonging.”  And of course there is the trend of leaving behind any kind of belief.  I mentioned the statistic last week that about 20 percent of our population have no religious affiliation.  When you break down the numbers a little further, the trend is even more disturbing.  A third of those born after 1980 are unaffiliated, compared to 15 percent among their “baby boom” parents and five percent in their grandparents’ generation.

So what is causing this trend, particularly among younger people?  As is usually the case, I’m sure there is not just one simple answer.  Our culture has turned the church’s teachings on social issues such as abortion, religious freedom, and many others completely upside-down.  Others still have not gained their trust in the church since the sexual abuse crisis surfaced along with other scandals.  And for some people, Sunday has become just another day to try to squeeze in sports and other activities, and church gets “conveniently” shoved to the background.  I’m sure there are other factors at work also.  The bottom line was laid out recently by Cardinal Dolan, who said that “while more and more people have no problem at all with Jesus Christ, they love him and accept him as their Lord and savior, they do have problems with the church.  More and more people don’t see the need for the church.”  For Catholics, he said, faith in and love of Jesus Christ have always been linked with being part of the church.  “The two were a package deal – you don’t have one without the other.  We have to reclaim that lustre. We have to reclaim that relationship that Jesus and his church are one.” 

These trends scream at the need for evangelization – for us to be messengers of the meaning and nature of the church.  This would be a challenge under normal circumstances.  However, in our Diocese, with the decline in the number of clergy and the need for parishes to combine resources, the challenge becomes that much greater.  As our parishes continue to meet in our partnerships and discuss the future, we must remember that our main goal has to be how we will continue to be church to everyone with fewer clergy.  Before we concern ourselves with how we will use buildings, with what times our Masses will be and where they will be, how finances will be used, etc., we must have a plan for being church.  How will we continue to provide the Sacraments to the most people?  How will we effectively educate our youth as well as adults?  What additional roles will lay people have to assume to remain church?  None of these questions will have an easy answer, and we need the prayers of the Holy Spirit to guide us as the process continues.

Have a great (and dry) week.  Peace.

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One Response to “April 26, 2013 – One God, One Church”

  1. Fr. Gene Says:

    Brian, excellent blog. This one is a must read for everyone. You captured the heart of Pope Francis and the need for Lay Evangelizing. Thanks.

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