12 November 2010

Another Lazarus at Our Door

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
            I don’t know about you, but for me, I find it difficult when a person comes up to me and says, “I’ve got good news and bad news; which do you want first?”  I’m guilty, myself, of using this phrase.  But I always hate hearing it.  And I’ll tell you why.  When someone comes up to me and says that, I’m always wondering which I should choose: should I choose the good news first and hope that it carries me through the bad news?  Or should I start with the bad news first and then get built up after I hear the good news?  And just how bad is the bad news and how good is the good news? 
            So, rather than saying, “I’ve got good news and bad news,” I want to start by commending this community for recognizing the poor in our community and reaching out to them.  By our Matthew 25 collection at the end of Mass, where we find those who are in dire need and assist in their plight, by our distribution of food, and many other activities, we are doing a good job at identifying the Lazarus who is poor and sitting right at our doorstep.  We should not be complacent, as Amos warns us, nor should we rest on our laurels.  Rather, we should continue to exercise generosity to those in need and practice the Corporal Works of Mercy to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty.
            But there is another Lazarus, lying at each of the doors of our lives, including my own, whom, I would guess, we ignore on a regular basis.  This Lazarus, too, is covered with sores.  And yet we ignore him.  This Lazarus is the fallen-away or “ex-Catholic.”
            At a recent prayer breakfast in Los Angeles, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, and a personal hero of mine, stated that the largest Christian denomination in the United States today is “former Catholics.”  What’s the reason for this?  Why the great exodus out of the Church?  As Archbishop Dolan says, “we are now living in an era where people believe they can have Christ without his Church; people want a king without a kingdom; they want a shepherd with no flock; they want a spiritual family…with God as their Father and Jesus as their brother and them as the only child.  They want to believe without belonging; they want a general without an army; they want spirituality without religion; they want faith without the faithful.  They want Christ without His Church and for us as Catholics, no can do: Jesus and His Church are one.”
            Why do I bring this up?  Because this is the challenge that we face as those who remain: to bring the Gospel to those who were already baptized, but who live as if they are strangers to Jesus.  The “former Catholic” is the Lazarus of our day, and we so often ignore them.  Last year we had 1200 Catholic students registered here at St. Johns out of a MSU population of about 44,000. If every baptized Catholic on campus came here on Sunday, we’d need a Church bigger than St. Thomas!  I know that there are more Catholics out there who do not come to Church, do not receive the abundance of graces, spiritual support, and love that are available from being connected with the Church.  And just as they exist within my own family and friends, so I’m sure that your roommates, friends, family, and co-workers include those who have fallen away from the practice of their faith.
            But, in general, we tend not to say anything because “we don’t want to offend them;” or “they’re good people.”  Christ didn’t command the disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations, unless they’re already good people.”  The greatest insult we can give people is to not share Jesus with them and bring them back to the fold.  If Christ is the greatest treasure in our life, then why don’t we want to share that message with others?!?  Why would we deprive people of the treasure of the Church to which they have a right, just as the poor have a right to our assistance?
            Of course, if we’re afraid that we’re going to offend them, then we do need to examine our message.  Are we trying to coax them back by assuring them that if they don’t, they’ll go to hell?  For some that might work, but for most it doesn’t.  We need to convincingly, lovingly invite others back to the practice of the faith of their baptism.  But to do that, we actually have to talk to them.  At Sparticipation, when we handed out flyers for St. Johns and encouraged others to come, there were many I talked to who, at first were going to pass us by.  But after an invitation from me, or from one of the students or staff working, they at least picked up information, and I am willing to bet that some of you here are here because someone welcomed you to practice your faith, to go to Mass, to be a part of this community. 
            To spread the Good News, we must know it ourselves.  And we try to offer many opportunities to grow in both love and knowledge of Jesus Christ and His Church through Fr. Joe’s Bible Study, Men’s and Women’s Groups, retreats, and many more ways.  We try to make sure that you are well equipped to invite others back to the Church, and to answer their concerns about the Church and Her teachings so that you can be evangelists: people who spread the Good News.  And, of course, if the Catholics you know all practice, then we can spread that Good News to those who are not connected to Christ through His One Church.  The mission never ends.
            Each of us knows at least one Lazarus, if not more, who is suffering on our doorsteps because they are not connected to Christ through His Church.  Their wounds of ignorance and sin are festering and need to be healed by Christ, the Divine Physician, through His sacramental graces.  Don’t ignore them; invite them back so that they and we, at the end of our lives, can celebrate with Abraham in the Kingdom of Heaven.