14 October 2015
"Rebuild My Church"
Solemnity of the Dedication of St. Joseph Church
While praying at the Church of San Damiano, Francis of Assisi heard Christ speak to him from a crucifix, saying, “Francis, rebuild my church, which you can see is falling into ruin.” Francis though that Jesus was speaking to him of the physical structure of the little church, and so he started to rebuild it, stone by stone. But, gradually, Francis realized that Jesus meant that Francis was to rebuild not a physical structure, but the Church, the living stones of God’s temple.
I tell that story, not because last week was the day which celebrates St. Francis on 4 October; not because our current supreme pontiff is named Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi. I tell that story because, on this day on which we celebrate the dedication of this beautiful church, Jesus is asking us to do the same.
Today, Jesus invites us to be rebuilt into the living stones of God’s temple in heaven. To be honest, that’s a life-long process. As Bishop Mengeling so often says, we’re not done yet. We are not done being formed into those living stones until the day we die, and even then, many of us will likely still be shaped through the purification of Purgatory. And although today is a day of rejoicing, as we look at the status of the Church, we could easily become depressed.
While the Diocese of Lansing is doing ok, more priests are retiring or are at retirement age, than we are ordaining. We need more men to respond to God’s call to follow Jesus as a priest and serve His people, especially through providing the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance, which, without priests, we do not have. More and more families are not putting God as their first priority. We see this through fewer couples getting married in the Church; fewer baptisms; fewer people attending Mass or practicing their faith in any way, shape, or form. It leads so many parents and pastors to ask, “What did I do wrong? What more was I supposed to do?” Fewer and fewer people understand their faith and what the Church teaches. There is confusion about marriage, about the Eucharist, about sin, even about who Jesus is and the necessity of Jesus and His Mystical Body, the Church, for salvation. The Church, in so many ways, is in disrepair. Before this vast undertaking, we can easily ask ourselves a question that St. Francis perhaps asked himself: what I can, an individual, do, to rebuild the Church? The task is so great!
But Our God is a God of hope, not despair. And so there is a way to respond to Jesus’ call to each of us to rebuild His Church. And this divine renovation cannot happen by money; we cannot throw dollars at this problem. The rebuilding happens with us being shaped into the living stone that God wants us to be. The plan is the same as it was for St. Francis: become a saint. That’s all it takes. We tend to think of the saints as those who did extraordinary things. And certainly there are some canonized saints who did amazing things. But as St. Thérèse teaches us, we don’t have to do great things. God does want us to do little things with great love. Some God might call to do great things, but let’s all start where we can, by doing little things with great love.
The first way to respond to God’s invitation is to develop a relationship with Him. Many of us know, at least a little, about Jesus. But how many of us know Jesus? You can know a lot about a person without knowing that person The way that we start to get to know Jesus is not complicated. Two practices suffice: daily prayer and going to Mass at least every Sunday and Holyday. Mass is where we encounter God in a most intimate way through the Body and Blood of Jesus. We receive God into us. Why do we go to Mass? Is it because of an obligation? Is it because we want to hear good music? Is it because we’re convinced that one of these Sundays Father Anthony is actually going to give a good homily? Those are all things that might get us into the door, but those reasons won’t keep many of us going to Mass each Sunday and Holyday. We go to Mass to worship God and to receive God into us. Going to Mass for any other reason is like going to a football game for the band. Bands are great! I love the MSU Marching Band. But you don’t drop the kind of money you would for a football game just for the band (though some band parents might). The reason for going to a football game is to watch football. All the other stuff is extra. You have received season tickets, worth more money than all the gold in Fort Knox, to a preview of heaven and an encounter with God through sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Going to Mass at least every Sunday and Holyday is a great way to start to become a saint. Now I know that I’m preaching to the choir. But we all know someone, maybe a friend, maybe a family member, who hasn’t been to Mass in a while. Invite them to come back home. Invite them to come to Mass with you.
Daily prayer is another way to begin to become the saint that God wants us to be. It is supposed to be the growth from our experience at Mass. How often do you talk to your colleagues at work? How often do you talk to your friends? How often do you talk to your spouse or your children? If you talk to God less than any of these people, or any others, there’s room for improvement. The less you think you need to pray, the more you actually do. And don’t forget to listen. Conversations are two-way streets.
Those are two simple ways to start becoming the saint that God called each of you to be in baptism. There are more. But let’s start with the basics. Then we can talk about reading Scripture regularly, sharing faith in small groups, going on yearly retreats or to the Women’s or Men’s Conferences. There’s a lot of disrepair in the church right now. We can easily despair. But, if we become saints, in God’s way for us as an individual, just like St. Francis responded to God’s way for him to become a saint as an individual, then God’s church will be rebuilt. There will be more good news. And, most importantly, we’ll prepare ourselves to be ready to spend eternity in heaven with God, enveloped by His love with all the other people who were saints and helped to rebuild God’s church. God is inviting you today: rebuild his Church!