There is a small bit of advice that Jesus gave his first evangelizers that we do well to heed, lest we be overwhelmed with the task of trying to evangelize a culture that has gone increasingly dark. In effect Jesus counsels:
When you enter a place, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house (Lk 10:5-7).
Note the two counsels:
1. Find out where home is and
2. Stay and work there.
A few brief thoughts on both these areas.
As for finding where home is, all of us in the Church, have both a vocational call and some specific gifts within that call. Are you called to marriage, priesthood, religious, or perhaps a life of dedicated celibacy?
As a priest, I am a parish priest. And thus my primary work is to till the ground of my own parish, which is understood not merely as a roster of people, but a physical territory with boundaries. I, and my parish with me, are responsible to see that every human person in our boundaries has heard the call of Jesus Christ to be disciples. And, to all who will answer that call, I and my parish with me, must help to deepen the faith of one another, through Word, Sacraments and Witness. This is the “house” I am to find and stay here.
It is similar with religious, who may move about in a wider sort of way and be less territorial, but who nonetheless find their home in the charisms and apostolic work of the community they join.
Those who live the live of a kind of dedicated celibacy, (perhaps because they cannot marry, or have simply not found a suitable marriage partner) need to find “home” by assessing the gifts God has given them and using them in a focused sort of way, whether in a specific place or manner.
If you are married, your primary responsibility is your spouse and children, any grandchildren, and to some degree, your wider family. Evangelization is most essential here. This is the house your are to find and stay there.
But note, in all these areas, the key is to find out where “home” is and stay there. It is to find out where and what God has called me to do and do that with stability and regularity.
It is too easy for us to get out of our lane, and range far from home. And this leads to several problems.
Problem of the Perfunctory – We can cast our net too widely, and become involved in too many pursuits, or in too many far flung places. If we are not careful, our work for the Lord ends up being a thousand miles wide and only two inches thick. Depth is often more important that width.
Problem of Proximity – It may well be argued that our culture has suffered such a rapid decline because there is too much mobility, and cultivating the deeper relationships necessary to handing on the faith and culture are largely absent. Even members of nuclear families spend little real time together. Parishes too have very ephemeral memberships, and often experience little continuity in leadership. No one knows where home is anymore. But that is where the faith is cultivated. There is a lot to be said for proximity and stability.
Problem of Pride – Finally there is a sense in which not staying in our lane leads us into others lanes. In particular today there is the problem of easily critiquing the vineyard of others, but not tending our own. It is easy for a priest to critique the Bishop or bishops, and yet his won parish has serious problems. It is easy to critique the pastor or bishop for the poor condition of the Church or even the culture, and yet, meanwhile, some of those who critique have numerous family members who are away from the faith, living in sin and disorder.
Yes, when we fail to stay in our own lane and work our own issues, it is so much easier to find fault with others. The best course is to find out where home is and stay and work there, to find our lane and stay in it. To be clear, some mutual critique is necessary and helpful, but only if offered in the humility and experience of having worked and struggled in one’s own vineyard.
There is a second sense of staying it might be of some value to pursue. For another of our modern tendencies is to want quick results, and to give up easily when results are not fairly instant. In this since we do well to ponder another meaning of the Lord’s command to stay.
We sometimes speak in English of “Staying in the conversation.” Generally this means that we appreciate that persuasion, and drawing someone to some aspect of the truth, is not often accomplished merely in one moment. Rather a conversation stretching over many sessions, even weeks for years is sometimes necessary bring about the kind of consensus we seek in the truth of Jesus Christ.
One sermon, class or talk is seldom enough to draw forth sudden and instant conversion. Rather, the ongoing conversation of a lifetime is what it really takes to prepare us to meet God.
This is also true in our desire to draw others to the faith, especially those closest to us. Ongoing conversation, and the deepening of relationships is usually what it takes to effect lasting conversion.
Thus, in this sense, when the Lord says “stay,” he means “persevere.” When a farmer plants a seed, he would be foolish to expect a harvest the very next day. Rather, the seed having been planted, it is now necessary to cultivate around the seed, see that the field is irrigated, and the crop is kept safe from the poison of disease and insects. It is an ongoing work which, by God’s grace yields and abundant fruit in due season.
The human person of course may require more than a season. All the more reason that we must stay in the conversation with others.
Indeed, sometimes we must be content to plant seeds that others will harvest. As a priest, I have sometimes had the joy of harvesting where others have planted. Perhaps there is a knock at the rectory door and someone returns to the Church after 30 years away to make a confession. I am simply bringing in the harvest someone else planted. I am continuing conversation to someone else began.
In my parish, as we go out in the neighborhood and knock on doors, or witness in the local park, we experience both the planting of the seed, and also sometimes the harvest. Sometimes too we are engaged in cultivating. For some only grudgingly accept our invitation for a moment of their time, and we are breaking hard ground to plant seed. In other cases, some joyfully receive us and tell us how their mother was Catholic or their spouse and that they are happy to join us in prayer, or for the Mass on Sunday. Still others are not ready for the harvest, but we are able to cultivate a bit, perhaps clearing out the weeds of misinformation or misunderstanding, or showing for the smiling supportive face of the Church, where as they had been hurt in the past.
But all of us need to be willing to initiate and stay in the conversation in our families, our parishes, and wherever the Lord calls us to work.
Mad, Sad, Glad – Finally, one of the things I have discovered as a priest is that, as our culture has become more secular, and soft, many biblical themes are shocking when people hear them, often for the first time, or for the first time in a long number of years.
When I was first ordained, people often called me “a different sort of priest.” This was because I spoke of things that many of them had not heard from the mouth of the priest for many, many years, or ever. I trained myself to preach by listening to everything Bishop Fulton Sheen had ever uttered, or written. I had also listened to a great number of Protestant evangelical preachers. And thus when I preached, I spoke in the terminology of the “old-time religion.” I warned of death, and judgment, heaven and hell. I spoke plainly of the reality of mortal sin, and the need for confession and repentance. And I named certain sins such as contraception, fornication, abortion. I also took plainly the meaning of the Lord’s words it if we did not learn to forgive, we would not be forgiven and that we ought to develop a holy Fear of the Lord.
And speaking in this way, I noticed that people at first were quite shocked. A few were pleased, but many more were angered and dismayed. They had grown accustomed to the abstractions and generalities of common Catholic preaching in the 70s and 80s. In those years there was a sort of unwritten rule among Catholic preachers to do no harm, and offend no one, ever, under any circumstances.
Despite early push-back from parishioners and some fellow clergy, something in me (I pray it was the Lord rather than my pride) told me to stay in the conversation, to not give up. I figured it might take time, but the people would get used, once again, to hearing basic biblical and Catholic terminology. And largely, I have found this to be true.
Today, when I first go to a parish, people don’t often know what to make of me. But, to their praise, most of them stay in the conversation, And little by little, we both day and I move forward To re-appropriate the biblical vision that had become somewhat obscured in these secular and soft times. There tends to be a kind of cycle where they go from mad, to sad, to glad, at least collectively speaking. Some never adjust and, while denying that I should mention Hell, tell me to go there 🙂 But, most people readjust to God’s truth just fine. By God’s grace too, many younger priests with the similar thinking have also emerged to do this work of speaking again in strong and clear biblical terminology.
So, if you are a parent, or family member, a priest or religious, it is important for all of us to learn how to stay in the conversation, and to be patient with one another as we try in stages to grow in a holy conversation. All of us need to accustom our ears to hear the unvarnished Word of God, and also to have our lips trained to speak it clearly and with love.
It is a process that takes time on both sides of the equation. And thus the Lord says to us today, Find out where home is and stay there; find your part of the kingdom to cultivate your part of the culture to convert. Find your gifts and use them. And in doing this, stay put, persevere, have the long run in mind, develop deeper relationships, and stay in the conversation.