Where are the Other Nine? – A Question YOU must Answer

In the Gospel for yesterday (Sunday’s)  Mass the Lord Jesus healed ten lepers. Only one of them returned to thank him. And Jesus asked the following question:

Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? (Luke 17:17)

We have discussed before (HERE) that, when Jesus asks a question, you’re supposed to answer it yourself. Do not wait for some one else to answer it. Don’t just wait and see how someone in the Biblical story answered it. YOU answer it, for yourself.

So Jesus just asked us a question: Ten were cleansed were they not? Where are the other nine?  OK, so where are they? “Who?”, you might ask. Well, think in terms of evangelization. Do you not know at least nine other people who need to return to God, to the Church and to the sacraments? The Lord is asking you (not the person next to you), “Where are the other nine?”

Now the question has a rhetorical quality to it. The Lord is not merely curious as to the physcial whereabouts of unchurched loved ones and friends. It would seem He also wants to know why they are not “here,” close to him in the sacraments. We saw in yesterday’s blog post (HERE) that the gospel is really in the form of a Mass and the leper kneeling before him to give thanks has a Eucharistic meaning. So, in this sense, the Lord wants to know why the missing “nine” are not kneeling before God in the great thanksgiving we call the Eucharist (a Greek word which means to give thanks) to render thanks and receive further blessings.

So where are the other nine?

  1. Where is your spouse who fell away from the faith years ago?
  2. Where is your son or daughter who stopped going to church in college?
  3. Where is your brother?
  4. Where is your co-worker who “used to be Catholic”?
  5. And to the priest and parish leaders:
  6. Where is that parishioner who used to be so dedicated and hasn’t been seen in months?
  7. Where is the choir member who once sang all those solos?
  8. Where is the parish secretary who got ill and had to retire but you haven’t contacted since?
  9. Ten were made whole, were they not? Where are the other nine?

Why me? It is a true fact that we cannot be personally and primarily responsible for every one’s whereabouts and falling away from Mass. But neither can we be wholly detached from this matter. One day God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?” And Cain replied with a question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Now, of course, Cain had other issues going on. (!) But aside from those, his question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is demonstrably shallow. The fact is, we are our brother’s “keeper”  in the sense that their whereabouts and well-being should be important to us.  It should grieve us if they have drifted from God and the sacraments. Perhaps they did this because they were hurt, or are sick. Or perhaps they have grown lukewarm or have drifted into serious sin. Yes, “Where is your brother?”

And so, the question, “Where are the other nine?” is a question we must answer. And if that means that we must go and seek the other nine and find the answer, then we ought to get about doing it. We don’t need to start with lectures. Simple heart-felt questions can often be the best beginning:

  1. How have you been?
  2. I haven’t seen you in Church recently. Are you OK?
  3. Did someone hurt you?
  4. Has your health been poor?
  5. What keeps you from coming?
  6. Can I help?
  7. How do you experience God in your life?
  8. Do you know we miss you?
  9. Do you know we need you?
  10. Do you know the Lord wants to feed you?
  11. Come with me back to Mass this Sunday.

The Archbishop in his recent letter on Evangelization (Disciples of the Lord) says,

This is our mandate: to witness to others  so that they reawaken to and rediscover the vital and inexhaustible friendship of  Jesus Christ. Sisters and brothers, our eagerness and zeal for the task can be both the invitation and support for those who take their first steps back to the community of faith, as the ever deepening life  within the seed is drawn to the light. At the  individual level this action may be through  a deepening of our own personal faith as well as outreach to others: a direct conversation about Catholicism, extending an invitation to Mass, or providing simple witnesses such as blessing ourselves before a meal in a restaurant, offering to pray for someone in need, keeping a devotional item on our desk at work or wearing a crucifix for others to see. (Disciples of the Lord, P. 13)

Our archdiocesan efforts to share the good news and invite others into the joy of new life in Christ are not simply a new program — one among many. I hope all of us will see the New Evangelization as a lens through which we see everything that we are doing but now in the light of our understanding of how important it is for each of us to tell the story, share the excitement and be that leaven where the faith has gone flat and that salt where the faith has lost its zest….We cannot simply invite from a distance. Instead, we search actively and carefully for our sisters and brothers who are away from the practice of their faith. (P. 15)

The Lord was surely glad to see that Leper come back and he is surely glad to see us at Mass on Sunday. Praise God! But he does have a heartfelt question for you and me, and for the Church. It is an evangelical question, and and a question that touches on the most fundamental mission we have. It is a question that we cannot utlimately ignore if we want to call ourselves the Lord’s disciples. It is a question you must answer: “Where are the other nine?”  Where?

Challenges to Evangelization in our Culture: Obstacles Can Be Opportunities and Open Doors

 Archbishop Wuerl issued a Pastoral Letter this past week entitled Disciples of the Lord: Sharing the Vision. A Pastoral Letter on the New Evangelization. You can get the Letter in PDF format by clicking on the title in the previous sentence.

The letter is an excellent reflection and exhortation to the Church on “Job 1,”  which is making disciples of all nations by bringing them to the obedience of faith and the sacramental life of the Church. We reflected on that last week as a prelude to the release of the Pastoral Letter. You can read that post here: It’s Time to Obey Christ and His Command that We Evangelize

In the Letter the Archbishop present a succinct and clear description of some of the central challenges we face in our culture when it comes to evangelization. These challenges affect evangelization not only outside the Church but inside as well. I’d like to present some excerpts of the Pastoral Letter in this regard and reflect on them is this post. The Archbishop’s words are in bold and italic black letters. My comments are indented and  blue normal text face.

 The Archbishop begins by describing the staccato quality of communication today:

[T]imes change. The contemporary culture has reached a point where it turns off what is not immediately accessible. Our society prefers to listen in sound bites, rather than in semesters. Slogans replace thoughtful explanations (Page 10).

Being a person of faith requires thoughtful reflection. Many of the truths of faith require more than a sentence to explain or understand. But attention spans are very brief today. We have remarked on this blog today that most Catholics want better and more meaty homilies. But most Catholics also want 7-10 minute homilies. But is 7-10 minutes a week really enough time for priests to teach thoughtfully? Can the deeper things of faith be compressed in this manner?

On television there is a “seven-second rule.”  That is to say, the picture or camera angle must change at least every seven seconds or the station risks loosing viewers. What has television done to our attention spans? This visual “seven second rule”  has bled over into a frantic pace of talking heads on TV who speak in a staccato-like manner about issues that really need more distinctions and greater time. But the rushed and hurried format of TV and radio  have influenced how we expect to communicate. As the Archbishop points out this approach to communicating is not well suited to the careful explanations of the Catholic faith.

The Catholic faith is a smart and thoughtful system. Two thousand years of reflection means that we speak very carefully and with balanced distinctions learned over millenia. The modern setting makes it difficult to set forth these nuances and distinctions. The faith often requires careful balance. So this first challenge mentioned by the Archbishop is a tough one since it often means the conversation is over almost before it starts.

We must work hard to engage modern listeners. One of the ways I try to attract reader to a blog I write is by a catchy title. This is not always easy. But it is like a sound-bite, or a “hook” that catches attention. I also try to give a bold line summary of many paragraphs to help the reader’s attention span and get the main point out. As the Church seeks to better evangelize we too have to do a better job of initiating the conversation and holding people’s attention along the way.

The broad advances of globalization over a relatively short span of time have had significant effects on daily life…..The significance of neighborhood and local relationships seem less important to a highly mobile society. Entire generations have become disassociated from the support systems that facilitated the transmission of faith (pg 10).

The Hub of the Community – Most older Catholics, especially those who grew up in ethnic communities in larger cities, remember how important the neighborhood parishes were. They were the true hub of the community. You didn’t just go to mass there. You went to school there. All your closest friends were there. There were social clubs, movie nights, bingo, credit unions, etc. Many of the parishes taught English to immigrants and other life skills. My local parish in Chicago even had a pool and a skating rink! Most Catholics in urban centers identified their neighborhood by the parish name. “Where do you live?” “I live in St Al’s…..I’m St. Mary’s….” Catholics huddled close to their parish in those days. This is what the Archbishop means by “support systems.”

Faith, culture and neighborhood were tied closely together in those days. As Catholics moved to the suburbs some of the closeness diminished. As an entire generation moved not only out of the neighborhood but out of the area entirely, the “ties that bind” broke down and the connection between faith and culture became more distant.

Overcoming the obstacle? – With such a high degree of mobility and spread out neighborhoods the Church faces a significant challenge is remaining a significant fixture in people’s lives. I’d be interested in your ideas of how to overcome this challenge and become a more vital and broad based community for Catholics. I know in my own parish we’ve tried to reconnect with our neighbors by sponsoring a wide variety of social activities such as concerts, neighborhood meetings, and socials. I think people thirst for some connection to others. The key is how to get the Church once again be the palce that quenches that thirst.

Two generations of secularization have fashioned this time when some do not even know the foundational prayers, or understand the most basic of Catholic devotions, including Marian devotions, and many have not been introduced to the lives of the Saints. Still others do not sense a value in Mass attendance, fail to avail themselves of the Sacrament of Penance, and have often lost a sense of mystery. (Pg 10).

Yes, we have a lot of rediscovery to do. Here I see some signs of hope as younger Catholics have rediscovered the beauty of many Catholic practices and traditions. They are a small percentage of youth over all, but a vital remnant. It is almost like they went into Grandma’s attic and found some old tarnished things and brought them down like a treasure only to have Grandma say, “Oh that old thing?!” But we ought to encourage the young in their rediscovery. They may tend to romanticize the past, but proper distinctions can come later. For now let’s encourage the rediscovery of the sacred and traditional we notice in many of the young.

The Archbishop then effectively summarizes recent Papal teaching by giving a litany of trends that also challenge the proclamation of the faith and make the world hostile:

  1. Consumerism suggests that our worth is  found in the things we accumulate.
  2. Individualism demands that we rely on no one but ourselves and our personal needs always take first place. 
  3. Skepticism pressures us to trust only what we can observe and measure, and purports to destroy the classical and time-tested relationship between faith and reason and threatens to reject the basic right to religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
  4. The attempt to recast human sexuality as casual and entirely recreational has led to an untold weakening of and continued assault on marriage and family life.
  5. Autonomy convinces us that fidelity to faith only restricts us. The popular absorption with constant activity leads us to believe that unless we are always busy and hectic we are behind schedule. (Pg  11)

Paradoxically, these trends not only challenge us but also open the door for us, since many have noted these trends are are, frankly, weary and wary of them. Here too, many young people say to me that it is things like these that have made the world seem untenable to them and the Church more reasonable. The tension of these trends incite a desire for change and open the door for us to provide a credible alternative.

Well, these are just morsels to whet your appetite. Please take time to read the whole letter. I will summarize more next week but don’t wait to get a copy or download the PDF.

This video depicts other problems and solutions to enhance evangelization:

It’s Time to Obey Christ and His Command that We Evangelize

The last words of someone are usually considered extremely important. Perhaps they express a final wish, or summarize what was most important to the person. Thus we do well to consider the final words of Jesus just before he ascended into heaven:

Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:19-20).

This is often called the “Great Commission” in the sense that it is the overarching mission, job one, the standing orders for the Church, for any Catholic. There is nothing ambiguous about it either. Jesus says go! But where Lord? Everywhere! Every nation, every person. And Do what? Make disciples of them by drawing them into the sacramental life of the Church through baptism and teaching them everything I have commanded. Finally He bids us have no fear of this for he is with us to the end.

Pretty clear, right? And yet it is possible for the Church, a parish or a Catholic to push Job One down the list. Pray, sure, attend Mass, OK, tithe, I’ll try. Evangelize? Oops, I’m a little busy and rather shy too, you understand…..

Time to Obey – After years of declining Mass attendance, churches closing, schools, seminaries and convents shuttering their doors, children and family members no longer practicing their faith, perhaps it is just time to get back into the business of obeying Jesus Christ and his command that we evangelize. It’s not the job of some committee in the parish, it’s your job and mine. It’s not merely the pastor’s job, it’s the parishioners too. Remember, shepherds don’t have sheep, sheep have sheep. It’s easy to blame the Church or the liturgy or poor catechesis but the primary place the faith is handed on in the family. Pastor’s have to lead but the Pastor isn’t at your dinner table every night, not at your workplace, family gathering or neighborhood meeting. All of us have to do this, all of us must obey.

A Parish that Obeys has a Future – In my own parish, after years of declining numbers we’ve decided to obey Christ. I had been assigned to this parish in the early 90s and Mass attendance was at about 800 each Sunday, about average for a city parish. I left to pastor elsewhere in the diocese and upon my return to this parish I noticed a much emptier Church and looked to the usher counts for recent Sundays: 482, 502, 473, 512. In ten years the count had dropped 38%. 300 people had drifted away.  People seemed unaware of this. When people disappear one by one over ten years it’s less noticeable. But I, returning after ten years noticed it. And my parish is not unique. Most parishes are down in numbers from what they used to be.

Now some folks like to “explain” declining numbers by talking about demographics, sociological trends, secularization and the like.  But thank God, I’m blessed with a parish that wants to hear from God, which knows that God can make a way out of no way, a parish which prays for their pastor to get a Word from the Lord. And the Lord did not disappoint. The word was simple, “Obey.”  Obey the great commission, obey Job One. The Lord seemed rather clear and put it on my heart to say to the Parish that if we will obey the Lord in this we have a future. If we do not obey him we do not deserve to exist. For too long the Catholic approach to evangelization was to open the doors and expect people to come. But Jesus sent them out to where people were to call and invite and evangelize. It’s time to obey.

So, for the past year we have been preparing through prayer and study to go forth in a door to door campaign into our neighborhood. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two and so we also will go in obedience. Almost Fifty people have agreed to make the weekly walk for 8 weeks starting September 11. Fifty will pray while we walk and others will prepare a meal on our return. We’re stepping out. I do not know if the Lord will give us many new souls or few but only this I know, if we obey, we have a future.

We are also reaching back into our families and inviting them back, listening to their concerns and setting forth a host of activities. These activities are  designed to draw them back and interest our neighbors so we can get to know them and make the invitation to be disciples. We will have concerts, the blessing of the animals, Bible studies, civic meetings etc. Anything to get folks here and meet them, befriend them and invite them to discipleship. Just the beauty of our building and joy of our parishioners preaches Christ. I preparation I’ve been walking the neighborhood and meeting people.

In the Archdiocese of Washington as well we are getting focused anew on Job One. The Archbishop is preparing a pastoral letter on Evangelization. He’s been restructuring the Central Pastoral Administration around the task of evangelizing. We’re reaching out in new ways such as this blog, and preparing to do far more by revamping the Website, reaching out through Youtube, podcasting, direct and targeted e-mail, focused facebook  pages and other social media. The Archbishop’s letter will reveal other plans as well. We want to be more pro-active and obey Christ by intensifying our work to explicitly evangelize using all the new methods available.

And perhaps you’ve heard that Catholic Radio has come in the last month to the Nation’s Capital: WMET 1160 AM. You can also stream the signal at their website here: http://grnonline.info/  The station presents EWTN programming and is part of the Guadalupe Radio Network. Soon enough, local programming will also be presented in addition to the EWTN lineup. This presents a great leap forward in the ability of the Archdiocese and the wider Church  to fulfill the mandate of Jesus to evangelize, to proclaim the Gospel to everyone.

And what of you? How do you obey the mandate of Christ to evangelize? Every Sunday at Mass you are sent forth by the deacon or priest with these words: The Mass is ended, go in peace.” There’s that word again: Go. It means “Go and tell someone what you have heard and seen. Tell someone of Jesus whom you have met in this liturgy and who has ministered to you with his Word and sacrament. Tell someone what a difference he has made in your life.”  Go.

These days evangelization comes in many different forms. Even if you’re shy, what does it take to do things like:

  1. E-mail a friend a link about a great blog post or article you read?
  2. Send the link to the new radio station: http://grnonline.info/.
  3. Send Links to YouTube videos that inspire.
  4. There are great Catholic Websites and blogs. The New evangelization has made it easier to connect people to answers and resources. Sites like www.newadvent.org  and the Catholic Answers website www.Catholic.com  are rich veins information and encouragement.
  5. Some of you who are technically savvy can help your pastor podcast his sermons or get them out on YouTube. Maybe you can help breathe new life into an out of date webpage.
  6. Talk to your family members who are fallen away and ask them “where it hurts.” Find out what has kept them away and share the story of your own faith.
  7. Get in the habit of inviting unchurched people to join you for special events at your parish. Not everyone is ready for a pew but a Chicken dinner might at least establish some connections where evangelization can take place.
  8. Tell folks you’re praying for them and actually do it. Ask for prayer requests.
  9. And pray, pray, pray for an increase, for a new springtime in the Church. Too many souls today are drifting and the Lord needs us to obey in order to save some.

The Bottom line is that we have got to get back into the business of obeying Jesus Christ in the mandate to Evangelize. To be a disciple means to obey. Jesus was not ambiguous about his final wish: Go, Go everywhere, in every available way. Go. Make disciples of everyone by drawing them into the sacramental life of the Church and teaching them everything the Lord has commanded. Go.

Seven Habits of Divinely Inspired Evangelizers

In the  Gospel today the Lord shows forth that his plan for Evangelization is not just some sort of haphazard, shoot from the hip program where he wanders about aimlessly. Rather he had a plan to visit specific cities at specific times. And, in order to prepare for his visit, he sent an entourage ahead of him to prepare the town for his visit and also to arrange for the necessary preliminaries. The texts says quite clearly: At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.  (Luke 10:1).

Now these lead teams, these evangelizers,  received seven basic instructions from the Lord on how to effectively evangelize. These seven basic habits are also for us who have receive the mandate to evangelize (cf Matt 28: 19). Let’s look at them briefly:

1. Supplication – Jesus said, The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Hence before any effective evangelizing takes place there must be prayer. In my own parish we are preparing to go out two by two in the Fall. Prior to this we have prayed for over a year, holding Eucharistic holy hours, praying at Mass and Bible study for a fruitful team of laborers sent, not by man, but by God. On Pentecost Sunday 50 people signed up to walk door to door. They are the fruit of prayer. So step one for effective evangelization is to have a praying community asking for laborers. When we go door to door fifty others have signed up to stay in Church and pray as we walk. Habit one: Pray!

2: Sobriety. The Lord tells them Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves (Luke 10:3) We do have to be sober about the fact that we are in world that is both critical of and hostile to our faith. We are bound to experience persecution, ridicule, anger, being ignored,  misunderstanding, misinterpretation, misrepresentations and just plain missiles. That we experience the world’s hatred or anger does not mean we have done anything wrong. The Lord was clear that the hatred of the world was a sign of true discipleship: If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. (John 15:18-20). Too many Christians today want the world to like them and think that holiness is about winning a popularity contest and being nice. Well the fact is that Jesus did not end up on the cross by winning a popularity contest and just being nice. He had enemies and so do we. We are not to hate them. We are to love them but we have to be sober about accepting some degree of hatred from the world. And to those who have won the popularity contest and have no enemies Jesus warns: Woe to you when all men speak well of you,  for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets (Luke 6:26). The true disciple and true evangelizer will experience some degree of hatred, anger and scorn. We must be sober about this. We do not look for a fight, but hatred will come. An old spiritual says, “I been ‘buked and I been scorned. I been talked ’bout sures yo’ born…..” Habit 2 is sobriety

3. Simplicity – The Lord tells us to travel light: Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way (Lk 10:4) We are to bring nothing along that will weigh us down or hinder our task. The fact is we all have a lot of baggage in this life that hinders us from the more important work of Evangelizing our family and others. Too many parents barely know their kids because they work long hours at jobs to pay for a life style that is too expensive. On top of this we add endless projects and pursuits that keep us running all over God’s green acre. Perhaps good in themselves, they become too much of a good thing and we end up barely knowing the first people we are to evangelize, our children. The Lord says, lighten up, less, is more, simplify and do with less. Do what is more important first: God, family, parish and community. Learn to prioritize and say “no” when necessary. Bottom line is that we have too much baggage, too many distractions and the Gospel goes unlived and unpreached. The unusual instruction “Greet no one along the way” means that we ought not allow any relationship to hinder us either. There are folks who can sidetrack us hinder our progress and we ought to limit such contacts charitably.

4.  Serenity – The Lord says, Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household’ (Luke 10: 5) Though the world may be hostile at times, the Lord tells us, upon entering into any place to say “Peace to the his household.” We do not go forth with hostility but with a serene joy and love. We must love those to whom we announce the Gospel. We are to radiate a serene confidence, joy and peace. We are not picking a fight or trying to win an argument. If we need to clarify a misunderstanding someone has we ought to do so peacefully and with serene confidence.  Because we are confident in the truth we are serene in it. Shalom, peace is at our core, not hostility or aggressiveness.

5.  Stability– The Lord instructs us Stay in the same house…..Do not move about from one house to another. (Luke 10:7) Thus the Lord tells us to find our place and stay there. In the end, the best evangelization takes place where there are deeper relationships. But deep relationships cannot exist when we are running all over the place and relating to others only superficially. We ought to stay put more with family, parish and community and have deep roots. Too many people barely know their own family. No wonder the faith is not passed on in the diffuse, rushed and sporadic climate of the family. Find home and stay there routinely. Build deep relationships.

6. Sensitivity – the Lord says Eat and drink what is offered to you,…..cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’  In other words the Lord counsels simple human kindness where we do not criticize about unnecessary things like the quality of food, or matters of preference. Further he counsels that we have a charge to bring healing and help to others. We may cure the sick by physical cures but the kind of healing necessary is often more emotional and spiritual. We ought to manifest care for others. Even the simple act of listening to someone can bring great healing. Without simple human kindness, declaring that the Kingdom of God is at hand can not only be empty but it can make the kingdom seem odious. The say to others that the Kingdom of God is at hand means that they can start living a whole new life. We ought then to manifest kindness, bring forth cures by helping people find wholeness and healing from the many blows this world inflicts. The Kingdom of God is not only about doctrine, it is about healing, holiness, and the wholeness that comes from both as well as from true doctrine.

7. Soulful Joy– The disciples returned with great joy and the Lord celebrates with them and helps to deepen their joy. There is nothing worse than a sour-faced saint or a bored believer. In the end, the greatest evangelization is to manifest a joy at what God is doing in our lives. This joy is not a sentimental emotional joy necessarily but a deeper serene joy rooted in confidence, hope and love. Do people see you in this way? If they do the ground is fertile for evangelization. St. Peter says, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15). Now of course giving an answer presupposes that someone notices the hope and joy in us and noticing this they ask. Does anyone notice this about you?

So then here are seven habits of divinely inspired evangelizers as taught by the Lord himself.

First Huddle then Hustle! Pentecost and Evangelization

Today we celebrated Pentecost Sunday wherein the Church is strengthened and empowered for her great mission to go unto all the nations. The principal account of it took place in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2).

As we encounter the Church we find a Church that has been given quite a tall task:

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matt 28:19-20).

And Luke adds a detail in his account:

Jesus said “Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And (behold) I am sending the promise of my Father  upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Lk 24:46-49)

And so the Church gathered in Jerusalem, about 120 in all, and prayed for nine days (the origin of the Catholic practice of “Novena” wherein one prays nine days for an intention). On the Tenth Day the Holy Spirit came. During those nine days we find the little Church somewhat fearfully gathered. There is no evidence that they are boldly seeking converts. They are a small community huddled together, fearful, behind closed doors,  and awaiting a fulfillment of the promise of Jesus to send the Spirit. This was something they probably only vaguely understood.

So there’s the image: a community fearfully and apprehensively huddled together, wonder how they would ever Go unto all the nations when they were too afraid even to go out side the doors where the huddled together.

This is all about to change, but for a moment, grasp the picture and consider with me if it does not look a lot like many of our Catholic parishes today. Increasingly small communities that huddle together and talk only privately about the Lord but are afraid to go out of the doors of the Church and speak a word about the Lord. Perhaps they will be laughed at, scorned or asked questions they cannot answer. The general approach of most Catholic parishes in terms of evangelization does not seem to be to open the doors and go out but, rather to open the doors and hope people come in. But Christ said “GO.” And still we huddle together fearfully and with an inward focus. We spend most of our time talking about inward things like what color to paint the women’s restroom, who will be the new Holy Name Society President, why women can’t be ordained etc. All perhaps important issues  to resolve but the main mission of evangelization is neglected and we focus on inward things too much.

Hence we are huddled together, fearful, and lacking in proper focus. Outside the Church doors is a world that needs to hear from us, but still we huddle together, timid and fearful of opening the doors and going out.

To be sure it is not wrong to huddle together. It is essential for us to gather each week as a community to ponder the word of the Lord, hear his teaching and plan, be fed and strengthened for our mission. But if all we do is huddle, we are missing the point.

Consider a football game. The offensive team always huddles before the play. This is essential to make sure all the team members are on the same page and know their roles. The quarterback makes clear what each is to do. But at a certain point it is time to break the huddle and come out and execute the play. If you went to a foot ball game where all they did was huddle you wouldn’t stay long. The huddle is not the game or the point,  is to  prepare the play. And then it is time to hustle up and run the play.

What would you think of a football player that was afraid to come out of the huddle and run the play? Perhaps he is afraid of getting hit or something. Well it’s clear that we’d think he’s a pretty poor excuse for a football player. But this is our struggle as Christians. Too many of us are afraid to come out of the huddle (the Mass) and run the play. What play you say? “Go there are make disciples of all nations…..” The deacon or priest says it at every Mass: “The Mass is ended, Go in peace.”  And this is short for “Go make disciples….” And so it is that the huddle is supposed to break and we are to go out on the (mission) field. But in too many of our parishes this is not happening. We are not passing on the faith well even to our children,  let alone strangers.

Come Holy Spirit – The early Church was also huddled together behind closed doors. But on that tenth day (Pentecost) the Holy Spirit descended on them as a strong rushing wind and tongues of fire. And suddenly they started speaking boldly. The next thing we notice is that the door is open and Peter preaches a sermon to the crowd so bold that three thousand are added to their number that day.

And the Church went forth that day, unto all the nations. Sure there were fits and starts but the mission to the world had begun. The huddle broke and the play was executed. Surely the Church would huddle frequently, but then they would break huddle and hustle up to the line to execute the play: Go therefore.

How about your parish? How about you? Don’t just huddle….., hustle! When the Mass concludes “Go in peace” don’t miss that this is a commissioning. Get out on the field and execute the play. Move the ball, gain some yards! And if you loose some yards, get back up, huddle up again, and hustle again. But don’t give up! First huddle then hustle.

Here is an excerpt from the Sermon I preached today at my parish here in Washington DC that makes some of these points. I am preparing my parish for a neighborhood outreach.

The full sermon can be heard here: http://frpope.com/audio/Pentecost%202010.mp3

When going to Church hurts

After Mass a few weeks ago, I encountered a parishioner who was feeling very hurt by the Church and specifically, a comment that made her feel unwelcome in the parish.

Her story made me recall many years ago when I was starting my career as a high school teacher.  I attended a small parish in the town where I was living and teaching. I was one of the few African Americans living in the town and it seemed like I was one of the only African American Catholics for hundreds of miles. Having said that, I never felt entirely welcome in the parish. I thought I was a fairly active member of the parish (Knights of Columbus and lector ministries were my favorites). Nonetheless, I often wondered if the pastor considered me a joy or an intrusion in his little church.

On leave – Not missing in action!

As a teacher, I often spent my summers traveling, visiting family and teaching at a summer program in another part of the country. So, though I attended Mass faithfully during the summer months, I rarely attended Mass in my parish of registration. Furthermore, I would inform the parish secretary of this each June and ask her not to schedule me as a lector until I returned in September. Year after year, she would accommodate my request in the spring and welcome me back to town warmly in the fall.

Well, one fall, I returned and was told that I would have to talk to the pastor in order to get back into the lector ministry. When I approached Father, he chastised me for my “sparse attendance at Mass.” Furthermore, he told me that I had no business on the altar if I did not bother to come to Mass regularly.

Judge not

Needless to say I was livid! Once I explained my circumstances, I think he understood and almost apologized. But, I was livid still. I told him, “What if I were sick, or lost my job and couldn’t come to church? Worse yet, what if I had actually lost faith as you suspected and did not find Mass important? As a pastor, couldn’t you have made a phone call before you removed me from the lector schedule?!”

Almost a lost sheep

I walked out and vowed never to return to that parish. Every Sunday, I drove an extra 15 miles to the next Catholic Church until I moved back to Washington a year later.  Furthermore, that is certainly not the only time in my life I have been hurt by the Church.

Now that I am older, wiser and more grounded in my faith, I wonder how many others have walked away not just from a parish but from the entire Catholic Church because of a negative experience such as the one I described. On the other end of the spectrum, I wonder about those who have experienced far worse than a judgmental pastor and how impossible healing may seem to some of them.

A step toward healing

Consider the following poem that was given to me a few years ago after a hurtful experience with our beloved Church. What do you think about it?

How much I must criticize you, my church, and yet how much I love you!

You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe more to you than to anyone.

I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence.

You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.

Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful.

Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face—and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms!

No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you.
Then too — where would I go? To build another church? But I could not build one without the same defects, for they are my defects.

And again, if I were to build another church, it would be my church, not Christ’s church. No, I am old enough, I know better.”

– Carlo Carretto

We don’t teach them because THEY are Catholic; we teach them because WE are!

“We don’t teach them because THEY are Catholic; we teach them because WE are!” I have heard this quote attributed to the former Archbishop of Washington, James Cardinal Hickey. Apparently, this was the Cardinal’s response to a question of why Catholics should support a Catholic school that doesn’t have many Catholics among its student body.

Building up the Body of Christ

I think of the wisdom of Cardinal Hickey often in my ministry and his quote came to mind last week during a school Mass. Specifically, during communion, a guest in attendance noticed that several students did not approach the altar to receive the Eucharist. In fact, during communion, it is easy to observe that less than 30% of my students are Catholic. After the Mass, this person commented sarcastically saying, “I thought this was a Catholic School? Frankly, it doesn’t look too Catholic to me!”

Real Catholic Identity

I find myself often defending the Catholic identity of my school based on the percentage of Catholics enrolled.  In my particular case, how does a 182 year old school, owned by a rather traditional community of habited sisters, run by a permanent deacon and that has well-attended school Masses (even when they are optional), not seem Catholic? My verbal response to this comment was more measured than my actual emotions but, I said, “I just preached to hundreds of non-Catholics about the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our salvation. Where else does another Catholic priest, deacon or even a bishop get that opportunity?”

Go forth and teach the nations!

In the great commission, Jesus instructs us to “Go forth and teach the nations!” (Matthew 28;19-20). Non-Catholics are always invited to share our faith and can prayerfully participate in Mass without receiving communion. However, I suspect that this happens most often in an inner-city Catholic school. Now, does that mean all of my students convert to Catholicism prior to graduation? Certainly not. But, I do believe that anyone exposed to the truth will eventually be attracted to it. And, as Catholics, exposing the world to the truth of our faith is our  job!

Check out this wonderful article about 19 Baptisms in a Washington, DC Catholic Parish School.  St. Augustine’s  Catholic School – Way to go!!!


It’s Catholic Schools Week – and I’ve got stress

As Catholic Schools Week comes to a snowy end, I’ve got stress! Brothers and sisters, I work at a school whose original mission in 1828 was to “Teach the children of slaves to read the Bible.” Clearly, the foundress of my school, Mother Mary Lange, OSP, saw a dire need for ministry to the neglected and used the concept of a Catholic education to address that need. Despite the reality that her ministry was against the law in the slave state of Maryland and that most of her students could not really afford the tuition (approximately $1.00 per year) I now have a job because of her efforts.

Many still cannot afford Catholic Schools

In studying the story of the foundress of St. Frances Academy and the Oblate Sisters of Providence, I find myself under a bit of stress. On a positive note, I am convinced that my faculty and staff, as well as the faculties and staffs of others urban schools like mine, have matched the resolve of 1828 in ensuring that a Catholic education is available to those who might not otherwise get one. On the other hand, I have got stress because Mother Lange depended on the generosity of others to fulfill her mission. She depended on clergy, religious congregations and parishes for money and at times, a place to live and teach. I’ve got stress because I wonder if that support is waning.

My brother’s keeper

As the principal of urban high school, I have countless stories of generosity with regards to my school.  Nonetheless, not everyone understands their responsibility to support Catholic education.  For example, as the elementary school at my parish in Hyattsville began to experience financial challenges, I heard more than few parishioners comment, “I don’t have a child there. I want my money to go to the Church.” My response was that if your money goes to a Catholic school, it is going to the Church! More specifically, it is going to the Church’s future.

One Body, One Church:

Many of the benefactors of my school are alumni but many others did not graduate from Saint Frances. They may have graduated from another Catholic school and now want to help a new and different generation build their faith. Some did not go to Catholic school at all but want to make sure this generation has the choice. A few are not even Catholic but simply recognize that Catholic schools make our community a better place.

I have never been incarcerated, but I fully support prison ministry. I have never directly experienced a crisis pregnancy but I support Catholic pregnancy centers. Just because I don’t have a child in my parish or regional school doesn’t mean that it is not a vital ministry in our Church.

Catholic School Graduates, Step Up!

My challenge to you, especially if you benefited from a Catholic education, is that if you have not contributed to a Catholic school, consider a gift. It doesn’t have to be a gift to the one you attended. The one you attended may be relatively wealthy so, find on that isn’t.  Any Catholic school that needs your help will do. Remember, all of us benefit from Catholic schools, even if you never set foot in one.