Saturday, March 2, 2013

2013 March 3 - Bearing Fruit

I met a guy last week who had moved his family out to the Southwest US for about 7 years.  He pulled the kids out of the public school there because of the high drop-out rate – and the major drug problems.  He put them instead into school (ran by another demonination).  There are no Catholic schools in that area, so that’s the best he could do.  At first I thought – THAT is horrible!  …since they tend to be very anti-Catholic, so I could just imagine what those kids had to endure.
But – this guy says it turned out to be a great thing!  Every day, those kids would get challenged about their Catholic Faith – and every evening, the whole family would spend time looking up the answers in the Catechism and Bible – then they’d make these flash cards which reminded them how to respond to each challenge against the faith – along with scripture references.  They would study these cards during their 30 minute drive to school.  In the end, these kids could stand-up to Adults and defend the Catholic Faith.  They knew their faith, because they had to.
Next this guy starts going on and on about he HATES the Catholic Church here in southern Indiana.  From his view, everybody here sleeps through Mass – and few, if any, KNOW much about their Faith.  Something as simple as ‘why are we wearing purple today?’…. People can’t answer.
On one hand, I thought his comments were a bit harsh – but on the other hand – he’s got a point.  The church out there was the minority and was constantly under attack from all sides – so people HAD to know their faith.  People HAD to join together each Sunday to build each other up and get back into the battle.
Here… we have no enemy really.  That’s quite a blessing… but it is also a curse.  Because we have no common enemy, we have grown very complacent in the practice of our Faith.  Since most of us have never been challenged like his kids were, then we’ve never been forced to learn our Faith.  That is a bigger problem than you may think.
Because we don’t know our Faith, it is very easy for people to leave the Church.  First – because they don’t know their faith, they probably think that one church is as good as another.  They never understood that Jesus started the Catholic Church – and gave us his Body and Blood on the altar.  No other church has that…. But most of us don’t know that…or we’re not really convinced of it.  Second – because we don’t know our Faith, folks from other churches can raise a couple of common objectives to the Catholic Faith – presenting some seemingly logical arguments from the Bible – and WE just throw in the towel.  It’s impossible to defend something you know little about… especially against people who have their eyes and minds set on “saving” us Catholics.  Third, most people today are motivated by ‘fun’, ‘entertainment’, and ‘feeling good’.  We have a consumer-based mentality about our Faith… “what’s in it for me?”   If our parishioners go to one of these ‘feel good mega-churches’, it would be hard to convince themselves that coming to our church and sleeping through Mass can possibly be better than the enjoyable music and heart-touching sermon at the other place.  The other church doesn’t even have to TRY to pull us out of the church – we’re leaving on our own.  Our young people – and even our older people – are getting picked off one by one.
Can we do anything about it?  Absolutely!  That’s what’s cool about being a Christian… God gives us all the Grace we need to make things happen.  He’ll hoe around us and fertilize us… if we cooperate with Him.  First – as with anything – we must Pray.  Pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit – and that the Spirit will guide our Church Leaders…and US!.  Second – we must study!  Join a Scripture study.  Read spiritual books and listen to Catholic CD’s.  Study Apologetics, which is the study of ‘how to defend the Faith’.  Do you know your Bible?  Do you know who Esau is?  Sampson?  Ruth?  Elijah?  We might recognize that they are all names out of the Bible – but do we know their stories?  Many of us – especially our youth - don’t know even the most basic stories of the Bible.  Maybe consider watching the new Bible miniseries on the History Channel the next 5 Sunday nights.  I’ve not seen it, but it is directed by a Catholic – Roma Downey, so  I suspect it will be some solid teaching…and entertaining as well.  Whatever you do… study!  If we’re not growing, we’re dying.  Study is the fertilizer that helps us to grow.  Third – celebrate the Liturgy… not just watch…CELEBRATE.   I know that’s hard to do.  Our liturgy lulls us into a state of complacency… I know how hard it is to stay engaged all through the Mass… but we have to try.  The most obvious thing we can do is to PRAY ALONG and SING ALONG.  I know – that’s really radical… but we HAVE to do it.  I remember the first time I went to a Promise Keepers convention in Indy.  Imagine 60,000 men all singing HOLY, HOLY, HOLY in the big dome up their… that is a moving experience.  You can FEEL the spirit in a crowd that is actively participating.  I got the same experience at Mass last weekend at Mass with 50 men at the Cursillo.  It’s not the size of the crowd – it’s the fact that everyone participates.  We CAN have the same thing here – but it’s gonna take each of us to come out of our comfort zone and PARTICIPATE… pray along – SING along.   Don’t underestimate how important that is.  Imagine going to a movie and falling sleep in your seat… , leaving the theater we’d be saying… “that was boring”…”that was a waste of time”… “I didn’t get anything out of it”.  If you don’t put something into it, you’ll get nothing out of it.  Same goes for Mass… if we don’t stay engaged, not only do WE not get anything out of it… but everyone around us is also lulled into the same state of complacency…
Think about the impact:  if I don’t sing or pray – then nobody around me will.  And if few people sing and pray, then our Liturgy feels …well… lifeless.  If we fail to change this, then our parishioners will never experience the FEEL of the Spirit!  – and our people will continue to get picked off one by one.
The farmer in the Gospel wanted to cut down the tree – no sense letting it use up all the nutrients in the soil if it’s not going to bear fruit.  That could apply so many ways.  First – it applied to the Jews… since they hadn’t borne fruit in their relationship with God, God may have been tempted to cut them down…. But Jesus convinced the Father to give them another chance.
Second – it applies to our selves…. Each of us individually is a tree planted by God to bear fruit.  What is that fruit?  To spread the Good news.  To Love God and neighbor.  To build the Kingdom of God.  To introduce others to Jesus.  If we’re not doing any of that… why shouldn’t the farmer cut us down?
Finally – it applies to our Parish.  Does our parish bear fruit?  How many of our young people have we sent to the seminary in the last 5 years?  How many people have we invited to join the Catholic Faith?  How many people are leaving us because our liturgies, instead of being life-giving, may seem life-draining?
I know this is hard to hear – but I think it’s time we took an honest look at ourselves before it’s too late.  You know – we are NOT being shut down by the Strategic Planning committee – but you gotta know the question will be raised sooner or later– as we get fewer and fewer priests – sooner or later, the Bishop is going to be looking around for dead trees to cut down.  I love this parish, and I’ll do whatever I can to keep it bearing fruit.  But – Fr. Eugene and I cannot do it alone.  He and I need to feel the Spirit here too…we need your help.
Fr. Kaiser put it this way:  it’s in giving the Sacraments that the priest gets fed.  You hear that?  It is in celebrating the Eucharist and Confession and Baptisms that the PRIEST gets fed.  A consumer-mentality would say that all of US are fed by the Priest… true… but that’s not the whole story.  When folks don’t come or don’t participate, it’s easy to get discouraged and disheartened…It’s easy for the PRIEST to feel like HE is the tree not bearing fruit.   

Our challenge is to participate and stay engaged at Mass… a tough challenge…but when we do that, we can create a new feeling of Spirit in our worship which feeds us all.  God will hoe around us and fertilize us – giving us every possible chance to bear fruit.

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