Saturday, April 26, 2014

2014/04/27 - Here's the Recipe

I LOVE this time of the year – right after Easter, we get to hear from the Book of Acts – which is the book of the Bible that tells us how the earliest Christians lived.  Did you recognize what they were doing in that first reading? 
– listen to this: 

They devoted themselves
to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life,
to the breaking of bread and to the prayers…..
Recognize that?  That’s MASS!  Reading the teachings of the apostles… that the scriptures… and breaking the bread.. .that’s the Eucharist.  That’s pretty cool… but that’s not all.
I’m going to start sounding like a broken record, but did anybody read the "Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic"(1)?  Remember what the four signs are?  Prayer, Study, Generosity, and Evangelization.  Take a look at that reading – it’s all there…
Prayer:  that one’s pretty obvious… they devoted themselves to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.
Study: …. That’s the teaching of the apostles  it mentioned.
Generosity:  It says “they would sell their property and possessions
and divide them among all according to each one’s need”….that’s GENEROSITY
Evangelization might be a little harder to see in THIS reading… but it’s obviously there.  What do you think they were doing in the Temple every day???  Obviously evangelizing, because it says,
                “And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
See!  It’s all there.  I’ve not just been pushing this book because it’s a good read – but it actually gives each of us personally a way we can start living like the earliest Christians did… by living the four signs:  Prayer, Study, Generosity and Evangalization. 
Here’s an important perspective though…. Look at what God did BECAUSE of how they lived…. “every day the Lord added to their number”.  Now let that sink in a second… WHY did God add to their number every day?  Because -of how -they -lived.  In short, that means we have in this reading the RECIPE for growing our church…and the recipe is to LIVE the four signs joyfully.  That’s my MAIN point… God builds up the churches who LIVE like this.
Surely you see where I’m going with this…
Is the Lord adding to OUR number every day?  Um – well, we had three people come into the church last week at Easter, does that count?!  Yes…but if you look at our number of parishioners total, is it going up every day?  Over the last 10 years, is our Church bigger or smaller?  Why?  We’re still in the same Catholic Church that the early Christians were in… but are we living as they did?  Let’s take inventory of how we’re living the 4 signs:
We have Prayer:  We have weekend Mass and daily Mass.  A few people pray in the adoration chapel each Friday night.  And we have a few prayer groups that meet at various times every week.   And I know that many people have their personal prayer life we all do at home.
We have study:   We just had our book study during Lent.  Our Religious Ed classes just ended for the year.  We have a weekly Bible study on Monday nights.  So – we do SOME learning -  but probably less than 7% of our people come to those events.  Of course, I SURE everyone else is reading books and listening to CD’s to increase their own knowledge of the Faith.
Now Generosity….THAT is something we really do well.  Anytime there is a need or a benefit of some sort, our people are generous.  One visible example is our Grace Co-Op which has helped a lot of people in our community.  Did you know that this month is the one-year anniversary of ‘grace grub’?  You may not remember the term ‘grace grub’, but One year ago, we started taking meals to different folks in our parish each Sunday – and if you add up the number of meals… it is amazing.  We surpassed 500 official meals… but each meal is like 4-6 meals.  We just had our shantytown where we distributed 22 loads of firewood.  We’ve helped folks in the area who’ve had fires and wrecks –Denise helps people get assistance from TriCap for electricity and heating.  Our community is always reaching out to those in need.  I’d have to say as a parish, we do pretty good with generosity.
The last of the four signs is Evangelization.  Do we do that?  Hmmm… some.  We give away books and CD’s.  We invite people to come to our parish Mission.  But how much do we really try to SHARE our faith with others?  That’s what evangelization is… us sharing our faith with others.  Inviting THEM to experience the Joy that comes from our faith.
Pope Francis wrote a document about it – called the Joy of the Gospel.  One of the main points he makes is that Evangelization is the lifeblood of the Church.  Not only is it our responsibility as baptized Christians, but it is through bringing people to Christ that we find OUR greatest Joy.  That Joy then makes us even more attractive to people, so that they WANT to join our community.  Who wants to join a church where everybody is bored?
Pope Francis says – the church grows, not by proselytizing, but by attraction.  In other words, we don’t convert people to Christianity by standing on a street corner yelling at people about doctrine or telling them that Jesus is risen… we convert people by showing the JOY we have – That attracts people to join us.
Look what happened to Thomas – the other apostles TOLD him that Jesus had risen, but he wouldn’t believe it.  You and I would be just like him, you know.  In order for anybody to REALLY believe in Jesus, we have to meet him – most of us don’t get to stick our fingers in his nail holes… but we experience his presence through the JOY of community.  Ask yourself – what event caused ME to believe in Jesus?  Every one of us needs a conversion experience.  If you’re not ON FIRE for Jesus, you’ve probably not met him.  That’s not necessarily your fault, you see… the community around you is supposed to LEAD to you that encounter with Jesus. 
Personally, I think the best way to meet Jesus is through a retreat like Teens Encounter Christ or Cursillo or Christ Renews His Parish.  People who go through these retreats are changed forever. 
So the bottom line is this:  our parish isn’t growing – because WE aren’t fully living the four signs of a dynamic Catholic. aren’t fully living the way the earliest Christians did.
The GREAT news is – half the effort in solving a problem is identifying the problem.  Now, we KNOW what we really need to work.  And when we do, then, “the Lord will add to OUR number those who are being saved.”
If you want to help with this – if you want to see our church GROW – let’s work together.  Let’s provide opportunities for every parishioner of every age to Pray… to Study… to be Generous… and to Evangelize.  I’d like to start a team to focus on this effort.  If you feel like the Holy Spirit is prodding you to get involved, let’s talk.
I wish everyone could feel the fire of the Holy Spirit that comes from leading others to Christ. 
This is the source... the Recipe... for True Joy.

(1) "The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic" - by Matthew Kelly

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