Before Mass:You may remember me mentioning a few months ago that we’re starting an Evangelization Team here in our Cluster. We have several folks who have started studying a book which will form us into a team and hopefully guide us toward what we are being called to do. This book: Forming Intentional Disciples, has a lot of good stuff. I pray it will be a game-changer for our team, for our cluster, and for every one of us here today. I’m going to be referring to this book and what it teaches us over the next few months.
Today’s readings are packed – and I could talk about a dozen different angles… but I’ll warn you that the main theme comes from the second reading, so please pay particular attention to that. Paul gives a list of things that WON’T keep us from God – but I want you to think about – what DOES keep us from God?
Did you catch it? What is it that separates us from the Love of God?
I’m sure we’ve all heard this story before, but it fits today’s theme so well, I just have to tell it…but there’s a twist.
Edna and Elmer were driving in their pickup truck down the gravel road one afternoon. Elmer is driving, and Edna is by the other door. Edna was feeling – well – like there was no more spark left in their relationship. They’d been married for almost 40 years now and she was missing those days of romance and feeling special. She looked over at Elmer and she could still see the handsome young man he used to be – underneath that bald head and beer belly. She said – you know – used to, when we’d go out on dates, we’d sit side-by-side in the truck and cuddle. Elmer said – well, I’m still sitting where I aways have…
That’s where the story normally ends – and it makes a good point if we stop there. But, you’ve probably not heard what happens next. Elmer says, “slide on over here and put your arm around me!” But Edna suddenly gets practical – well – I can’t scoot over there. I have to sit here with my seatbelt and where I have airbag protection. Besides, there’s that pile of junk on the seat between us. CD’s, ipad, books, beer cans, ice cream containers, maps. There’s no room! I can’t scoot over!
Doesn’t that describe so many of our relationships? When we’re young and in-love and getting to know each other, we can’t wait to be together – and when we are together – it’s intense. We talk, cuddle, laugh, do things together. As we’ve been together for a while, we gradually drift away from that closeness. It’s not that we PLAN to drift apart… I mean – it’s just PRACTICAL for Edna to sit on the other side so she had her own seat belt and airbag. It JUST MAKES SENSE. I think that fits too with all our relationships – practicality stops us from doing all those things we used to do. Those things which we set aside are often what kept the relationship fresh and alive and growing…. But – other things took their place gradually until we find we’re sitting on the other side of the front seat with someone we hardly know anymore.
Relationship – that’s what it’s all about. Our human relationships have to be fed with time, energy, talking and listening, doing things for each other, and sharing experiences together. Those same rules apply to our relationship with God. If we want a personal relationship with Him, we have to spend time with Him. We talk to Him, listen to Him, share experiences with Him, do things For Him.
Last month, I encouraged everyone to dust off their Bible and spend time with God that way – allowing Him the opportunity to speak to us through His written Word. We also constantly encourage everyone to receive the sacraments often – and what are the sacraments but a “personal encounter with Jesus”.
But one of the things this book has highlighted is that most people in our pews – and even many of us up here presiding – don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. In fact, it’s become obvious that many of us don’t even know what a personal relationship with Jesus looks like nor whether it is even possible. I don’t know yet what the book it going to teach us to do with that problem, but even the Pope has mentioned that it is this lack of a personal relationship with Jesus that has drawn many people to walk away from the Church. So – let’s tackle that issue!
We’re not going to solve it today – but let’s start the conversation. Let’s lay some foundation stones that we can build upon over the next months.
If we need a “personal relationship with Jesus” – and we all do – we can start by looking at our relationships with everybody around us. Look at the folks who used to be close friends, but aren’t any longer. What happened? It’s likely that we stopped feeding those relationships so they stopped growing. Classmates who used to be best friends with moved away to college, for example. We used to spend 5 days a week, learning together, talking, eating lunch together… in short – we spent time with them. When we stopped spending time with them, that relationship fades. Yeah, we might get together once in a while to reminisce about old times, but often it doesn’t feel right – because we’re leading different lives and having different experiences.
Another way our relationships can fade – even if we’re still living in the same house – is if we stop listening to each other. We turn our attention more and more to practical things or our own interests. When we stop communicating, it’s like cutting off the water from a plant – our relationship will wither.
Another way our relationships fade: we stop spending time together. It’s so easy for us guys to get busy with the yard work and hunting and our jobs and fixing the car and by golly, we’ve got to have our own personal time to spend with our buddies at the local watering hole. Likewise, we can get occupied with the kids and schoolwork and laundry and cooking and even with doing our ‘church stuff’… and when we put all of that at the top of our priority list, and our spouse no longer is at the top – nor second place – in fact, our spouse may not be on our priority list. A relationship cannot survive if it is not fed with TIME, PRESENCE, and LISTENING. Yeah – there’s other things that can kill a relationship, but these are three of the basics… like water, soil, and sunshine.
So – apply that to our personal relationship with Jesus. Do we spend time with Him? Do we come to visit Him in Eucharistic Adoration? Do we come to the Sacraments? Do we serve him by serving the needy around us? And of course – do we listen to Him? Do we read His word? Do we pray and share our thoughts with Him? Hopefully over the next few months, we’ll be offering some practical advice on how to feed that relationship with Jesus.
Paul says, “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?” None of THAT will separate us from God – in fact – usually, the people who are suffering those things are actually brought CLOSER to God. No – there is only one thing in this world that can separate us from the God… and that one thing – is me.
So look at the pile of junk on the seat between you and Jesus. Get a trashbag and throw it all away… then Slide back across the seat and put your arm around Jesus as you let him drive you through life.