The Year of Faith begins today as we commemorate a half century since Blessed Pope John XXIII convened the first session of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.
It is a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on the call of recent Popes for a New Evangelization, made all the more urgent in the light of the dismal percentage of Catholics who attend Mass every Sunday, go to confession at least once a month, or observe the Church’s moral tenets.
Why Don’t People Go to Church and what are the effective pastoral responses? Three reasons, I would propose: lack of belief, selfishness and fickleness, and three antidotes, as well.
Sometimes people just don’t believe.
The good news is just too good to be true. That Jesus died for me, that my sins can really be forgiven, and that God wants me to love him like he loved me. It’s all too much to believe?
It’s hard for us to believe, for when you lost, it’s hard to picture the road home. When you’re in the middle of a vast wasteland, it’s hard to picture a flowing river. And when God is burdened by all my sins and all my crimes, it’s hard to imagine that he is really in the mood to forgive me.
It’s easier to think myself as lost and just to stay that way.
The antidote to this lack of belief, is a Priest who believes, with humility, gentleness and care. I think of a friend about ten years older than me who is ever the champion of the Church: who in his writings, his teachings and his life he has been a tireless advocate of the Magesterium. But never with arrogance or condescension. Always with kindness, patience and humility...but with unswerving belief. That’s the kind of Priest that brings them back to the Church.
The second thing that keeps people from God is that they’re selfish.
In this they’re just the opposite of who God is. They’re in it for themselves. I don’t go to Mass because I’m too tired to get up on Sunday morning...it’s my day and I deserve to sleep in. They don’t go to confession because my sins are no one’s business but my own, and they don’t feed the poor because its my money and my life and its do one else’s business. It’s all about me.
The antidote is the Priest who is selfless, who loves unto death, and who gives himself for his people without any thought of return. You know a priest like that, whose schedule would kill a man half his age, but who tirelessly and patiently goes about doing what must be done, because it is the loving thing to do. The kind of man who demonstrates by his life that mercy begets mercy and compassion merits the mercy of God. That’s the kind of Priest that brings them back to the Church.
The final thing that keeps folks from God is their fickleness.
One minute we’re faithful, the next we’re faithless; one minutes we love Christ with our whole heart and soul and long for nothing so much as the Kingdom of Heaven, and the next we’re concerned with nothing so much as selfish pleasure and grabbing for all the gusto we can get.
The antidote to this fickleness is the Priest who is faithful. Who by his life teaches that God is not yes and no, on and off, hot and cold. God is the incessant yes to love, a faithful and perduring love, the Alpha and Omega, who was and who is and who ever will be. And who calls us to be the same.
I think of a priest I know who has become the mister fixit of one of our dioceses. Whenever there’s a big problem he’s the one they send in. And its not because he’s the best administrator or even the most brilliant teacher or the most pious member of the presbyterate. It’s because he’s faithful, steady and as solid as a rock. That’s the kind of Priest that brings them back to the Church.
So the most important tools we need for the New Evangelization on this first day of the Year of Faith are really not new at all. At base, it does not require high philosophical reflections on deep culture or sophisticated thinking on sectarian patterns or even a subscription to multi-week programs by well respected national authorities.
All it really requires is what has always been needed: holy priests who are willing to give their lives to reflect the Truth, the Love, and the Fidelity who is Christ the Lord.
Monsignor James P. Moroney
11 October 2012