Dear Friends in Christ,
In just a few days it will be Christmas. As in past years, I fully expect that we will see many visitors joining us for Mass. That is wonderful. Now some may lament that many of these visitors don’t regularly come every week. That is true, but we can and should be glad that they are here. The challenge is to welcome them and encourage them to indeed come back soon. Periodically, but not too often, I will receive a report that a visitor will come to Mass and have an unpleasant experience; that someone made a less than charitable remark or chastised them for sitting in “their regular seat”. Needless to say, I cringe. As I said, thank goodness, this does not occur too often. I can only imagine how this might impact someone who does not come to Mass very often. I do not think it inspires them to return anytime soon. I also know that this is not representative of our parish. But to that visitor, who unfortunately encounters that one person, that remark is easily translated to “everybody in St. John Vianney parish”. One of the things that all of us have to realize is that time is always changing. The way we act and the words we speak can easily be misunderstood. St. Thomas Aquinas had a famous dictum “Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur” (that which is received is received according to the mode of the recipient) or, as my professors told me, ‘we all have tin ears’ meaning that we hear what we want to hear. While we can’t totally control how others may receive what we say or how we act, we do have control over our words and actions. Are we intentionally being welcoming, inspiring, positive or encouraging? Or are we being negative, unwelcoming, hostile or discouraging?
There are studies, reports and articles galore that tell the depressing story of how young people are walking away from Christianity. This is not a Catholic issue. This is across the board with all churches and all faiths. Some churches try to compromise or dilute the teachings of Christianity – that has not worked and cannot work. Others have tried to translate the message of Jesus into a contemporary idiom using pop culture, music, etc. My favorite examples are where the traditional sanctuary is replaced with a coffee bar or TV talk show stage with a rock band off to the side like Jimmy Kimmel, James Corden, or Jimmy Fallon. Sorry, those don’t work and won’t last either. Quite frankly, Christians are just not as good as the secular world at being the secular world! The more we try to be relevant, the less effective we are at being faithful to the message of Christ. Why are so many walking away? Maybe it is because we are so poor at living the message ourselves. In a wonderfully funny twist of irony, one of the reasons that many people say they don’t like Christians and Christianity is because we are intolerant. Therefore, Christians should not have a voice or a place in society (check out the objections by several senators to certain Catholic nominees for various government positions over the last few years! They were deemed unacceptable because they were faithful Catholics – very tolerant, no?).
In this time of confusion, fear, anxiety and so much else, maybe the best thing for all of us as followers of Jesus is to simply ACT like followers of Jesus. Instead of trying to repackage or change the message of the gospel to make it more popular, maybe we can just simply and authentically live it. When we live our daily lives following Jesus as best we can, then we will all be better. Holiness is the key to happiness! When we trust the Lord without fear, giving our cares to him, doing our best, letting go of our sinful habits, forgiving others their faults and seeking forgiveness for ours, bearing wrongs patiently, seeing the good in everyone and every situation, giving thanks and praise to God for the blessings we have, we will become closer to Jesus, and that will help bring others closer to him too.
Be not afraid or ashamed to love Him with all your heart!
In Pace Christi,