In “The Joy of The Gospel,” Pope Francis says that an “evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first, and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast.”
Recent statistics remind us that we need to be more inviting communities of faith. The pastoral essay, “Becoming an Inviting Church,” published by Paulist Evangelization Ministries, describes a “new normal” for Catholics. Weekly Mass attendance rates have dropped below 25 percent. They argue that “once a month” has become the new normal or the new “once a week” for most parishes.
The essay goes on to say that “parishes cannot presume on the involvement of folks listed in their databases. In fact, parishes should look upon this list as pointing to the very people they should aim to invite. With 60 percent of Catholics mostly not going to Sunday Mass, and many of them identified by parish leaders, parishes need to start making connections with the registered members in a consistent way.”
The great challenge for us as individuals and as parish communities is to begin making new connections with those in our parishes who are absent from Sunday Eucharist. Making connections is all about relationships. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called to be in communion and relationship with one another; this is part of the divine plan of the Father.
I was surprised when I heard someone say that the reason they go to Mass is just for themselves: “It’s about Jesus and me. I do not go for anyone else but myself.”
This comment caught me off guard and, after hearing it, the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:8-9 was placed in my heart. Recall that Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked Abel and killed him.
Then the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
God does expect us to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
It’s all about relationship! The heart of our new ministry of sending lay witness speakers three times a year to every parish is to emphasize how the Lord Jesus Christ is alive and active in each of our lives.
We need to re-awaken in the lives of our people the fact that God desires us to have a relationship with him and with one another. That is why God the Father sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus, so that we might come to know him and to live in him upon whom our salvation depends. We hear in John 15:5, “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.”
It is in learning to remain in Christ, to stay connected to him through word and sacraments, to be grounded in the Scriptures, that we hear the voice of Jesus speaking directly to us. To be
involved in the faith life of a parish community where we experience Christ’s love through our involvement renews and strengthens us.
Sherry Weddell, in her book “Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and following Jesus,” describes the sobering fact that “only 48 percent of Catholics were absolutely certain that the God in whom they believed was a God with whom they could have a personal relationship.”
We have a lot of work to do. Hopefully, our lay witness speakers will foster and develop this connectedness to the body of Christ through their own testimony and witness.
In Hebrews 10:24-25 we hear: “We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
I have a challenge, or, if you will, a homework assignment, for you this week as a way to start making connections with people in your parish communities that are registered members of the parish but who are, for the most part, missing and absent from Sunday Eucharist.
When you go to Mass this weekend, make it your personal intention for the Mass to ask the Lord Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to place in your heart one person who you no longer see or rarely see at Mass. If the Holy Spirit places in your heart a name, I invite you to contact that person this week and reconnect with them. Simply tell them that their name came to your mind and heart this week and you just want to reconnect with them.
Call them, email them, text them, write them a note, or take them out for a cup of coffee. Then report back to me next week. Fr. Mark McCormick 605-716-5214, x235 or MMcCormick @diorc.org.