By: Fr. James Gross
Earlier this spring, a huge amount of rain fell in parts of the Gulf Coast, and many areas of southern Louisiana sustained major flooding. Tens of thousands of people had their homes and businesses damaged and even destroyed. Living as we do near an unpredictable river, we can empathize with their situation and exclaim, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Many of you saw our notice in the bulletin that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops invited Catholics all over the country to assist our brothers and sisters in Louisiana who are recovering from this tragedy. Bishop Folda has authorized a special second collection today to be taken up in every parish. This will happen immediately after the usually parish offertory, and will be tallied separately. We ask you to please respond generously to this pressing need, and thank you for your prayers for these poor folks.
Jesus uses a peculiar parable in this Gospel, in which a boss does not fire his rogue assistant, but rewards him for his shady dealings. If you were scratching your head and wondering, “What in the world was that about,” I assure you that you’re not alone.
One common interpretation over the years (and this is mostly an educated guess) is that the steward, by reducing the amounts that the debtors owed, was skimming off an interest charge that his boss imposed over and above the initial transaction. That way, what each person repaid would be what he or she actually borrowed. Still, the steward comes across as hardly having a praiseworthy personality.
For our purposes today, we can boil down the moral of the story to this: the children of the world hustle and “get after it” when their priorities are on the line. Do the children of light act in the same way? How much more precious is the treasure that we possess? All the grain bins of wheat and all the tanks of olive oil in the world do not compare to the eternal salvation of one soul!
St. Paul knows well the treasure we’ve been given; he declares in the second reading that there is one mediator between God and man—the man Christ Jesus. We should think of this term “mediator” in a technical sense; Jesus is the perfect bridge between humanity and divinity. It’s not that that he is half of each nature, like two half-full pitchers of liquid combined to make a full one. Rather, Jesus possesses each nature, human and divine, fully, so that he is rather like two pitchers in one person.
Sometimes we hear the word mediator used in a different sense, such as the Blessed Mother, the Holy Angels and the Communion of Saints. Yes, they are intercessors and helpers, but that is a finite mediation. There is only one Redeemer, the Lord Jesus, who by his death and resurrection has rescued us from destruction and leads us to lives of holiness.
This weekend the Church in the United States celebrates Catechetical Sunday. This observance is an occasion to commission our faith formation volunteers and to pray for all those involved in our newly begun year of Religious Education, and we will offer a blessing to the catechists present with us after the homily. I also want to use this occasion to describe the present situation at hand and issue a rallying cry.
There is a need in every generation for the Church to truly be apostolic and evangelize, both in foreign mission territory and locally. Over the years this takes on a different appearance. For my great-grandparents 100 years ago, church membership was so woven into the fabric of North Dakota small-town life that it seemed almost automatic. Nowadays the landscape is very different.
One survey indicates that for every person who comes into the Catholic faith, whether through infant baptism or an adult program like RCIA, six others leave. Think about that; an average of six people fall away in the United States for each one we gain. What is becoming of these brothers and sisters? A number of them find their way to other churches, claiming that they now get something in their new church that their former parish didn’t give them. If ever there were something that should stir up a strong reaction, that would be it! How did they not know about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the teaching of the magisterium, or the authoritative interpretation of Sacred Scripture? What do we ourselves know about these things?
Presently an increasing number of Americans, especially millennials, are what they call “nones,” choosing no religious denomination or activity and only applying spirituality in a private, individual context. Whatever the case, we find a growing subset of Catholics who describe their faith by saying what their grandparents do or used to do. I’m not just talking about a lack of attachment to the external parts of parish life: I’m talking about the status of our relationship with Jesus. How is he relevant to the circumstances of my life? Do we know what we have, so as to share what we have with others? How does our Catholic faith move from “something I do” to “the thing I am honored to do?”
I came across something recently that’s gotten me ruminating on this topic more than usual. Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles wrote an article a couple of weeks ago entitled “Apologists, Catechists, Theologians: Wake Up!” (Not exactly subtle…) Among the things Bishop said was this: “…unless we believers seriously pick up our game intellectually, we’re going to keep losing our kids.” He cited examples such as the false canard that faith and reason are opposed to one another, the Marxist accusation that religion is a wish-fulfilling fantasy (an opiate of the people), and historical episodes of certain Christians behaving cruelly or corruptly. Bishop Barron’s point is that, unless we’re able to charitably yet quickly refute these excuses, they will spread like wildfire in our secular society.
So what can we do about it? As it turns out, we can do a lot, even if we think we are poorly equipped. The battle is God’s. What he asks is for us to step onto the battlefield, just as we are, and to beg Him for the armor of prayer and works of mercy. Jesus tells us today that we cannot serve two masters. Here are some suggestions for serving the Lord more faithfully. And before I begin, let’s recall that the parish plays a supplemental role. We’re here to help, but this presumes that families will roll up their sleeves and dive in.
Yes, we have so much more to learn about what we believe, and I definitely include myself in that category. What are we doing for our own nourishment? There are great resources such as Real Presence Radio, Lighthouse CD’s and numerous Catholic blogs with great content and articles—come to think of it, we should promote some of them in our bulletin and on our web site.
We have hired a new staff member named Joe Hendrickx to work on evangelization and discipleship. Those of you who were here last weekend recall that he introduced himself at the end of Mass. Our investment in his work and position shows that we recognize the effort it entails to reach out to our whole community, one and two people at a time, with the love and mercy of Jesus.
Now, some of you might complain that what I’m doing is preaching to the choir, so to speak. In addition, I want to challenge you to have the hard conversation with loved ones and relatives estranged from the faith. Don’t put them on the defensive and begin by saying “So what happened to you?” Instead, ask, “How are you? What can I do to help you?” Lastly, invite your neighbors, coworkers, and friends to join you. What do you have that they’re missing? Can they tell that we are striving to be children of light, instead of children of the world?