|Date:||January 14-15, 2017, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time , Cycle A|
My sister gave me Sr. Joan Chittister's book In Search of Belief a few years ago for Christmas. One of the stories Sr. Joan tells in the book is of the time she was preparing for Confirmation back in the pre Vatican II days; the parish priest came to one of their final classes to quiz the class on their faith. Things were going along smoothly as he asked them questions on the many topics they had been prepared for. Then he asked them a question they had not been prepared for, "Why are you Catholic?" Now I am not going to ask any of you to answer that question out loud but I would invite you to answer it silently.
After a long silence, one youngster offered up, "Because I believe in Christ?" The priest shook his head no. Another offered, "Because it is the one, true Church?" The priest again shook his head no. "Because I want to go to heaven?" No. One after the other the priest rejected the answers the students came up with, all of them based on the information they had studied in preparing for Confirmation. Finally Joan timidly suggested, "Because I was born Catholic!"
"Yes, " said the priest, "All of you are Catholic because you were born Catholic." He then proceeded to urge them to look at their upcoming Confirmation as the start of a life long process of choosing to be Catholic through the work of the Holy Spirit.
I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that, for most of us, that is the real reason that we are Cath0lic. We were born Catholic and have never really gone through any deep soul searching process of deciding whether to remain Catholic.
Today's Gospel story of Jesus calling his first disciples stands in stark contrast to the reality that most of the Catholics in this parish, in this collaborative, are Catholic because we were born Catholic. Why were Peter and Andrew and John and James disciples? It certainly was not because they were born that way. John and James and Andrew and Peter were disciples because of a personal encounter with Christ, who called them personally to follow him.
So we have two examples of how someone can be a disciple: being born into it, and being called personally by Christ. Which do you think makes for the more dedicated disciple? I would suggest that most of us would say that being called personally. The good news is that being born a Catholic does not mean that you are not called personally. In fact, everyone who is Catholic is called personally by Christ to follow him. That call is not a one time thing; we need to hear it and respond to it over and over again, in ever deepening relationship throughout our life.
Being Catholic is not about accepting a set of rules, or believing a list of dogmas, or acting in certain ways. Sounding a lot like his predecessor, Pope Francis said in a homily back at the start of Advent, that "the Christian faith is not a theory, philosophy, or idea, but an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ."
Does that mean that somehow everyone of us needs to experience some kind of mystical encounter with Christ, to hear our personal call? Not really. While mystical experiences are something that anyone can strive for, that is not the normal way we encounter Christ. For most of us in this time and this place of the Church, the parish is that place where people encounter the living Christ. How this works is both a deep mystery and a very clear example of the working of the Holy Spirit, but it is living out our mission to be the Body of Christ.
We in this Archdiocese have gone through some tough times over the past 15 or so years, starting with the clergy abuse scandal. In this parish we have experienced the pain of closure and the joy at its reprieve; we have suffered the loss of two pastors. We have gone through a lot in working with St. Elizabeth of Hungary to become a vibrant collaborative. As we move forward, everything must be measured against our mission as church. We have to ask ourselves individually as well as a parish and collaborative, how does St. isidore parish serve as a place, an event, where people within the parish community and without, encounter the living Christ? If this is not the reality then there is no real parish here.
I would pray that each of us ponder that question, "Why am I Catholic?" very seriously and very personally. If you are looking for concrete ways to encounter Christ, we have those: sign up for the upcoming Disciples in Mission training, Alpha is coming in March, go on a Cursio, volunteer in one of the many parish activities, do bible study, book groups, pray more, read more scripture, sing more. Practice those 3 minutes a day of listening that Val Limar Jansen suggested.
If we do that, I am confident that the Holy Spirit will guide us surely and safely from an answer of "Because I was born Catholic" to an ever deepening response of "Because I have encountered the living Christ, and he has called me to follow him."