Fr. Mark's Homily - October 4/5, 2010
“Write the vision, make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it” (Hab. 2:2). Where there is no vision the people perish” (Prov. 29:18).
Today, I am going to try in my human weakness, to share a broad vision I have for our parish. A vision, that I believe through reflection and prayer, God has given me as the direction He wishes us to take as a parish at this time in our history. What I will share with you today is broad and general in nature. The specifics, some of which are already in place, of how it will unfold will become apparent over time as we continue to seek God for direction. The vision contains five key elements or points. Why five? The number five is an important number in Sacred Scripture and our Catholic faith. The Torah consists of the first 5 books of the Bible, Our Lord received five wounds in His crucifixion, every ancient town or city had 5 gates by which to enter, it was five loaves of bread that Jesus multiplied to feed the hungry crowds and the Rosary, a meditation on the life of Christ, has five decades. If we decide individually and corporately to respond to the vision I believe it will come to pass over time and we will see God work in remarkable ways in our lives and in our parish as a whole. So let me get right into it and share the five key points or elements.
God is calling us to put out into the deep waters of faith. In his apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the Third Millennium), Pope John Paul II called the Church to do this at the end of the Jubilee year 2000. He quoted Luke 5:4 which says, “Put out in the deep and let your nets out for a catch.” This call is more relevant and urgent today in the year 2010 than it was in the year 2000. To explain why we need to put out into the deep waters of faith I have used the analogy of a hurricane. We are all familiar with hurricanes and we know that when a hurricane comes ashore that anything in the shallow waters by the seashore is either severely damaged or destroyed, as it is tossed about by the raging waves hitting the shore. However, when the hurricane is far out in the deep waters of the ocean, while the waters on the surface or raging down below the surface in the deep waters of the ocean, all is calm. My friends, there are storms that we are all going to face in life, Jesus promised there would be (He said when the storms come, not if) and there are storms coming upon humanity. If we are not out in the deep waters of faith, with our lives hidden in God in Christ we are going to be shaken, tossed about and battered by these storms. Those in the shallow waters of faith are lukewarm about serving God and are not well-grounded in the knowledge of their faith in Christ. God and the Church are a kind of sideline thing that they do on Sunday. God is compartmentalized in their life, one of many things they do, but He is not Lord of their lives and a part of everything they do 24/7. God wants His people to have “deep roots” in their relationship with Him, for He is the only safe refuge when the storms of life come. In future homilies I will expand on what storms we are facing now and will face in the future.
The second element of this vision is a call to gird our hearts and minds with the truth. I have spoken about truth and that truth is a person, Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus founded His Church and said he would send the Holy Spirit who would lead it in all truth. The unity that we have as Catholics Christians is rooted and based on truth. Unity based on anything else is a false unity. In my five years of priesthood I have discovered that when I speak to people about problems and difficulties they are having it can ultimately be traced back to some aspect of their lives that, instead of being rooted in the truth, they have believed a lie and have allowed that lie to be embraced in their lives. It can be their own fault for exposing themselves to the lie or it can often be a lie they have come to believe through what they have told by someone else. Either way, because of the lie and deception they having become enslaved in some way and are not experiencing the true freedom and joy God wants them to have as His children. The path to healing, restoration and freedom is always found in helping them see the truth about who they are in God and explaining how God calls them to live. Through sharing the truth with them, through prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit they can find freedom, restoration and healing. It is important for me to say that sharing the truth with people is often difficult because, at first, they may not want to hear it. The truth will often agitate us before it illuminates us and sets us free. But yet, we are not loving others, if we do not share the truth with them. We must be willing to suffer for love, sharing the truth with people even, if at first, they will reject it and us. As a parish, through many ways, we are going to explore the fullness of the truth that has been handed down to us in our Catholic faith. To do anything less is a disservice to you the People of God and anyone else God may send to us.
The third element is the call to evangelize. I spoke of evangelization two weeks ago and cited a number of Church documents that affirm that the reason of the Church’s existence is to evangelize. Evangelization can be defined as helping others to come to a saving and personal knowledge of Jesus Christ and helping them live out the ramifications of that relationship. We cannot bring anyone to a conversion to Christ, that is the work of the Holy Spirit but what we can and must do is inform, invite and pray. Pope John Paul II called for a “new evangelization” that must be new in its ardour and methods. The message always remains the same but can be communicated through new methods such as media, song, poetry, drama, concerts, literature etc. We must use all the methods God has given us at this time in history to proclaim this good news to others and invite them to discover the beauty of One we have discovered –Jesus Christ – the way, the truth and the life. We are already doing this and using some of these methods but we can do more. We can use new methods we are currently not using. I believe we have talents and gifts that are yet untapped in our parish and we need identify and draw those gifts out to be used in the “new evangelization” we are called to – the fields are ripe for harvest!
The fourth element is the family. The family is the key to the salvation of the world. In ancient times God saved the world through a family, Noah and his family, and 2000 years ago God brought the Saviour of the world into it, through a family; Mary and Joseph. We must strengthen and build up the family, as God intended it to be from the beginning, one man and one woman in a life- long committed relationship of love open to bringing of children into the world and generously sharing the love they have for each other with them. Bringing them up to come to know and love God. The family is a specific and special channel of God’s grace to the world. In our day the family is under attack because the evil one knows if he can destroy the family he can destroy civilization. He has done a pretty good job but I want you to know that when God’s plan of salvation for this age is fulfilled the family will be left standing and people will once again live as God intended. So in everything we do we will support, encourage and build up families as that special channel of God’s grace to the world. It will be through families, living selflessly for each other that God’s love will become visible to the world. Let me clarify as well, that if you are a single-parent or a single person, you are a family and a part of a family, for we together are the family of God. Everyone is included and part of a family.
The fifth and final element is a call to prayer. I have spoken of “contemplating the face of Christ” and the different ways we do that: in our worship, our prayer, reading God’s Word, in the Blessed Sacrament and in our brothers and sisters. Everything I have spoken of must begin and flow out of prayer or it is nothing but human effort and will fail. Remember the words of Jesus, “I am the vine and you are the branches…for without Me you can do nothing”(Jn.15:5). I shared one of God’s secrets with you a couple of weeks ago; God knows what He wants to do and is His will to do but He waits for His people to pray before He does it. Prayer aligns our will with God’s will. I know that this is the weak link in this vision. It is the part that most of us find most difficult to do. We can get involved in a program, a ministry or a committee and give money, but we find it so hard to pray. We find it hard to pray individually, as a family and corporately as a parish so this is where I believe we should start to concentrate first. So today, I once again call us individually to spend at least 20 minutes daily with the Lord is private prayer. I call us to find ways to pray as families and ways to pray together as a parish. In the stewardship brochure you received in the mail this week it identifies six ways we can each make our parish better. Of these six ways, one is pray, and I would say this is the most important of the six. Of the six, I would ask you to make #6, praying for our parish your priority. My goal is to designate Friday’s as our “parish day of prayer” at St. Thomas Aquinas where the Church is open with the Blessed Sacrament exposed all day for people to drop in and pray. Faith the size of a mustard seed will move tree and mountains. Prayer will open doors for God to work powerfully in our parish and most importantly it will transform our hearts as God gives us His heart (Sacred Heart), a heart aflame with Divine love.
I want to conclude today by saying if this vision is of me, and purely human, it will surely fail. If it is of God, however, then the Spirit of will begin to work in our hearts as we open them up and embrace it. The Holy Spirit will inspire us, empower us and show us what our part is to play in helping to bring it to pass. Let us once again hear the words of our Psalm today, “Oh, that today you would listen to the voice of the Lord. Do not harden your hearts.” As your Pastor, I would ask you to make it a matter of daily prayer to pray for our parish that we will be open to having this vision unfold and to lead us each day in some way to see it begin to come to pass. “Write down the vision and make it plain on tablets that a runner may read it.” “Where there is no vision the people perish.”