21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 21, 2016
St. Augustin Catholic Parish, Des Moines, Iowa
Deacon Mike Manno
Readings: Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30
Good Morning –
The readings this morning – “enter through the narrow gate,” “depart from me you evildoers,” and “waling and grinding of teeth” certainly sets a homilist up for a good “hellfire and brimstone” message; and I was very tempted to go with that. You know there is something about a little “hellfire and brimstone” that would just make my day, but, I’m going to demur – at least for the moment.
Instead, something caught my eye in the National Catholic Register the other week that piqued my interest. It was a story about the Republican nominee for vice president, Indiana Governor Mike Pence. Like his counterpart on the Democratic ticket, and the incumbent vice president, Gov. Pence was born and raised a Catholic. Unlike the other two, who have – shall we say – reinterpreted some Catholic moral teaching – Gov. Pence hasn’t. But also unlike the other two, he has left the Church.
He was raised in a strong Irish-Catholic family, was an altar boy and even considered becoming a priest. But when he got to college -- he says in an interview, he turned his life over to Christ and sought a more personal relationship with him. Thus he was led to an Evangelical Protestant church.
Now that, in and of itself, is just a mildly interesting story about a current political figure. At least until you consider some of the statistics that pertain to this story.
A recent Pew Research survey found that 13% of adults raised Catholic now consider themselves evangelicals. In fact, Pew has found that among those leaving the Church, most have affiliated with another church and predominant among them are evangelical churches. The reason most given is that they are seeking a “more personal” relationship with God. Seventy-one percent of them said their spiritual needs were not being met in the Catholic Church.
Now these are findings that just boggle the mind, especially considering that, like Gov. Pence, these are sincere people that have a strong faith and value system.
So the question I ask is “why?” What has happened?” After all, this is the Church founded on the Apostle Peter – we’ve been in the business of bringing people to God for 2,000 years – evangelical churches are relatively new upstarts, what do they know that we might have misplaced or forgotten?
Sherry Weddell, is the director of the Catherine of Siena Institute, which is dedicated to equipping parishes for the evangelization and formation of lay Catholics. She is also the author of the book “Forming Intentional Disciples.” She relates a story of a Catholic man who was in full-time ministry forming clergy who told her that until he read her book he didn’t realize it was possible to have a personal relationship with God.
You know, since the time of Vatican II the Church has tried to become less clerical and more lay-involved. While we’re not a do-it-yourself church, the idea is that the laity will find for themselves ways utilizing the framework of the Church, its teachings, dogmas, sacraments, and the like to make a personal journey of faith and therefore to draw closer to God. While some do that very well, many others feel comfortable with just the basics – not willing to stray too far from Sunday Mass attendance and the reception of the Eucharist. Still others, like Gov. Pence, may feel frustrated, wanting more on their faith journey.
So how do we translate all this? How do we – and I hate to phrase it this way – become more evangelical? In fact, that’s not a bad way to phrase it: How do we become Catholic evangelicals?
Well, I know a lot of evangelicals, especially in my work with drug and alcohol dependents and prisoners, and now with Catholic media. I also know a number of evangelical ministers. So let me give you three things that I see them do that I think some of us miss in the hustle of our busy lives, especially those who would like to have a closer relationship with God and a more satisfying spiritual life.
The first is that they read scripture on a regular basis. I know many Catholics who only read and hear scripture from the Sunday readings. Folks, that’s not enough. Evangelical friends of mine tell me that they won’t start their day without reading from the bible for at least 15 minutes. Many will read it again at night or on their lunch breaks, and some do it as part of a family gathering.
Now I understand that we Catholics have developed a reputation of non-bible readers. A lot of that comes from our history: there were no printing presses for the first 1,500 years of our existence; and, until recently the literacy rates were such that most people couldn’t read a bible even if they could get one.
That is not true today. There are many inexpensive editions of the bible that you can easily obtain – some are paperback versions that you can highlight and write in without ruining that big old family bible that you keep for show but is too awkward to read. Anytime I’ve been with an evangelical I’ve always noticed how worn their bible is and how much highlighting and hand written notes were in it.
So number one, if you are seeking more spiritual growth or a closer relationship with God, get yourself a bible and read it! You will be surprised how much more sense everything here will make when you read what God has said to us through his inspired authors.
Second is a good prayer life. We’re taking a survey on prayer this week – so please make sure you take part. People that I know who have a deep relationship with God are people who have a well developed prayer life. They are in almost constant prayer – and it’s not just prayer when they need something; it is grateful prayer for what they do have even if by our standards it may be very little. They know where their bounty comes from, are generally satisfied, and grateful.
Now we have a chapel – open 24 hours – where you can come face-to-face with Jesus and open yourself to him. It’s a wonderful place to come and read scripture. But whether you do it here or in the privacy of your own room, it is something that we all need to do. And there are all sorts of things this parish does to help you, including our upcoming Christ Renews His Parish weekend retreats that are guaranteed to deepen your faith; and if you come, we’ll even give you a new bible.
The third thing I see is that evangelicals are not afraid to evangelize. They are not shy about talking about their faith. Now I know some can be a bit obnoxious about it, and I’m certainly not suggesting that you start going door-to-door asking neighbors if they really know Christ. But when the subject comes up in conversation – and in today’s culture it surely will – don’t shy away: stick up for our beliefs, kindly and in a pastoral way, but firmly.
People should know you are a Christian and why. There is nothing to be ashamed of or fearful about. Be faithful in you conversations, after all, you might open someone else’s eyes, mind, and heart to who this Jesus really is.
And when we do these things we’ll understand better the message we get from scripture. We’ll understand the message from our second reading today about accepting God’s discipline – that it’s not to punish but to train in virtue – and we’ll better understand God’s concept of entering through the narrow gate and how to more easily spot the “false teachers” Jesus warns us of over and over – especially in today’s culture where it is assumed that the easy path – not the narrow gate – is the way to happiness – and that very real people, like those Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel, do go to Hell.
So I think we can learn something from our evangelical friends that will help us on our journey: Know and read the bible; develop a deep and spiritual prayer life; and don’t deny your faith by your silence.
Unfortunately today’s society does not put much stock in Jesus and his message – you only need to read a daily newspaper or watch the evening news. Personal gratification – not unity with Christ – is being preached by the high priests of secularism. God is being separated from his people and put into a box that we dare not open.
The Gospel message is being parsed and we are taught to accept those things that lead to the wide, not the narrow, gate. And in doing so we are being asked to become our own savior, replacing the man who hung on a cross for three hours for us.
But that won’t work for those filled with the evangelical spirit. They understand through their deep relationship and knowledge of God what the truth really is.
Those who follow society through the wide gate will hear the words of today’s Gospel, “I do not know you … depart from me … there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
But those filled with the Spirit of God, those who truly seek to know him better and follow his truth, and whose faith is strong enough to resist societal pressures, will hear different words: “Well done, my good and faithful friend.”