7/27/2017 9:00:00 AM BISHOP'S COLUMN Conversion of the heart The spark that sets faith on fire
‘It is not only churches that lose connections with their members in today’s world. Families also suffer from the separation and estrangement of members. There are many reasons for this....The alarming explosion of various addictions is profoundly destabilizing. The lack of trust and dependability affects lives and communities socially, economically and politically. How can we reverse this trend and bring family members closer together?’
Did you know that God is calling you?
I am not talking about a specific state-in-life vocation like priesthood, religious life or marriage, but something even deeper and much more vital to your life right now.
For most of us, this call actually started many years ago. You probably don't remember it, because when it happened, you were too young; your parents and godparents had to answer for you. But, at the time of your baptism -- probably when you were an infant -- Jesus called you personally to be His disciple.
He has not stopped calling. A seed was planted back then, a God-seed. Throughout the years, if you are still practicing your Christian faith, that seed has hopefully sprouted and been growing.
Many Catholics, however, experience a kind of dryness or staleness in their spirituality as they move on in life. Even those who have been baptized as adults and gone through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) process may not retain that sense of freshness and exhilaration they felt at the Easter vigil Mass, when they received the sacrament.
The Church seems to have left them. Its rituals and attitudes, teachings and preachings -- at least, in the circle that such Catholics have experienced -- do not seem to be connecting well with their lives.
There is no question that they still hope for and seek something or someone who will touch them deeply and feed their deepest longings, but it's just that "the Church" -- any church -- does not seem to be the place where this is going to happen.
The growing number of people formerly associated with a specific religion are characterized as "Nones" by those who study such trends. Such persons are not typically hostile to organized religions, like Bill Maher or the Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins atheist dyad. They just do not find religions particularly relevant -- a "meh" attitude.
Do you know any "Nones?" Are you or a loved one on the road to becoming a None?
It's sad to say, but to be fair and honest, this sense of alienation and distancing among people who should be sharing the joys of friendship, intimacy and common life is not just a religious issue. It is not only churches that lose connections with their members in today's world. Families also suffer from the separation and estrangement of members.
There are many reasons for this, of course, and they are often very complex. Whether these are symptoms or causes, the alarming explosion of various addictions, including drugs, alcohol, pornography and others, is profoundly destabilizing. The lack of trust and dependability affects lives and communities socially, economically and politically.
How can we reverse this trend and bring family members closer together?
The Church is (or is called to be) a family for those without family. In a true family, every person counts! Less a random ingredient in a minestrone and more of a precious stone in the mosaic, each person, while part of a greater and colorful picture, retains his or her unique identity.
Jesus came to save everyone. He is everyone's Savior, not just the Catholic faith "founder." He would have died for you were you the only person in this world. Believe this and hold onto this conviction! God wants you to know His unconditional love for you. He wants you to turn your heart over to His Son, Jesus, as the center of your life!
Now, that is the heart of the Gospel, what makes it such "Good News." But, how many Christians have actually felt that, let alone heard it that way?
The mantra might be in our heads, but has it reached our hearts? It may seem like something that's fine for "Bible-thumper" types or those who have professed religious vows, but since when does this have anything to do with the fact that one is baptized and (at least nominally) called a Christian?
It has everything to do with it, and with each of us personally. Otherwise, our faith is empty and meaningless, just a cultural accident or a stage in our developmental history, like when we literally believed that Santa Claus came down the chimney.
The central Gospel message is essentially and profoundly personal. It is that Jesus Christ suffered and died for our sins -- your sins and mine, no matter how bad, remote or denied -- so that He could raise us up to eternal life.
That means He wants to make you a saint, though that may be the most remote thing you believe possible. If we think this is just a nice fantasy, then we have not yet understood the Gospel, and we don't have a very good idea who Jesus really is and wants to be for us.
Are you ready to take that step to a deeper level and be changed?
If this seems too good to be true, take heart. This concept was not something even the Apostles grasped immediately. Remember the doubts of St. Thomas, even after the other Apostles told him about the resurrection? Remember how long it took Peter to finally discover that Jesus wanted more from Him than to be His vicar on earth? Jesus wanted Peter's complete trust and love. Remember Paul, who was actively persecuting the Church and preaching against Jesus?
Our faith is a not a philosophy of a wise teacher who told His disciples to just try and get along. It is about a God-Man who died for us by taking on the just penalty we deserved for our sins so we could have the reward He deserved for His holiness!
The message is aimed straight at our hearts: Christ died for you and me personally. It is that "balm in Gilead," as the old song relates, to "heal the sin-sick soul."
All God asks for us first is to accept being accepted, in all our unworthiness. He wants us to cling to Jesus and let go of the false gods we make of power, money, work, sensuality and the like. Even our good works will not save us. He is our only hope!
We can take none of these idols beyond the grave -- where each of us is headed, no matter who we know, what we own or where we've gone in life.
Christ invites us to see that all is worthless if He is not the center of our life. There is no other way to a life that does not crash at the gravesite, like a light bulb smashed on a marble floor. We die with nothing and for nothing.
With Him, however, as C.S. Lewis puts it, we get an eternity -- and the whole world thrown in, besides.