Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger

Mornings may not be the wokest time of day for aging teens. Growing up is hard to do and the fallout from dealing all day with raging hormones and the strains of peer pressure in school can leave one exhausted at the end of the week. Just don’t wake me on Sunday — of all mornings!

I know. I have been there. My parents must have earned a “get out of Purgatory free” card or copious brownie points on the partial indulgence scale for all their efforts to get me and my four siblings to Mass on time during our school years. Should it surprise you that even minor seminarians are not exempt from the social and biological benchmarks that all young people have to cope with? 

Not that the young have a monopoly on ecclesial lethargy, that inertia that ties us to our habits and comfort zones as the action of the Holy Spirit in our Church tugs at our spiritual Linus blankets, coaxing us toward a holier and healthier form of being God’s people. It might seem as shocking as a cold splash of water in the face to wake up to the charge of being a pilgrim people, a caravan on mission that does not settle in any one corner of God’s creation, any more than Jesus and the Apostles whom he sent into the four corners of the world. 

Becoming “a pilgrim Church,” what ecclesiologian Richard R. Gaillardetz frames as the “unfinished work of Vatican II” (cf. Lumen Gentium, chapter 7), is an act of humility, in the truest sense of that virtue. “Humus” means “ground” or “earth” in Latin. Those who wish to walk the path of Jesus and his Apostles must remain close to the soil and those who are bound to it. That is why we hear so much of a “Church of welcome” in the teachings of Pope Francis and in the longings of most who are asked what they want to see in the Church: a society of friends. Friends always meet friends where they are. True friends, however, do not just leave friends where they are …

Ay, there’s the rub, as Hamlet soliloquized on the temptation to just fall asleep, even unto the sleep of death, and be rid of all the anxieties and cares of this world. A Church that becomes more of a groundskeeper, a plant manager, or a museum curator forgets the commission of its founder to go into the world and tell the good news (Mk. 16:15). So maybe parents — and others similarly situated — are not the worst ogres in the world for inducing their (spiritual) children to wake up and smell the coffee, to use a more adult metaphor. Jesus, after all, shows up on the road, even as friends are arguing (cf. Emmaus, Lk. 24) and focused on the past. He arrives in the present. 

Some people see only crises when they think of the Church today. In a way, they are right. Every decisive moment is a “crisis” — in the literal meaning of that word of Greek origin. But every moment is decisive, in the eyes of faith. Yes, faith is a way of seeing, or of waking up to the challenge of the present, where Jesus always meets us. And he invites us to stand up and walk with him on our pilgrimage, our faith journey.

Of what are we afraid if Jesus is with us? Tired priests and deacons, fewer Masses or shuttered churches? Tighter money as we place victims’ needs ahead of shoring up aging infrastructure? Fair enough. Yes, but staying in bed and worrying can increase our sense of worthlessness, frustration and lead to discouragement. The poet T.S. Eliot said “April is the cruelest month,” no doubt observing the indecency of daffodils daring to push up fresh shoots through the decaying leaves of dead autumn, preaching a gospel that finds life even in the tomb of despair.

Kathy Barrans, our new director of communications, shared a reflection with me recently and a song you might want to listen to: We sense that many are feeling overwhelmed by waves of bad news and fears about the future. Tossed about in the boat on the seas of life’s fortunes, the Master may seem to be asleep at the helm. The Gospels account for this and the often-fragile faith of the Apostles. We must not forget how, hanging onto the Cross, and witnessing the Resurrection, they spread the Name in a world that put many of them to death, even as it is redeemed by it, hearing the message they preached.

Some see fewer Masses … I see more reverent and joyous ones, better prepared, attended and participated in. Less can be more when quality is valued over mere quantity.

Some see fewer priests ... priests alone and tired. I see priests growing in holiness, accompanied by loving families of faith, supporting one another with their numerous gifts, even as each calls out the best in each other. Less preoccupied by strata of “clergy” and “laity” than being God’s people together, to use the language of Vatican II (cf. Lumen Gentium). Everyone leads.

Some see only church sites closing … I see faith families defined less by territory and inventories, than by personal presence. Not just memories of the past and virtual reality, but real presence. Maybe some of those precious buildings can be envisioned as adoration chapels or oratories, venues for weddings, funerals, missions, retreats or other special celebrations, Catholic and occasionally ecumenical. 

Some see fewer material resources as we spend more, like the forgiving father on the lost son or the profligate sower of the parables, on the poor and abused … I see investment in people who are part of our family and who are our present hope and future, wounded children healed by a family who will never again orphan or abandon them.

Some may be falling asleep and dying … I want to be among those who are only waking up and rising, and I want to lead others into the Light who raises them up: Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God.

Faith is indeed a way of seeing … or of letting our Risen Lord lift the scales from our eyes, to see him and only him as our Redeemer, and not the things we hold on to with white knuckles.

As the women who went back to the tomb very early in the morning, expecting to find their Lord among the dead, were surprised by the angel — “He is not here … he has risen!” (Mt. 28:6, Lk. 24:6) — I hope to be surprised again and again by what the risen Lord will accomplish in our daily lives as we journey in faith with him together. And please don’t call me late for Mass. I intend to show up early.