3rd Sunday of Advent – Spiritual Reflection
FOR DECEMBER 15
In today’s Gospel from Mark, John the Baptist sends some of his disciples to Jesus with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” And so I ask: “Look where? Where else would you go? Why would you go there? What’s missing here?”
Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions.
During Advent, the topic of “PACE Catholics” always comes to the fore. (You know about “PACE Catholics, don’t you? They show up on Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Christmas and Easter). Why don’t they come more ofter? Why did they leave in the first place?
The reasons are many and, in many cases, understandable and quite valid. The Catholic Church (interpreted broadly) has made a lot of mistakes over the past 2000 years. We are especially aware of the ones over the last 50 years since we are living in those times. Nevertheless, in one of her blogs (see my website, Frzlock.com for the link) “Moma Fulwiler” poses 5 questions that possibly should be asked before someone heads out the door:
1. Are you sure members of the Church hierarchy are worse than anyone else?
2. Are you sure your faith life would be better outside of the Church?
3. Are you sure the Church’s teachings are wrong? (My personal favorite)
4. Are you sure the Church’s doctrines aren’t divinely inspired?
5. Are you sure we don’t need the Church?
Recently a group of St. Monica Parishioners traveled to Baltimore to a conference hosted by The Church of the Nativity. This parish has gone through a tremendous resurgence and has outlined their experience in the book, REBUILT. Like Jennifer Fulwiler, the leadership at Nativity, at one point, took a candid look at their parish and began to ask some very challenging questions:
* Are we being called to do something totally and radically different?
* What’s the danger if we start to shake things up?
* We hear things like,”I come to Church to get fed.'” Give me good music. Give me good liturgy. Give me good homilies. Give me friendly, welcoming people. Give me great “spiritual stuff” and programs for my kids.”Do we have a parish that fosters and encourages a “consumeristic” mindset among parishioners rather than building disciples?
These are questions that might anger some, peak the interest of others, motivate some to delve deeper. From a Pastor’s point of view, I wonder if the questions present a different type of challenge if we reformat the questions:
1. How can members of the Church hierarchy (like Pastors, Parish Councils, Parish Staff) become better? Where are the “best practices?”
2. What do we need to be doing so that your faith life would be so much better inside the Parish of St. Monica?
3. How can we show that the Church’s teachings are, not only right but attractive?
4. How can the people of St. Monica use the Church’s doctrines to inspire us?
5. If St. Monica would close tomorrow, would anyone miss us?
Some additional questions:
* Have we actually TAUGHT our people to be disciples?
* This seems risky. If people put themselves out there, what are their fears and concerns? What are the repercussions?
* Have we identified how to address these very legitimate fears and concerns?
*How can we use the original “Disciples” as models? The Disciples and Apostles were not perfect. Today’s disciples and apostles aren’t either. People accuse “church people” of being hypocrites. Yup, that’s right. “We” are also the addicted, the afflicted, the angry, the abusers and the abused.
“We” are not perfect. We’re redeemed. And we’re the only ones (perhaps better-PRECISELY the ones) Jesus called to bring the Kingdom to life.
As a Church and as a parish we have to get better. I admit that. One way that we will know that we are “doing it right” will be numbers quite frankly. If the “PACE Catholics” come more frequently, they’re coming for a reason and that’s good. Once they come, however, we have to be a church worth coming to. We have to be a church that is building disciples and not consumers.
But that’s for another Sunday discussion……