Father Greg Friedman, OFM is with the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land. In a recent video, he told a story about Francis … the saint, not the Pope. Another Franciscan brother overheard St. Francis praying over and over again, “Who are you Lord, and who am I.”
It’s a great question, especially today. Many people are confused about their faith, the church, their relationship to God, even whether God exists. In such confusing times, it seems important to go back to the basics. What does God ask of us? A good place to start is the bible, specifically in the Old Testament. The prophet Micah wrote, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” We read something similar In Psalm 37:3, “Trust in the LORD and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.” In the New Testament, St. Paul echoes this in his advice to the Roman church, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
Ok. So what does “doing good” look like?
Ann Menna is Deputy Secretary of Catechetical Formation for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Ann is a big fan of St. Monica and the creative approaches to faith and catechesis that our parish has tried over the past few years. In “Catholic Philly,” she recently talked about the theme for Catechetical Sunday this year which is “Enlisting Witnesses for Christ.” Ann writes, “Faith formation, however, is not restricted to a classroom and only to children. As Bishop Robert Barron notes in his message for Catechetical Sunday, Sept. 16, that ‘it takes the whole church … inside and outside the walls of the church and across society, to reach out and accompany (the faithful), and share the joy of the Gospel with them.’”
Ann then provided a local example. “We need to be and take Jesus to others, especially those on the peripheries. One beautiful example of this catechetical witness is the IHM Family Literacy Center run by the sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Literacy Center was originally established in 2002 in St. Joachim Parish, Philadelphia, and just recently its new location in Coatesville. It serves immigrant Hispanic women and their young children. It is unique among social outreach programs in that is doesn’t receive a dime from the any governmental sources, federal, state or local. It depends entirely on funds received from the IHM Sisters and private benefactors. It’s a full-time ministry for Sister Bernadette Heistler, the director, and Sister Jean Hennelly, who teach the mothers and for Priscilla Clouser who teaches the toddlers and preschool children. They are also assisted by a dedicated group of volunteers.
For the Catholic Philly interview, a number of women spoke about the impact of the program on their lives. All described themselves as “shy, scared” and confined to a home that was chaotic with little or no outside support and very dependent on their husbands especially for shopping and on translators for school or medical appointments. That is, until they found “the sisters” and “this program” which “changed their lives.” All agreed that they were taught more than English. In almost mantra-like fashion each woman voiced the term “rules and routine” that replaces chaos with respect in the homes. All said that they are now confident and strong in their roles as mothers. Through the work of the these great IHM coaches at the IHM Family Literacy Center, these women now have a game plan for their life, family and their church.
Father Matthew Guckin was on hand to bless the new location. On a SoundCloud podcast, he relates his thoughts about the “good news” of this ministry, especially so dramatically juxtaposed against the backdrop of so much bad news about the church.
Last week I began writing about how parishioners at St. Monica are starting to “encounter Christ through Helping Others.” Walking With Purpose has been assisting Visitation School and the Blessed Sarnelli House soup kitchen in Kensington. Our Respect Life Ministry along with the Holy Name Society has helped the Legacy of Life women’s homes in Bristol. You don’t have to travel to Coatesville or Kensington or Bristol to be a disciple. I’ll be relaying additional information about what our parish will be doing to reach out and help others soon. But one way that it’s being done today is happening in our Parish Center. One of our other parish focuses is helping people “Encounter Christ Through the Word.” Last week at the 9:30 Mass, we started the “Children’s Liturgy of the Word.” We did not expect 35 small children to come forward. As the group moderator took the children out, I noticed another woman, who often teaches the children as well, get up and follow. She knew that 35 children would be tough for just one person so she sacrificed and helped fill in. That’s discipleship.
Jason Carter, along with Diane Pealer and Meghan Nulty, will be breaking in the new Hagenbach Room as well as 5 other, newly renovated and furnished rooms and spaces to bring the Bible to our young people. Jason and his team is trying a new “small groups” approach to not only bring the Word to our young people in a new and compelling way, it is also designed to begin building up a sense of what a community among our young people feels like. This doesn’t happen on its own. A number of adults – as well as about half-dozen high school students – answered the call to assist in the ministry as well.
In Matthew 28:16-20, we read “The Great Commission” that Jesus gave his Disciples.
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Back during Pentecost, I offered parishioners to take a St. Monica refrigerator magnet and write down a “Pentecost Project.” In other words, in what way did they feel the Lord was calling them to be disciples. (My project was to re-ignite ALPHA here at St. Monica. The “Alpha Team” kicks off session one today after the 11:30 Mass).
How is the Lord calling you? Where are you being led to be a disciple? The church certainly needs you to be the “good news” today.
Audio version of the homily is here: