A word from Pope Francis ~ “The holy anxiety for the Gospel is the only anxiety that gives peace.”
As our community gathers this weekend, we celebrate the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, continue our observance of Respect Life month and conduct our annual “Stewardship as a Way of Life” recommitment. This weekend’s Gospel passage follows immediately on the end of last Sunday’s passage where Jesus stated that only those who accept the Kingdom of God like a child (with a sense of total dependence) will enter it. Mark continues Jesus’ teaching with an encounter with a rich young man who has since his youth been very faithful in keeping the commandments. When Jesus challenges him to let go of his possessions and share them with those in greater need, the young man turns away. The values of our world – wealth, power and status – do not put one on the fast track to the Kingdom. Again, we need to accept the Kingdom of God like a child – one who has no status and no rights, and is totally dependent upon on others for life and sustenance. We enter the Kingdom of God not by entitlement (good actions, material riches, prestige or power) but by total surrender and dependence upon God alone. For us it is impossible, but not for God!
We continue our observance of Respect Life Month with this year’s theme “Every Life: Cherished, Chosen, Sent.”Forty-nine years ago the Catholic bishops in the United States designated October as Respect Life Month. Throughout this month, we are called in a special way to reflect on the gift of human life, the threats against it and how we can protect all persons from conception through natural death. One of the Respect Life initiatives of our parish begun a few years ago is our Expecting Parents’ Prayer List. It is normally printed in the bulletin. Any couple who is expecting the birth of a child can have their names and due date added to this prayer list by calling the parish office. This gives us an opportunity to support our expecting parents with our prayers.
A few weeks ago, I was the main presenter at our RCIA session following the 10:00 am Mass. I called the presentation “God’s Call – Abraham and Moses,” and it explained some key ideas about the way we see ourselves as a church. In the second chapter of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church, we call ourselves the “new people of God.” I cannot stress too much how basic this idea is to the understanding of ourselves and our Catholic faith. For those who are thinking of becoming Catholics, this idea of a “people religion” (God & us) explains some of the difficulties they might have or will have.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is certainly the one aspect of our faith which causes the most difficulty for prospective converts. They usually ask: “Why should I tell my sins to a priest? I can just go to God directly to have my sins forgiven.” This illustrates the basic difference between Protestantism and Catholicism. Basically Protestantism is an individual religion (God & me), relying on private reading and interpretation of the Bible. So a Protestant is inclined to think of sin as an offense only against God and naturally feels that reconciliation is only necessary with God. But a Catholic, being a member of a “People Religion” (God & us), believes that faith basically ties a person not only to God, but to God’s people. For a Catholic, sin is not only an offense against God but also an offense against each other – God’s people. The priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation proclaims God’s reconciliation to the person and then, as a representative of God’s people, reconciles the person to each person they may have hurt. So, before a Protestant would be able to accept the practice of celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he would first have to accept this way of looking at sin, and even before that, this way of looking at religion itself.
Additional aspects of our faith grow out of our seeing ourselves as a “God and Us” religion, a “people religion.” Even our Bible, the Word of God, is a result of our being part of a community.
The books of the Bible were written over hundreds of years by various members of the people. Over the ages, members of the church wrote down their experiences with God so that we could recognize the presence of God when we had similar experiences. What came first – the Bible or the church? Obviously, the church came first! God had to gather a people and relate with them before the story of God’s relationship with the people could be written. The Bible is the story of God’s relationship with us. Seeing ourselves as the community of the disciples of the Lord Jesus is another way of expressing our roots as a “God & Us” community. We journey to God together throughout our lives together.
The idea of a “people religion” also explains other things which are unique to being a Catholic. One is that we honor saints because as members of the same people, they are one with us. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and are still connected to them. Another aspect is that we stress the Sunday Mass obligation so much because we are called to worship God not only as individuals, but together as a people. Finally, we have so many different symbols and ceremonies to express our faith because so many people over the ages have contributed from their culture to the practice of the people as a whole. Some interesting thoughts….
Cooler temperatures are coming our way as the autumn season settles upon us. Let’s make it a point to notice the beauty of this season and be grateful – it is the Lord’s gift to us in this present moment. Enjoy the holiday weekend. May God continue to bless us with all that we need, and more.
Father Jim Murphy