July 8, 2018
From time to time we read new statistics about fewer and fewer people attending church on a regular basis. This is true not only in the United States but almost everywhere in the world. Here in Chicago Cardinal Cupich established the Renew My Church initiative several years ago—and it is now in process in many areas of the Archdiocese—in order to revitalize our parishes so that they would be alive in faith, full of energy, and ready to evangelize in new and contemporary ways. Just how well we accomplish those goals remains to be seen.
Recently I read a summary of a book written by Chris Sonksen. The title of his book is Quit Church, which might seem a strange title for a Pastor wanting to energize all kinds of people to know, love and serve Jesus Christ better by their lives and actions. He is the founder of a church called South Hills Church, whose main campus is in Corona, California, but now has satellite campuses in several other cities in California, Washington and Puerto Rico. Chris and his wife Laura are the lead pastors, and they have done all kinds of research and coaching of other pastors as part of their ministry.
Pastor Sonksen claims that only 39 percent of active believers consider the Bible as the literal word of God. Less than 20 percent of professing believers follow the biblical principle of giving. Only 5 percent have shared their faith with a non-believer. More than half of all church members attend church once a month or less. He says, “Something has to change!”
Casual attendance and the belief that others will serve, give and share the Gospel are tearing down churches across our country brick by brick. As believers, it’s time we are either all in or we get out. The solution is simple: quit! That’s right—quit! If we quit the casual way we approach God’s principles, can you imagine what would happen in our personal walks of faith and in our community of believers?
What if every believer exercised generosity? What if every Christian fought for loyalty in the local church? What if everyone served in their God-given purpose? What would happen if we stopped simply believing and started belonging? If we would only quit the way we approach our relationship to Christ and our local church, the blessing, the reward, the joy, the fulfillment, the purpose, and the increase would radically transform our lives and the world. Together, we can revolutionize the church, but the only way we can do this is if we quit.
He says his conversations over the past several years have revealed the spiritual habits necessary for personal and church growth and revealed the “why” behind disengagement in the church. The truth is, if we don’t feel passionate about something, we don’t do it. If we don’t like something that happens in the church, we find another one. If the spiritual practices don’t fit out lifestyle, we don’t do them.
This mindset permeates our “I want it now, and I want it my way” culture and is only reinforced through social media, website choices, TV options and countless other platforms that have risen in prominence in our lives. This is not the way God intended the church to live. The local church is not a building; it is a body of believers fulfilling God’s purpose in our lives. When these believers approach their individual involvement and commitment in a casual manner, it weakens the entire body of Christ and the impact we are called to have.
As a result, we lose, and so does the local church. God wants us to win, to thrive, to fulfill our potential in him. We will not experience the abundance he desires for us until we quit our current approach, and we are all-in. Once you go all-in on generosity, serving, outreach, discipleship and the other biblical behaviors laid out in his word, then look out, because God will rain on your life with his blessings like you have never experienced.
Pastor Sonksen concludes with these words, “Jesus felt the church was worth dying for—it should be our mission as Christians to value living for it.”
Even though these observations are written from a Protestant pastor who has founded a mega church, I think we Catholics can identify with a fair amount of what he has written. All this could serve as a solid reflection for how we view our Christian life and our involvement in church life. Are we really “all-in” or have we been content to stay more on the surface in our faith life?
FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Biblical prophets speak God’s Word to God’s people. They come as God’s messengers proclaiming an uncomfortable message that challenges their hearers. Throughout the Scriptures, God’s prophets encounter opposition and rejection. Today’s readings offer three examples of God’s messengers of mercy and grace being rejected because of their challenging message.”Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you,” says God to the prophet Ezekiel in the First Reading. Even though the people of Israel continued to rebel against God by worshipping other gods, God never gave up calling them back.
Because of internal jealousy and rivalries, Paul had to defend himself to the Corinthian community that he had founded. In the Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul lays out his qualifications as an Apostle and prophet sent by God to preach God’s message of salvation. When Paul’s critics focus on his weaknesses, he shows how God’s grace overcomes these weaknesses: “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
In the Gospel, Jesus also experiences opposition from those who know him best. His hometown of Nazareth rejects him. Despite his wisdom and miracles, they arrogantly reject him because, as they say, “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” Jesus quotes a proverb that says, in essence: “A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” He is one of us, so how could he attain such wisdom? St. Augustine saw jealousy and envy as “the diabolical sin.” Envy keeps us from seeing God working in our world and hinders us from responding to God’s vision for our world. Indeed, Jesus “was not able to perform any mighty deed there.”
A Christian does not stand alone in faith but is surrounded by others, both those living in the present and those who have gone before. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, the Church is a communion of saints (##946-959) through whom Jesus invites us to prophetic saintly holiness.
For Your Reflection: When have you sought the Lord’s mercy? Is there comfort in knowing that the Communion of Saints prays with you? Do you know anyone whose prophecy or wisdom is not accepted by those who know him or her well? If so, what have you done to accompany that person as a result?
FEAST OF ST. BENEDICT
Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Benedict was born into a distinguished family in central Italy, studied at Rome, and early in life was drawn to monasticism. At first he became a hermit, leaving a depressing world—pagan armies on the march, the Church torn by schism, people suffering from war, morality at a low ebb.
He soon realized that he could not live a hidden life in a small town any better than in a large city, so he withdrew to a cave high in the mountains for three years. Some monks chose Benedict as their leader for a while, but they found his strictness not to their taste. Still the shift from hermit to community life had begun for him. He had an idea of gathering various families of monks into one “Grand Monastery” to give them the benefit of unity, fraternity, and permanent worship in one house. Finally he began to build what was to become one of the most famous monasteries in the world—Monte Cassino, commanding three narrow valleys running toward the mountains north of Naples.
The Rule that gradually developed prescribed a life of liturgical prayer, study, manual labor, and living together in community under a common abbot. Benedictine asceticism is known for its moderation, and Benedictine charity has always shown concern for the people in the surrounding countryside. In the course of the Middle Ages, all monasticism in the West was gradually brought under the Rule of St. Benedict.
I call your attention to the statement of the United States Bishops dealing with the present situation on our southern border, which they delivered after discussion at their recent spring meeting in Florida (cf. Chicago Catholic, June 24, 2018, pp. 5-6) and that of Cardinal Cupich on the same topic (cf. Archdiocese of Chicago website). As we all try to digest and comprehend and decide what we will do in this regard, it is important that we listen to the wisdom and the perspective that our Catholic leaders offer to us.
The Cardinal says in part, “We have heard the wails of toddlers crying ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa!’—children too young to understand what it means to be used as bargaining chips in a political game whose stakes are their very lives. Their cries pierce the conscience. They remind us that every one of them, along with their parents, are made in God’s image, and therefore have a dignity no amount of demonizing can obscure.
“This is the dignity we Catholics defend when we work to protect the unborn. It is the dignity Jesus Christ called us to uphold by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and, yes, welcoming the stranger. It is the dignity that inheres regardless of one’s nation of origin. It is not forfeited once one crosses another nation’s border, whether to seek refuge from domestic or gang violence or persecution, or to work for a better life for one’s family.”
THEOLOGY ON TAP
Attention, Young Adults (20-40 year olds)!! Theology on Tap 2018 at St. Peter’s starts this Monday, July 9—5:30-7:30 P.M.
Our first Theology on Tap speaker is John Antonio, a former seminarian and lifestyle coach who has been featured on various channels, including EWTN and Catholicsingles.com. He will talk about reducing disappointment in dating and building a healthy and active dating life. Over the last five years he has gained some valuable insights from surveying young professionals and speaking at Theology on Tap, churches, and universities. He also shares his message through blogging and personal coaching. The title of John’s talk is “Dating, Not Disappointed: Identifying Stress Factors in new Relationships and Enjoying Life before Marriage.”
We hope to see you downstairs in the St. Clare Auditorium Monday for John’s talk, some food, and hearty discussion.
- PETER’S GALA
Our St. Peter’s Gala is almost here, and, as of this writing, we still have 41 tickets to sell for the event. Several people have told us in the past they were just waiting until the time was closer to purchase their tickets. NOW is the time. We hope as many as possible will join us on Thursday, July 19, from 5:30-8:30 at the Union League Club for some delicious food, friendship and a time together in order to make the Gala a grand success once again this year. You won’t regret spending quality time with many of your friends and helping us to reduce St. Peter’s deficit at the same time. Tickets can be purchased from the volunteer in the lobby or from the receptionist at the office. If you think you cannot afford the price of a ticket, or if you are not available to attend on the 19, we would appreciate a donation toward the success of this fundraiser. Through the mail, indicate “Gala Donation” on your check; you may also drop off your donation at the front office if no one is at the table in the lobby when you stop by. Thank you so much.
SECOND COLLECTION NEXT WEEKEND
Each summer most dioceses in the United States ask each parish to host a missionary from somewhere in the world to educate us with the situation there, especially what the Church faces dealing with catechesis, education of seminarians, building of churches, outreach to the poor, and establishing faith communities, often in very difficult circumstances. Obviously these things can vary a great deal around the world. Next weekend we will be welcoming Rev. Bernard E. Okafor from the diocese of Okigwe in Nigeria. You may have read that in some parts of that country there has been a great deal of persecution of Christians, even to the point of murdering them and burning their churches. Please come prepared to listen to his message and to donate generously for the needs of his diocese.
A SUMMERTIME CHUCKLE
When I was in school, I used to ask a lot of questions. One day I asked Ms. Doris, our English teacher, “Why do we ignore some letters ‘H’ like in hour, honest, honor, etc?”
Ms. Doris replied, “We are not ignoring them. They are considered silent.”
During the lunch break, Ms. Doris gave me her packed lunch and asked me to heat it in the cafeteria. I ate all the food and returned her an empty container.
Ms. Doris asked me, “What happened? I told you to go and HEAT my food, and you are returning me an empty container.”
“I’m sorry, Ms. Doris. I thought the ‘H’ was silent.”