I took a random straw poll of friends asking them what are the priorities of the Catholic Church? I asked them what their Bishop has asked them to concentrate on? Almost none of them even knew the Bishop’s name. One didn’t even know the diocese they lived in. I asked about their local parish which whom they were more familiar and they equated those priorities mostly with the sacramental preparation of children, some said a Catholic school linked to the parish, marriage was mentioned by some and a handful said that they were looking at how to get younger people involved at mass.
This week we’ve talked a lot about the new liturgical translations. And while our experience of worship together is not unimportant, I wonder why we don’t look outward more as Catholics? We spend a whole lot of time looking inward at ourselves and at the experience we provide inside the church. I would argue that we probably spend 75% of our time looking inward and maybe 25% of our time looking outward at best.
If we want our pews filled that needs to turn around. We need to spend more time outside those four walls of the church. We need to be more active in neighborhoods and with city planners and mayors and councilmen (even if they are pro-choice) talking about how we can lend a hand to fight urban blight, poverty, the lack of health care and how we might provide better education.
We need to be with the poor and hungry and reach out to those in need. We need to see priests and nuns and lay ministers and parishioners with firefighters on the scene as they choke back tears from the child they found burned to death. We need to send our parishioners to the soup kitchens and shelters and to make sure that they are safer and providing for the basic needs of humanity. We need to support the mentally ill who often are pariahs in our culture.
We have to ask parishioners to take in a foster child or support a woman who wants to turn to abortion out of desperation. We’ll be an easy alternative that folks just might be eager to find because we’re out there–visible.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta did just that. She reportedly spent at least 3 hours in prayer per day (an hour for mass and 2 hours of personal prayer per day. If she got eight hours of sleep per night that still left her with 13 hours in her day where she looked outward to the slums. Prayer wasn’t unimportant to her, nor the mass. She needed those things to be able to do the work that she was called to do.
I think she brought a lot of people to the Catholic faith because of that.
And it was a pretty simple solution, it was right there under her nose all along. And it was hard. Doing the right thing usually is.
Jesus also pointed out to the Pharisees that they were way too self concerned in Matthew 23:
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’.”
He goes on to say that we instead need to be servants to be great.
Indeed. And that service needs to inspire others for God’s kingdom to reign.
Where are our Mother Teresa’s today? Why are those stories not being told? Every time the church is in the media it’s almost always about something insular. Mass changes, child abuse, embezzlement, school and parish closings.
Where is the good news? Perhaps we’re not providing enough of that. Couldn’t we all do just a bit more as parish communities?
Perhaps we have found the Pharisees again. And perhaps it is us. I know I can do much more than I’ve been doing.
Granted, that when we are inside of our churches we need to take more care of how we execute the “performance” of liturgy for lack of a better word. How are we inspiring others with ritual and song and preaching?
But that’s only 25% of our time. What do we do with the other 75%?
It seems to me that a “movement” is at hand. That priorities have to be made to look outward as a Catholic community. We won’t all be Teresa of Calcutta–and that’s good, she’s already been here.
But we can be great. We can challenge ourselves to stretch far beyond where we think the limits of the human heart can go. We need to give the media something ELSE to cover–something that they can’t ignore because it’s just too inspiring to let go by.
Perhaps that’s what we start praying for? Perhaps that’s what the new Roman Missal awakens us to. That it is “our fault, our fault, our most grievous fault” that we all too easily look inward and only even do that superficially. Mass should provide us with the same strength that it provided Blessed Teresa with–and I pray that it does for us.
But I also pray that our work outside of mass can provide the same kind of inspiration for ourselves and others and that we do it boldly proclaiming our Catholicism. We’ve spent a lot of time and money on making our temple a holy place. Maybe it’s now time to actually place our resources elsewhere for awhile.
Perhaps if we do, then just because of that work, our pews just might be a bit more filled because they will know that we are Christians by our love?
What are Catholics known for today? Our challenge is to provide a much better answer to that.