I’m taking a break from pilgrimage posts to share a little about the Called By Name conference I attended last week. The goal of the conference: to equip ordinary people like you and me for the very important work of evangelization and welcoming people back into the Church.
Bishop Boyea envisioned this series of conferences to energize members of his own diocese to be part of the solution to the problems within it –he knew he couldn’t tackle these problems alone. Only about 34% of registered Catholics in the diocese of Lansing attend weekly Mass and there has been almost a 30% drop in weekend Mass attendees in the last 10 years.
Think about it, over 2/3 of the people who took the time to register in the diocese, aren’t going to Mass on a regular basis.
This isn’t a problem that is unique to the Diocese of Lansing — it is happening all around the country. Bishop Boyea wrote his letter Go And Announce the Gospel of the Lord addressing this very real problem in his own diocese and it bears repeating:
“Many today do not know Jesus. Let us evangelize our world! There are sisters and brothers, family members and friends who have left the Church. Let us re-engage them in the life of the Body of Christ! We cannot do this unless we ourselves are converted more fully to the Lord Jesus. Let us be his disciples”.
Step One: Let’s Get the Plank Out of Our Own Eyes.
Listen, it is very easy to blame the problems of our Church on the sins of the leaders within it, the teachers in the Catholic Schools, or the people sitting next to you in Church. The truth is, that they aren’t really the problem here. The problem is you and me. If we would only live our faith the way that we should, we would be a far greater witness to the grace of God than to the failings of men.
It’s easy to be like the Pharisee and see the many sins of the “tax-collecter” and feel justified in our own life — but the fatal flaw of the pharisee was that he chose the tax collector to be the rule by which he measured himself, instead of Jesus.
I do the same thing — All. The. Time! I look at that “sinful” priest, bishop, or fellow Catholic and I get angry and complain and point my finger at them. I let it distract me from my own sins and what I am failing to do in the Church. Without being aware, I start to separate myself from the very mission that Jesus gave to me in Baptism — to go out to the whole world and share the Gospel message — to live the Gospel message.
I need to look closely at my own life and measure myself up next to Christ and ask myself, “How am I doing?” Am I sharing the Gospel message with my own family? Am I sharing it with the people I encounter in my daily life?
Everybody has the potential to become a saint — everybody. Sometimes we’re encountering somebody at the beginning of their conversion story. Honestly, sometimes we’re just finding ourselves at the beginning of our own conversion story, but we can’t lose hope in our own conversion and the conversion of others!
If you spend any time reading the lives of the Saints you know that some of the greatest sinners just needed somebody to be willing to love them right where they were and to share the truth with them. We have to be willing to be a part of other people’s conversion stories, and often, we will find our own greater conversion happening because of it.
Step Two: We need to Pray.
The Saints allowed themselves to be transformed by prayer, and they knew their work was useless if not rooted in prayer. We need to spend time in prayer and ask God to give us the grace to become more like Him — every day — a little bit closer to the person that God had in mind from the beginning of time. We need to ask God to show us what He wants of us and to give us the courage and strength to accomplish it. You aren’t going to be able to accomplish what He wants from you unless you take the time to pray.
We need to pray for our priests and bishops and deacons. We need to appreciate that most of these men started off with the best intentions and faith in God and some of them just got tired –tired of the complaints, tired of the fighting, tired of being left without encouragement and without our prayers. They are on the front lines, people, and what are we doing to give them support? What are we doing to pray for them? We need to say “I got your back, Father!” We need to thank them for speaking out on life and marriage and the really hard things that they have to face in their ministry. We need to pray for their strength and continued conversion, because without them, where would we be?
We need to pray for those who have left the Church. We need to ask God to open their hearts to His truth and to send people to them who will help to welcome them back home. You know what’s scary? — Realizing that sometimes we are the person that God is sending to help bring somebody back into the Church. Prayer will help us to recognize these moments of opportunity and it will give us the right words and actions for that particular person. Evangelization is never a “one size fits all” approach. We have a unique role to play in bringing individuals back to Christ. So let’s get started.
Step Three: We need to get out of our comfort zone and invite people into our lives and into our Church.
Here’s a challenge to you: look up the statistics in your own diocese and then ask yourself a very important question: “Do I even care? Do I care that people are leaving the Church in great numbers? Do I care that there are almost 8 million people who are open to returning to the Catholic Church? We have to try to care!
We need to be willing to accompany people back to the Church — to take time out of our busy lives to welcome people into our homes and into our Churches. I have a friend who is a pretty well-known evangelist. He was once an anti-Catholic Protestant and he knew my family as the only Catholic family in attendance at his Protestant school. He became friends with my brothers and he started to come to our house for holidays or Sunday dinners.
Maybe he thought he would help us poor, pitiful Catholics to see the light. Maybe we were part of his mission for evangelization — I don’t know. But something interesting happened. He spent a lot of time just eating, drinking, and laughing with us — and then he began to ask questions. He and my mother would spend hours discussing theology. Slowly, over time, many of his questions were answered and our very imperfect family — we’re all a little nuts — was a part of his conversion. My parents were his sponsors when he entered the Catholic Church.
It was no accident that a big part of his conversion happened in the context of family. Don’t be afraid to let people get to know you and your family. To witness a group of people try to love each other and try to forgive each other and to move beyond hurts and continue to be a family — that is an experience that is growing more rare with each passing year. Don’t be tempted to think that just because you are a flawed Catholic family that this is going to turn people away from the Catholic faith — just don’t!
In fact, inviting people into your home — to spend time with your crazy, flawed Catholic family– could serve as the greatest form of evangelization there is out there. They might just say, well if they can dare to call themselves Catholic, then so can I. Slowly, over time, your home just might be the jumping off point for somebody’s return to the Church.
So let’s get out there and love people right where they are — and let’s not be afraid to welcome them into our lives and our homes.