Monday, September 13, 2010

24th Sunday - homily

A recent survey found that “approximately one-third of all respondents who say they were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic. This means that roughly 10% of all Americans are former Catholics”. Wow. That’s very sad. There are many reasons why so many people have left the Church. One underlying point is that almost every single one of these people is like St. Paul – at least, how he used to be: in ignorance. They really don’t know what the Church is all about; if they did, they were never leave. And, like St. Paul, they need to be mercifully treated. I don’t blame them exclusively. In fact, the Church has to do a better job of teaching people what it means to be Catholic. It has to do a much better job of showing Jesus Christ to people. This is exactly what the “New Evangelization” of the Church is all about.

The New Evangelization means reaching out to people, especially those who have left the Church, and showing them Christ. In my opinion, this primarily means leading them to the Eucharist. There was a study done years ago that found that 70% of Catholics believe that the Eucharist is only a symbol of the Body and Blood of Christ. Again, people don’t believe the teaching because they don’t know the teaching. The Church needs to do a better job of teaching that the Eucharist is truly and really the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. The New Evangelization involves teaching and showing the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

The other primary staple of the New Evangelization should be Confession. Once someone begins to see that Christ is real in the Eucharist, then he or she will see that He is real in the Confession. This is how it happened for me. I learned that Christ is really present in the Eucharist and then realized that he is present in the confessional (and all the sacraments). It’s really Him forgiving sins through the priest. The Eucharist and Confession are real! If Catholics really knew this, they would never leave the Church.

Jesus helps us to see that Confession is real with tonight’s parable, the Prodigal Son. This parable is often used to explain the sacrament of Confession. The son is each one of us; the father is God the Father. We can all relate in some way to the son. He leaves home with his inheritance and probably thought, ‘I am free! I can do whatever I want now!’ And, this is what he did. He got into all kinds of bad stuff – a “life of dissipation”, Scripture says. This can be translated as “debauchery”, a more familiar word to college students. He was partying it up, getting hammered and hanging out with prostitutes.

He represents college students, not just with drinking or getting high, but with all kinds of stuff that are going on on this campus: random hooking up, cutting, skipping Mass, taking God’s name in vain and just throwing His sacred name all over the place, pornography, masturbation, gossip, and all kinds of stuff. He got in way deep with this and then basically realized, “this stinks. The swine are living better than I am’. This type of living brought him to his knees. We might call this rock bottom. He realized that he wasn’t happy and that he screwed up. He needed to return to his father.

When he returned, his father didn’t scream at him or ask him where he had been. After all of this, the father embraced him, kissed him, and threw him a big party. This is the image of God the Father any time one of us returns to Him…any time one of us asks for mercy…any time one of us goes to Confession. God the Father always offers mercy to us. And, that is what I offer you in Confession. No matter what kind of debauchery you’ve been in or how long you’ve been in it, I will offer you mercy in Confession. It is the mercy of the Father that I offer you.

This is what the Church is offering in the New Evangelization. It is bringing people to the mercy of Christ and bringing the mercy of Christ to people. When I evangelize about God’s Mercy, especially through Confession, I refer to this Gospel. Three times we heard that there is great rejoicing in Heaven when a sinner repents. So, when someone returns to Confession after being away for a while or for something big, there is a great party in Heaven! It is like the joy or finding a lost coin, a lost sheep, or lost son. In the New Evangelization, the Church is looking for lost Catholics in much the same way as Jesus presents in these three images.

Finally, the centerpiece of the New Evangelization is the Eucharist. This is where it all starts. You all can be a big part of the New Evangelization simply by inviting someone to be your “Mass buddy”. This is a huge part of bringing people to Christ. And, you never know what can happen when they come here. IT could happen for them what happened to me when I was 21 – that was the first time I understood that “this is my body” means this is my body. I finally learned that the Eucharist is real. I finally learned that Christ is real…not just up in Heaven…but real to me here and now. We are all invited to bring people to experience Christ’s reality. We are all invited to bring people to Jesus and Jesus to people.

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