“You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises’ of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
1. This has been a significant week for us as Catholics in the United States. Our Shepherd, Pope Benedict XVI, has come to our country to bring to us the message of Christ, who as today’s Gospel says, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the only way for us to reach the Father and His kingdom in Heaven. Truly, as the Holy Father has repeated over and over this week, Christ is our Hope, it is He who can give us the hope of eternal life.
2. The Holy Father has also, on a number of occasions during his time in the United States, called upon all Catholics, and especially the laity, to be a “leaven in society.” In speaking to the Bishops of the United States the Holy Father called upon the Bishops to work toward “the gradual opening of the minds and hearts of the wider community to moral truth.” He went on to say that “Crucial in this regard is the role of the lay faithful to act as a ‘leaven’ in society.” This call is based in part upon the fact that all members of the Church are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own.” Because of this status we are called to “announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Flowing from our status as God’s Children, as His people, as sharers in His Holy Priesthood we are given the mission and the mandate of “announcing the praises” of Jesus among our fellow people; to be a “leaven in society.”
3. Many of us have had the experience of making bread from scratch and so we naturally understand what leaven, or yeast, does to the dough. It causes it to rise, it causes it to grow and spread. This is what we are called to do in society, we are called to spread the faith among those around us so that faith and hope in Jesus will cause society to rise toward heaven, it will cause the faith to spread and grow throughout the world. As the Second Vatican Council pointed out, it is the duty of all of the faithful, not just priests or religious, to carry this out. In fact, the spreading of the gospel throughout society is primarily the duty of the laity, because you can do it in a way that I as a priest could never do. The fact of the matter is that when a priest walks into a room it gets quiet, when a priest sits down at a table it puts a damper on the conversation – something that probably wouldn’t happen when most of you do these same things. You, as laity, are in a better position to evangelize your friends and coworkers than I am. As Pope John Paul said when he visited our country in 1987 “Primarily through her laity, the Church is in a position to exercise great influence upon American Culture.”
4. In the mind of the Church, it is the duty of priests to form the faithful, to teach the people entrusted to his care the truths of the faith so that they in turn can share it with those around them – to evangelize their family, their friends, their co-workers, and thus be a “leaven in society.” For too long society has been changing the Church, when if fact it should be the other way around. The Church is called to change society, to be a leaven within it, causing it to rise heavenward.
5. But lets be honest, the fact of the matter is that most Catholics are hesitant to speak up and share their faith, even with some of their closest friends. As Bishop Robert Carlson, the Bishop of Saginaw and our former Bishop, recently said in his Pastoral Letter on Evangelization “When we find a good restaurant we want to share it with our friends, and we do. When we hear a good song we want to share it with our friends, and we do. When we see a good movie or read a good book or find a good recipe we want to share it with our friends, and we do. The good diffuses itself. The good wants to be shared, and anyone who resists the desire to share it is rightly called selfish.” He goes on to say “It’s a curious fact about many Catholics, however, that there is one good thing what we are reluctant to share: the good news of faith in Jesus Christ. For one reason or another, our culture tells us that it is selfish to keep good things to ourselves, but rude to share the good news of Jesus Christ. And, for one reason or another, we have grown comfortable with this double standard. We have believed what our culture has told us.”
6. My dear parish family, it is time for us to step up to the plate and begin to play ball. It’s time for us to be a “leaven in society.” It is time for us to change society instead of it changing us.
7. But how? That is a good question. The first and most important step is for us to become friends with Christ our hope. We, if we want to change society, must begin by changing ourselves. We cannot share a faith that we do not have. So we must begin by deepening our relationship with Jesus. We do this primarily through prayer. Prayer, especially prayer in the presence of Jesus present in the tabernacle, is where we meet the risen Lord and grow in our friendship with Him. “Oh, but Father, I don’t have time to pray,” you might be thinking. Horse feathers! Every Catholic has time to pray. We have time to watch sports on TV, we have time to drive all over the country side to go hunting or fishing, we have time to go to sporting events and to go shopping, we have time to sit at the bar and shoot the breeze, but we don’t have time to pray? Yes, we have a lot of very good things to do, but we have nothing better to do than to spend time with Jesus in prayer.
8. I think a great way to move closer to our Lord would be to commit ourselves to a few things, that even with our busy schedules, we should be able to fit into our day. First, we need to come to Mass every Sunday without fail, and maybe even try to get to daily Mass once in a while too. Daily Mass can be a great help in our growth in holiness because the more we feed on the body and blood of Jesus the more strength we will have to fight against sin. Second, we should frequent the Sacrament of Penance. When people ask me how often they should confess I tell them that if they are serious about growing in holiness, and I assume all of us are, that they should go to confession at least once a month. The more frequently we are able to receive the forgiveness and strength that comes from the Sacrament the easier it will be to grow. As Pope Benedict said in his homily on Thursday “to a great extent, the renewal of the Church in America and throughout the world depends on the renewal of the practice of Penance and the growth in holiness which that sacrament both inspires and accomplishes.” Third, we should spend a few minutes every day slowly reading the New Testament, particularly the Gospels. This will help us to know Jesus through reading and interiorizing what he did and said. Fourth, we should pray the Holy Rosary or at least part of it every day. Our Blessed Mother always leads us to her Divine Son, and spending time with her will certainly help us to grow in friendship with Jesus. A perfect time for this devotion is while we are driving. I know that many of us commute to work every day and that can be a perfect opportunity to pray the rosary.
9. These few things, if we make the effort to do them consistently can change our lives and help us to know Jesus, to become so close to Him that we could honestly say that He is our best friend. By knowing Christ, by being His best friend, by possessing this great good we will want to share it with others, we will want to share the good we have with those around us. When we do this we will truly be living out our vocation to “announce the praises” of God; to be a “leaven in society” and thus change it from within into a civilization of love and peace where all people live in hope, for all will know and love Christ who is our only hope.
Jesus, risen from the tomb, have mercy on us.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, star of the new evangelization, pray for us.
St. Rose, pray for us.