Why did you come to church today? No, I mean it, this is not a rhetorical question: I want you to ask yourself, right now, why you came to church. Is it habit that brought you here? Was it the way you were brought up? Perhaps it’s because you need God to grant some favor or you are enduring a difficult time in your life and seeking his help? For those who are obligation-minded, are you afraid of committing a mortal sin by not showing? Or can you honestly say, “I really don’t know why I came but I’m glad I’m here” and leave it at that?
Let me make this perfectly clear: I am glad you are here, the Church is glad you are here, and God is very glad that you are here. I, Church and God lament those who chose not to be in communion with us this morning (afternoon). But still, I ask the question: why are you here? Why did you come?
Obviously, there are many valid reasons as to why we are here, and of course each reason is personal, but what I’m trying to do, in case you’re wondering, is to take a few minutes to explore something that maybe we don’t take time to think about very often. Just like doing the grocery shopping or going to work, I’m guessing that most people don’t give the ‘whys’ of these things very much thought. You just do them. For many, Church is just something you do, and that’s the end of it.
But as important as feeding the body may be, church is not grocery shopping. I’m touching on something deeper, our spirituality, which leads me to the next question: how’s your spiritual life? Again, this is not a rhetorical question, I really want you to ask yourself the state of your ongoing spiritual life, please take a moment to consider the nature and depth of your relationship with God is this very moment. This is perhaps another dimension of our lives that we don’t often consider, but it is important, very, very important. We live in an age where the interior life is often drowned out by all the noise around us. So, in this quiet place, at least temporarily away from the world outside us, we can begin to ponder what is truly important in a cosmic rather than immediate sense. So, let’s ask ourselves, “what is it that you fundamentally seek for your life?”
Our second reading, from Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, states something very profound and beautiful, but I wonder how much personal thought we give such things, as it applies to us as individuals. Paul says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.” Let’s take that apart, and let’s try to condense it down to its most essential point. “Blessed be God as he chose us to be holy and without blemish.” He chose us. To be holy. Not necessarily to get rich. Certainly not to pursue pleasure as an ultimate goal, although wealth and a good time are not sins in themselves unless they get out of proportion. Once again, he chose us to be holy. Further, note the order here: we didn’t choose him; he chose us.
He chooses us. That means that God in his infinite wisdom literally had nothing better to do than to make sure you, each one of you, was conceived in God’s loving graces and chosen for the incredible gift of holiness leading to unending and eternal life. The riches of eternal life. Far more precious than any material object or experience we’ll ever have. But that takes a shift of focus for us: it means we have to think of God’s presence in exactly the same way we think of our spouse or our children: always with us even when out of sight.
But now let’s try to be honest with ourselves: how do we think of him? With longing for the company of a good friend? With an attitude that we just can’t wait to be with him again? With the desperation of a lover who just can’t wait for his beloved to return? That does describe God’s love for us. Do we love Him back with even a small percentage of that kind of enthusiasm?
Only you can answer that question, but let me give you a few clues as to how to measure yourself against God’s call to a deep and abiding spiritual life. Think about your prayer life. Is it natural, spontaneous, does it come easily and with joy?
Or how about the sacraments. Do you take advantage of God’s offer of healing in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to free your soul from anything that could possibly stand between you and perfect friendship with God, and do it fairly often so as to keep on the right path to holiness? When I was a boy, I used to have to wait in long lines on Saturday nights to go to confession. Now, the lines are, to say the least, far shorter. Why? Is it possible people have stopped committing sins? That I doubt. It seems that over the last 50 years or so, our perception of the need for reconciliation is the thing that has changed. I wonder what God would think about this shift in attitude.
And when you receive the Eucharist, do you remember that it is the almighty God Himself who enters into you when you place that host on your tongue?
And when we worship together, do we remember that community worship of the Body of Christ is a privilege and a calling by the Holy Spirit Himself, given as a gift for our sanctification and not given to all? And as we all know, from time to time, autopilot worship can creep in. The truly prayerful lover of Christ guards against this constantly.
But isn’t it just easier to quietly contribute little beyond our mere presence itself? What difference would it make? I will tell you; it will make a lot of difference. Our enthusiastic participation in worship, prayer and the sacraments will please almighty God, who, at the Last Supper, gave us the liturgy of the Mass as a gift in the first place. It will prayerfully show God that we wish to embrace the gifts he wishes to give us.
In our Gospel, Jesus says, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” Ever been to a place where you instantly didn’t feel welcome? A place where it was clear that you were not wanted? I wonder what Jesus himself would feel should he enter so many churches today: would he feel welcome? Would he shake the dust off his feet, sensing that he was not wanted beyond a little 45-minute stretch once a week? Would his own loving enthusiasm as our Savior be quelled by the lack of interest he found in response?
In our first reading from the Book of Amos, the prophet gets kicked out of Bethel for preaching the Truth to the pagan king. He probably set up a soapbox in front of the Notch by the railroad station. Oh, sorry, wrong Bethel. Seriously, the prophet wanted to convert the pagan king to the Truth, which is belief in the one true God. Amos wanted to give the king the gift of eternal life, but the king wasn’t ready to hear it, steeped as he was in pagan culture. As I said, faith is a gift not given to all. Presumably, we all have been given the gift of faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ. So, let’s remember to manifest it and nourish it each day through prayer, the sacraments, and our worship.