Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish

Browsing Fr. Norm's Homilies

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

            So somebody comes up to you doing a survey.  First question: “what’s your name?”  Second question: “what’s your religion?”  My guess is that you’d probably get both of these questions right the first time, unless, of course, you’re in the Witness Protection program, then I guess “John Smith” would have to do.  Third question: “You’ve told me you’re a Catholic.  Tell me what that means.”  Could you?

            The first thing to know is that the Catholic Church, of which we are all members, is a community.  Now in my book, the word “community” is the most overused word in the English language.  A community of this, a community of that, the community of octogenarian bird watchers, whatever.  I’ve never really equated these loosely tied interest groups with anything close to a real community in its proper sense.  The word is so often really just a catch-word we use to describe a group of people with similar interests.

            But listen to Saint Paul today: “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”  What’s that word again?   All.  Not some, not just people in a friendly mood, not just clergy, not just people who agree with us or our style, not just our parish, but all.  We are all in one Spirit of community with all the Catholics in the world presently living, all the Catholics who have died in the faith, all of the Catholics not yet even born, all of the saints in heaven, all of the souls in Purgatory, all of the angels, and with Christ Himself as head of this very real community we call the Body of Christ.  There is no such thing as the unattached individual believer in Christ; there are no lone wolves in this community.  You’re part of this body, this community, and if you’re baptized, there’s nothing you can do about it short of renouncing your faith.  How often we forget that!  And this my friends, is why I insist on the two types of greetings we do here each week at Mass: at the beginning, where we remember that hospitality is the mark of the Christian, and at the Sign of Peace, where we prayerfully offer each other the peace that can only come from and through Christ before attempting to receive Holy Communion.

            When I worked at Pitney Bowes a million years ago, there were thousands of different job descriptions.  Literally thousands.  That’s because everybody possesses their own unique talents and a true community needs all those talents to be successful, by working together.  Some are good at one thing, some at another.  My old company wouldn’t have been able to make postage meters (remember those things?) if everybody was, say, an accountant or a lathe operator.  Manufacturing is successful, just as one example, because of pooled talent acting as a community, each member doing his or her part.

            The Catholic Church is a pooled community just the same.  Do we think of that?  Do we recognize the responsibility that gives each one of us as individuals?  Do we recognize that our individual talents were given to us by God for the good of the community?

            And what is our chief responsibility as members of this community of faith?  We’ll use the words of Jesus Himself: “You shall love your God with your whole heart, your whole soul, and your whole mind.  And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  In other words, if we wish salvation, first and foremost, our lives must be at all times oriented toward loving and praising God.  Not just here once a week at Mass, but at all times.  You don’t “do” God once a week; you “put on Christ” and wear him as intimately as you wear your clothing if you are a serious, active member of the Body of Christ.

            And so my friends, we have a starting point.  What’s your name?  What’s your religion?  What does it mean to be a member of the Catholic religion?  It means we are a community of believers all in this together with the purpose of loving and praising God, and working in charity not just to save our own souls, but at all times aware that we are responsible as members of this community of believers for the general well-being of the entire community to which we all belong.  Born and unborn.  Living and deceased.  Everything else, our belief in the sacraments, Church teaching, our moral code, all of these things, flow first from an understanding that we are really, truly a loving community under Christ and we’re all in this together and responsible for each other’s welfare, and that means working together to try to make it possible for all of us to enter into heaven as saints of God.  At it’s very basic, it means charity: recognizing our duty to love and then practicing that duty each day.  Not just talking about it, never ignoring it, but doing it.  That’s why Jesus said that if anyone brings even a cup of cold water to a thirsty person in Jesus’ name, he or she will not go unrewarded.

            There are many who feel separated from the community, maybe because of sickness preventing their presence, maybe because of anger, maybe even because the Church let them down in some way.  I am deeply grieved when I encounter someone who tells me that he or she used to be Catholic.  I am deeply grieved at the hundreds of stories you yourselves I’m sure could tell me about loved ones who no longer practice the Faith.  For whatever reason they are not here, I grieve.  What can we do?  Well, my grandma’s old chestnut “you can lead a horse to water, etc., etc.” comes to mind, and ultimately, the desire to be part of the worshipping community is an individual decision we all must make out of our own free will.  But a little hospitality and a lot of prayer will help.  In short, if you were the person coming through these church doors after ten years away, would you want to be the first person you’d meet when you came in?  Think about it.  A smile, a simple smile, mask or no mask, goes a long way.

            Let’s all remember that no matter what state of life we’re in, as Christians under Christ, we are never alone.  We’ve got Jesus, and we’ve got each other.  We are a praying, worshipping community.  That’s what it means at its most basic to be a Catholic.  That we are loved by God and neighbor.  Try to remember that if the vagaries of life ever make you feel isolated.  You are not, nor ever will you be, as long as you remember what being a Catholic really means.

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