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Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany
Bishop's Weekly message

A disciple, not just a church-goer

Cradle Catholic? Still shopping? Fallen away? Jesus wants you


'People go to and move away from church for many reasons. Those who drop off in regular attendance sometimes speak of a very bad experience that drove them out, but usually it is just a gradual drifting off due to involvement in something else on weekends....Then, unexpectedly, something happens to rekindle that old spark, that God-seed planted at baptism.'

Perhaps you remember, many years ago, when someone from your family -- a parent or grandparent, or maybe an aunt or an older sibling -- first took you to church.

You might have asked, "Where are we going?" or, "What is this place?" Maybe you were told, "This is God's house."

When you went in, you might have looked around to see God. You might have been told, "Look at Jesus" on the cross, or been shown a statue of the Sacred Heart. You might even have been taken close to the tabernacle and told that Jesus lives in there. (Did you want to knock on the door to see if He would come out?)

As you grew older, if you were taken to church often, you began to notice that people would suddenly stand up and leave their benches at a certain time -- after waiting for a very long time! The kneelers would pound and rumble as they were pushed out of the way.

People would approach the altar and stretch out their hands or their tongues to receive a small, round object from someone who, you might have been told, was a priest or one of the ministers who help him.

You learned that the round white thing was called a "host" and that it had Jesus in it. One day, you were told, you would get Jesus in this way, too. That day would be your First Communion.

Maybe you remember your First Communion day very well. It might have been a time of anxious anticipation: You had to learn and memorize certain prayers, dress up in a special way and make sure you knew how to fold your hands and receive properly. It might been a busy time, even a little stressful for you and your family, if you had to go to meetings with your parents or other children.

If you had to practice because you were receiving with a large group, this may also have been a little boring, because it took so long; or intimidating, because you were told to be still and keep quiet.

Depending on what was happening at home, you might have continued to go week after week for Mass and communion. You became a church-goer! Or maybe you did not go much to church after that First Communion until your next sacrament -- confirmation? marriage? -- came around.

Maybe that never even happened. It could be that you have continued to be a part of some church community throughout the years since your First Communion. Maybe you just come once in a while, or maybe you just started coming back recently for some reason.

Maybe you have begun to feel a kind of pull that you did not notice before and, suddenly or gradually, it seems to you that you really belong here. What is that pull?

People go to and move away from church over the course of their lives for many reasons. Those who drop off in regular attendance sometimes speak of a very bad experience that drove them out, but usually it is just a gradual drifting off due to involvement in something else on weekends: work, sports, recreation or some other preoccupation. Maybe it's just inertia: It's easier just to let Sunday mornings laze by, have brunch or do something fun "for the kids." Visit grandma. Do yard work.

Then, unexpectedly, something happens to rekindle that old spark, that God-seed planted at baptism. Something or someone acts as a magnet. A sense of being drawn or "called" begins to dawn on the consciousness.

That is exactly what the Church is all about: lighting candles. Not just vigil lights, but a flame in the heart and soul. We are here to tell the world that there is "Good News" to share. There is a God, and God loves us -- enough to send His only Son to die for us; His Son, who is the friend of sinners, the brokenhearted, disillusioned, despondent, forgotten, passed over and broken, and other straying sheep.

If you feel you are the worst sinner around, well, He's out to find and rescue you! Jesus is actually attracted to sinners. He can't stop searching them out, wherever (they think) they may be hiding.

Jesus Himself is an enormously attractive force. During His public ministry, crowds followed Him and He fed them in many ways. Children followed Him, and children don't follow cranky sourpusses. They are drawn to people who are amusing and full of life. Jesus is always fresh and full of life, never dull or dour.

Even the death of Jesus was active: brutal, but productive. Think of His incredible words and actions on His way to the Cross, and on Calvary. After Jesus died, blood and water flowed from His side, which are symbols of the sacramental life of the Church.

This is how the Church began: when the Holy Spirit sent out disciples to announce the outpouring of the Lord's mercy. The original Greek word for "Church" is "ecclesia," which means "assembly:" a people called together. The real meaning of "Church," then, is a calling together, summoning people with a mission to accomplish, which drives them not only to church, but from church and out into the world.

At the end of the Mass, in the Latin, the community is commissioned: "Ite, missa est," which means, literally, "Go on your way now" (or, "You, the congregation, are dismissed"). Because the verb "missa est" sounds and looks like the noun "Mass," it tempting to read deeper meanings into the phrase.

A really bad translation of this is, "Go; the Mass is finished." The Mass is never finished. The Mass is. It goes on. A less grammatically accurate, yet encouraging English rendition of the Latin is, "Go; you are being sent!" But this is what the Mass "tasks" us to do: Go and take this experience of the mystery of God's merciful love for the world from Calvary and bring the joy of the Gospel to the whole world, one person at a time.

I like the idea that each Mass we celebrate continues in the world, with its grace-giving effects through our lives bearing witness.

Whether you might consider yourself a "cradle Catholic" who has pretty much been a weekly attendant through much of your life, or you once were regular in attendance and had some dry spells where church was not part of your weekly routine; whether you are still "shopping" for the community with the right feel that you can call your spiritual home; wherever you are on your spiritual journey (or wherever you or someone you care about and wish were closer to a finding a spiritual home may be), know this: Jesus is loving you, seeking you out and longing to be the guest of your heart. Let Him in and see what He can do for you.

Do you feel that longing, a hunger inside you, a kind of pull to come and see, to listen to what the Lord has to say, what He wants to do for you in your life? If that is what is starting to happen, then you are well on the road to becoming not just a "church-goer," but a disciple!

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)

(August 03, 2017)