A recent report done by a research group called the Pew Foundation indicates an extraordinary number of people have left our Catholic church -- people who were baptized, raised Catholic, have gone. In fact, this report says that one out of 10 people in the United States have what we would call "fallen away" or are former Catholics. One out of ten -- that's 30 million people. Many people are troubled and mainly we see it especially among young people, which is always very discouraging.
The Peace Pulpit
In his homily from Sunday Aug. 16, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton relates the teaching on the Eucharist from John's Gospel to the debate on health care reform. He says, "If we're going to say, 'Yes, I will accept [this teaching on the Eucharist],' I hope we will accept it with a full understanding of what Jesus is teaching about the Eucharist, not just that he's present, but that he's present to give himself. … [to] pour out his blood, give his flesh for the life of the world."
To reflect on today’s lessons, it’s very important, I think, to remind ourselves of the context in which these lessons come to us this morning. You may remember this year, we have been following the gospel of Mark, but then suddenly a couple of Sundays ago, we turned to John’s gospel for the account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes in the desert place. That is also in Mark, but we skipped over to John’s gospel, and then for four Sundays (this is the second Sunday after that), we are reflecting, as Jesus did, on what happened when Jesus fed them in the desert.
This third part of our instruction from sacred scripture continues our reading of the holy gospel according to John. You remember last week, the people were gathered together in a deserted place and after a long day of teaching, they were tired and hungry. The disciples were going to send them away, but then Jesus kept them and found a way that all of them were nourished and fed. After that, they wanted to make him king, so he went away and hid. The disciples crossed the lake in a boat and then John picks up the incident from there.
In our second lesson today, St. Paul exhorted us, “I, Paul, the prisoner of the Lord, urge you to live the vocation you have received,” and that really is what we must try to reflect on this morning as we listen to the scripture lessons -- how these lessons can guide us to live the vocation we have received. First of all in our reflection, I think it’s very important to remind ourselves that in this instance, when we hear the word “vocation,” it’s not something specific, like a call to the priesthood, which we often think of as a vocation, or to the religious life, that’s a vocation in the church.
If we listen to the three scripture lessons carefully today, we discover that in each of them, God takes an initiative in a time of crisis. God enters in to the activities of God's people. In the first lesson today, it's very clear that it's God's initiative that has brought it about that Amos has gone to the king's palace and has gone there to challenge the king and the elite of the people, the rich.
A couple of weeks ago, when we celebrated our Sunday liturgy, we celebrated the sacrament of baptism for one of the newest members of our parish family, and we do that periodically. So most of you (or all of you, I’m sure, at one point or another) have witnessed a baptism, and you may remember that during the baptism ceremony, after the water has been poured, the baby has been baptized, there are a couple of other small ceremonies that happen:
If we listen very carefully to the readings today, even more than just learn in our minds, we will experience more deeply who God is as God is revealed in Jesus. We will come to know Jesus much more deeply in his humanness, something that we can relate to and try to become like him as we get to know him. In the second lesson, St. Paul reminds us of the generosity of Jesus who, though he was a god, did not think his equality with God something to be clung to, but emptied himself.
If I tell you that we live in a time of great turmoil and stress, both within the Church and within our world, I’m sure no one will be surprised. It’s certainly very evident within the Church that we are living in very troublesome times. Large numbers of people, in fact, are leaving the Church -- one out of ten people in the United States is a former Catholic; that’s 30 million people. We’ve experienced, just recently it happened again, a terrible scandal of sex abuse.
You may remember last Sunday on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, our gospel lesson ended with the very last words of St. Matthew’s gospel, where Jesus promised his disciples and promised all of us, “I will be with you always, even until the end of time.” Now many of us, I believe, when we hear that promise and reflect on it, think of Jesus being present with us; as he said, “I will be with you, present to you,” and we think of what we call the real presence in the Blessed Sacrament, the presence of Jesus living, risen, truly his body and blood, the whole Jesus.