Sunday, May 13, 2012

A promise with a condition

According to a Georgetown survey, the Catholic Church in the United States had 58,632priests whereas in 2011 there were only 39,466 priests. Keep in mind that the population nearly doubled during this time period; which means that the Church in 1965 had a higher number of priests with about half the amount of citizens to draw from. Due to the drop in priestly vocation the number of parishes without a resident pastor rose from 549 in 1965 to 3,251 in 2011. Furthermore, a Gallup poll found that 74 percent of Catholics were attending Mass whereas in our day about 25 percent of Catholics attend.

The good news is that where there is an emphasis to reach out to fallen away Catholics, such as with the Catholics Come Home ministry, the Mass attendance has improved. The dioceses of Phoenix and Green Bay are two regions where this ministry has had a favorable outcome. There are certainly a number of positive developments to take note off. But as long as we have an up battle to fight, we should not take our eye off of those areas which need improving. The point here is that we, as practicing Catholics, should aspire to reduce the need for ministries like “Catholics Come Home.” One way to do this is to pay special attention to the Sixth Sunday of Easter Gospel reading.

Perhaps a simplistic generalization as to why an interest in the Gospel among the people has diminished in recent years has something to do with what Christ said in the Gospel of John: “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.” Here, Our Lord makes a promise which is based on a condition. He said that we will remain in his love “if” we keep his commandments. Furthermore, he also indicated that the joy of being his followers is dependent upon our fidelity to him; and to be sure, fidelity to Jesus Christ is bound up with keeping his commands just as his joy was bound up with keeping his Father’s commands.

However, members of the clergy and lay evangelists have tended to promise people the joy of knowing and serving Christ without laying emphasis on observing those particular commandments that are most commonly violated. Indeed, all of us struggle to mention those specifics sins which violate the commands of God nowdays. But, as Our Lord indicated, the joy of being a Christian cannot exist as long as we do not keep his commandments- all of them! In fact, keeping his commandments is a kind of security fence which preserves the integrity of that joy.

The "moral obligation" of attending Mass, of answering God’s call, of being chaste no matter what your calling is and of praying on a daily basis is barely mentioned because so few Catholics know that joy the Lord was referring to. How could they know this joy when a good number of them are using contraception, or cohabiting or not believing what Jesus taught about sexual morality? Knowing the Lord on a personal and intimate level depends much on keeping his commands. From this moral fidelity a friendship is forged and a peace and joy is borne; one that the world cannot give.

Our Lord went on to say he no longer calls us "slaves," but friends. What we sometimes miss in this reading is that even the people of God in the Old Testament were bound to a kind of slavery because the Holy Spirit had not come yet. Just before the Flood, God resolved to take back his Spirit because of the widespread infidelity of mankind. In fact, it wasn’t the Flood that was devastating so much as the absence of his Spirit in the centuries to follow. The days of the Old Testament were the days of God’s wrath. It was a brutal and inhumane world precisely because the fellowship of the Holy Spirit was, by and large, absent from the face of the earth. Man’s disobedience forced the Holy Spirit to retreat into the heavens until Pentecost. The intimacy and close friendship of God was not to be had until his Son took on human flesh. Only then could he merit the gift of his Spirit for mankind once again.

Elsewhere in the Gospels Our Lord said to sin is to be a slave of sin. And to be sure, slaves do not know their masters half as much as friends do. Moroever, only friends of Jesus Christ can win him more friends because of the joy they exude. It cannot be repeated enough that this joy can only be had through an uncompromising fidelity to Christ’s commandments; especially those that are most counter-cultural and controversial in today’s world.

The joy from knowing Christ is not so much based on the "thou shall not's" as it is on their corresponding virtues. Still, it is important to mention the "thou shall not's" of God commands. Perhaps you haven't heard, but if you contracept, cohabitate, masterbate, watch porn, miss Mass, cuss or use obscene language, get drunk, and believe anything you want to believe, you may have yet to know the joy of the Lord. This applies to all of us. Whatever joy we may have had up to this point may have been just a mirage of the real thing; this, because we have not kept his commands.

This is what St. Paul taught; this is what the Church Fathers taught; and this is what every Saint has taught down through the centuries! They insisted, as Jesus insisted in the Gospel reading, that keeping God’s law, loving God and joyfully knowing God are indivisibly united. One weak link compromises the trio of Christ’s promise. And his promise is conditional. The promise of God's friendship, and the joy which is but the fruit of that friendship, is conditioned upon a fidelity to the commands of Christ; not 90 percent fidelity, but total fidelity! St. James said to guilty of one part of the law is to be guilty of it all. Infidelity to one little jot or tittle of Christ's law can spoil the promise of divine joy.

Therefore, attracting souls to Christ and his Church rests, in part, upon our ability to articulate, not only the promise, but the condition upon which the promise is realized.


Based on Sunday’s readings: May 13th, 2012

Jesus said to his disciples:
"As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love."

"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you
and your joy might be complete.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one's life for one's friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another."