Spreading the Word: one-on-one

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Homily for January 19
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

(The gospel assigned for today is John 1:29-34.
 I preached on a slightly longer passage: John 1:29-39)

Along with last week’s gospel of the baptism of Jesus
this week's passage tells us the story of the inauguration
of the public life and work of Jesus.
And as you can see, it's a low-budget inauguration:
no big crowds, no festivity, no parade, no marching bands,
no long speeches, no oath of office.

It all begins just one-on-one:
Jesus and John, standing together in the river.

Then later,  John and two of his friends bump into Jesus
and John tells his friends:
“He’s the One - the One I’ve been telling you about.”
And Jesus asks them that simple, deeply probing question,
“What are you looking for?”
In turn, they ask him where he’s staying
and he tells them "Come and see" and they do
and they end up spending the whole day with him.

Such a simple inauguration, such a simple beginning:
Jesus and John;
John and his two friends;
John’s friends and Jesus...

The public life, the ministry of Jesus began one-on-one,
friend-to-friend, by word of mouth without a single written word,
or text message, or phone call or email.

Today that message has spread, as Isaiah prophesied,
"to the ends of the earth."
The Internet can spread the gospel message instantaneously
to every point on the globe
but as great as might be that potential,
the work and value of sharing our faith in Jesus one-on-one
is just as important, maybe more important
as it was 2,000 years ago.

Let me illustrate that for you.
If you read my letters in the bulletin then you already know
that only about 17% of Catholics in the Archdiocese of Boston
regularly attend Mass.
(That’s seven-teen %)

Here at Holy Family we have 1400 registered households
but I know that hundreds of those households
rarely if ever join us for prayer.

Our attendance at Mass on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings
has been on a slow, slight decline since our parish began 9 years ago.
And our parish is not unusual in this regard:
we are like most others – and doing better than some.

Within the next several years (and I don’t know which year)
our parish and St. Irene’s in Carlisle will become a collaborative
as will all parishes in the archdiocese.
Last year, in Phase One of this process,
12 collaboratives were established, involving 28  parishes.
This coming summer, in Phase Two
21 more collaboratives will be established involving 44 parishes.

Some collaboratives will include two parishes, others three
and some as many as four.
Each parish will remain open and maintain its individual identity.
But for each collaborative there will be one pastor and one parish staff
to serve the several parishes within it.

Unlike past efforts at reconfiguration,
this collaborative plan is designed not to close or merge parishes
but to build them up with the personnel we have.
And that building up will be predicated on intense efforts dedicated
to bring home to parish life many of those 83% of Catholics
who no longer join us on the Lord’s Day.

This will happen through parish programming, of course,
but its success will critically depend
on the one-on-one outreach of the 17% of Catholics
who are already faithfully active in parish life.

And you, and you, and you, brothers and sisters, 
you are the 17% - nobody else: it's you!

The work Jesus inaugurated on the banks of the River Jordan
and the networking begun with John the Baptist
are now our work and our mission.

2,000 years after Jesus’ baptism,
the spread of the gospel and the building up of the church
still depend on the grace of God
and on our willingness to share our faith with others, one-on-one:
in our homes, our neighborhoods, our parishes, our communities,
our social circles, our schools and where we work.

How many are waiting, like John’s two friends,
waiting for someone to ask them,
“What are you looking for?”

What are you looking for?
Isn’t that the question, the reason
that brings us together this morning?
Are we not here looking for God, in Christ, through the Church?
Are we not looking for peace in a turbulent world?
Are we not looking for truth in a culture of false messages?
Are we not looking for what truly satisfies the hungers and thirsts
known in every human heart and life?

Isn't that why we're here?

Who will say to others,
"Come and see what we have found..."

It may be several years
before we become a collaborative with St. Irene’s.
The leadership of our two parishes has already begun meeting.
And it’s not too early for any of us, for all of us, to begin, one-on-one,
to invite home those who have been away from our life and prayer.

What are we looking for?
We’re looking for Jesus, the one baptized by John,
anointed by the Spirit, the beloved Son of God,
who invites us to his table
to share in the Sacrament of his presence
and to find in him the peace, the truth and the life
for which every heart is longing.


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