Homily for May 17

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Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter 
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Mission Impossible!
Perhaps you remember the TV show or the movie of this title
but even if you don’t, you know what it refers to
an impossible task set before us, or one that appears to be impossible.
Jesus missions his friends in the gospel today
and he missions us, too.
I want to show you how he does that.

Perhaps you saw a report that came out this past week
tracking religious affiliation in the United States
between the years 2007 and 2014.
According to this study,
about 70% of Americans identify themselves as Christian.
That sounds pretty good but that number, 70%,
is down 8 percentage points since 2007.
And, today, 23% of Americans identify themselves as  “unaffiliated.”
Now, and for the first time ever,
the “unaffiliated” in the US outnumber Catholics -- by 3%.
The study also tells us that average age of adult Catholics is 49.
Seven years ago it was 45.
There even more unhappy numbers in the survey.

Is this story playing out here in our own parish?  Yes, it is.
Our parish census shows an increase
of about 65 more households registered this year
as compared to last year
but we also have about 60 funerals every year…
Regardless of the net gain or loss of members on our rolls,
our Sunday attendance numbers continue a slow but steady decline.
Is that because our parish is lifeless and boring?  I don’t think so.
I try hard each week to cut back on the announcements I make
at the end of Mass of all the activities and opportunities
here at Holy Family.
Are we losing people because the music is bad,
the preaching boring
and the liturgy sloppy?   I don’t think so.
But if all these good things are present,
how is it that we’re losing people?

Take a look around the church and take a guess
at what might be the average age of the adults here.

These are questions facing parishes across the United States
and it’s our task to discover what we need to do
to share our faith and the gospel more compellingly
and with greater conviction.
These realities, these numbers, put a keen edge
on Jesus’ words in today’s gospel
where he “sends us into the world with a word of truth.”

Our world is Concord and its environs.
We might like to think that “the missions” exist
only across the seas, on other continents and in the third world
but more and more we find that we’re living in mission territory,
right here at home.

In fact, this is a theme in Pope Francis writing and preaching.
Two years ago he wrote these strong words: 
I hope that all communities will devote the effort necessary
to advance along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion
which cannot leave things as they presently are.
‘Mere administration’ can no longer be enough.
Let us be in a permanent state of mission – throughout the world.
There are church structures which can hamper this effort
and even good structures are only helpful when there is a life
constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them.
I dream of a missionary  impulse capable of transforming everything,
so that the Church’s customs, our ways of doing things,
our times and schedules, language and structures,
all can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world
-- rather than for our own self-preservation. * 

The pope’s words here offer counsel for the universal Church,
for the Archdiocese of Boston, for Holy Family Parish
-- and for each of us.
Francis believes the mission is POSSIBLE, not Impossible,
but possible only through change.

But I wonder: will we be open to this kind of change
and to letting go the preservation of our self-interests
in favor of attracting back those who have left us
and welcoming in the “unaffiliated?”

Let me offer you a little test case.
As you know, we’re doing a survey right now
on our weekend Mass schedule
to determine how well the current schedule
serves the Catholics of Concord
and if any changes in the schedule would serve us better.
So, what if the survey reveals that some schedule changes
might be helpful -- to those who aren’t here?
How willing will you be, how willing will I be,
to make those changes?
How much will we want to hang on to what we have?
what we’re familiar with? what we do every Sunday morning?
what we’ve “always” done?
How much will we want to preserve our self-interest?

How difficult might we find it to change: 
our customs,  our ways of doing things,
our times and schedules,
and our structures, 
channeling them  for the evangelization of others 
-- rather than for the preservation of our ways? 

Questions like these will be multiplying in the near future
as the church around the world
and the Archdiocese of Boston
and our own parish respond to the Lord’s call
to open our doors ever wider:
first for us to go out to share with others what we find here
and then to be sure that the doors are wide open to welcome in
those who are drawn to join us.

In the first reading the apostles replaced Judas, the betrayer,
by casting lots – rolling dice!
Well, the lots have been cast again
and the future of our church is in our hands in very real ways.
It falls to us, we who are still here,
to build up Christ’s Body, the Church.
And we’re going to have to find new ways to do it
and we’re going to need to do it together.

Today’s passage from the gospel
offers us the words of Jesus at the Last Supper.
On the night before he died, Jesus prayed for his friends
that they would go out into the world with a word of truth.
We’re gathered again this morning at the table of his Supper
and he’s telling us the same thing.
May the sacrament we celebrate and receive here
nourish us for the work that falls to our hands and hearts.
And because this work is our from God,
and guided by the Holy Spirit,
the mission is POSSIBLE.

* Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) 11/24/13

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