Homily for April 24

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

(I'm preaching only once this weekend, at the Sunday 5 p.m. Mass
and I'm posting this before that time so there will be no audio for
my homily this weekend.)

Imagine a world with no newspapers, no magazines, no books,
no computers, no internet, no social media, no telephone,
no radio, no television…
That’s the world in which St. Paul lived, in the mid-first century.
In that setting, over a span of about 10 years,
St. Paul set out on three journeys, missionary journeys,
to preach the message of Jesus and spread the Christian faith.
In those three journeys Paul traveled some 7,000 miles.
We know some of his travel was by boat because in the scriptures
he reports being shipwrecked no fewer than three times.
Still, a good deal of his travel was by foot.
His travels took him to Cyprus, Turkey, Syria, Greece, Jerusalem,
Lebanon and Israel.

He had no bible to carry with him, to read from, or refer to.
He had no pamphlets, leaflets or handouts.
There were no sound systems for addressing large crowds:
small groups would be his largest audiences.
He had only the faith in his heart and the words on his lips
but with these simple tools he told the story of Jesus
and founded whole faith communities, churches, along the way.
And all this in places where the people had never heard of Jesus!

It’s no exaggeration to say
that we need a new missionary effort in the church.

But the missionary effort needed today
doesn’t require our traveling 7,000 miles to places
with names like Lystra or Iconium,  Antioch, or Pisidia,
Pamphylia ,Perga or Attalia.
Our mission land is much closer to home.

In fact, for many folks, their own home is their mission territory,
and is their neighborhood, their workplace, and their classroom.
Archdiocesan statistics in Boston reveal that only 17% of Catholics
come to Mass with any regularity.

In the last 15 years, the number of marriages
celebrated in Catholic churches in the archdiocese of Boston
has dropped by 60%.
These numbers have been dropping for a long time
and for a long time we used to say,
“Well, they’re not coming like they used to
but when it’s time for a wedding, they’ll be back.”
That’s no longer the reality.
While  a Baptism or First Communion or Confirmation
may draw back some who have drifted away,
those sacramental moments are, largely, one-off moments.
It’s far too common
that a high-schooler coming for Confirmation class
hasn’t been to Mass or a religious education program
since the second grade.

Our mission territory isn’t the ancient world St. Paul traveled.
Our mission territory is the home we wake up in,
the neighborhood we live in, the work place we got to,
the classroom we sit in.
And we have an advantage over St. Paul.
He went to speak to people who had never heard of Jesus.
We need to go to people who have heard of Jesus
and who, for the most part have some relationship with the church.

I believe we’ve likely reached a time in the church’s history
in which it’s safe for me to assume that all of you are here today
not just because you know you should be,
that you’re supposed to be,
but because in your heart of hearts, you want to be here
because you find something here every week
or as often as you come,
which you don’t find anywhere else in your life.
I believe we’re gathered here
because we value this time together in prayer
as an important part of each week’s rhythm in our lives.

And as missionaries
in our homes, our neighborhoods, at work and at school,
I think the most important thing we might be able to do
is to share with others why we make the time to be here each week
and to invite others to join us.
And to do that respectfully, gently, warmly – and often.

And the best way to prepare to do that
is for each of us to spend some time thinking
about why we make time to be here
and what this hour means in the course of our week.

And should a first sharing or invitation be ignored or rejected,
then, after some time has passed, find another way                  
to share with and to invite others to join you, to join us,
here at the altar.

In the gospel today Jesus said,
“This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”
One of the best ways we might love others
is to invite them to come home to prayer and to the Lord’s Table.

And just in case I haven’t been quite clear enough,
I’m calling all of us, this week, to look for opportunities
at home, in our neighborhoods, at work and at school,
to share with others, as simply as possible,
why we come here on the weekend
and what we find here -
and to invite them to join us.

Some, even many, might politely or not so politely dismiss your efforts.
Regardless of that, you’ve given them something to think about.

Some, even just one or two, might listen and accept the invitation.
What a blessing for them – and a blessing for you –
to have helped someone come home to God.

This is the Lord’s Table – and there are many empty places around it.
Pray that through our missionary efforts, the table may be filled.


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