Sunday, March 17, 2013

Takin' it to the streets

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everybody!

   Fifth Sunday of Lent   C 

Pope Francis.  
It’s going to take some getting used to, isn’t it?

We don’t know too much about our new Holy Father just yet,
so the whole world is eagerly watching his every move.
You’ve already heard—of course—
that as Cardinal Archbishop in Buenos Aires
he led a rather simple life:
staying in a small apartment; cooking his own meals;
riding on buses and subways rather than in limousines.
He was a “priest of the streets”:
a down-to-earth shepherd living right amongst his poor flock.

In fact, on his very first day as Supreme Pontiff,
he stopped by the hotel in which he stayed before the Conclave
to pick up his luggage and pay his own bill.
We shouldn’t be too surprised, then,
at the news out of Rome this morning:
it seems that, for breakfast today,
Pope Francis decided to stroll out of the Vatican
to a neighborhood café and order an espresso.
When he was done, the Pope asked the barista, “How much will it be?”
“That’ll be 5 euro,” came the answer.
As the Pope reached into his pocket for the money,
the barista joked, “You know, we don’t get many Popes in here.”
Which is when Pope Francis replied,
“And at these prices, you won’t get many more, either!”

(OK…so I made that story up…
…but it sounds like it could happen, right?)

We welcome the election of our new Pope
right in the middle of this Year of Faith…
…and it sure seems he’s the right man at the right time.
In his native Argentina,
Pope Francis showed a strong commitment 
to the new evangelization—
to revitalizing the Catholic faith among his people.
In an interview published just about a year ago,
then-Cardinal Bergoglio said
that faith “is not a possession, but a mission.”
The future Pope continued:
            We need to come out of ourselves
            and head for the [margins]*.
            We need to avoid the spiritual sickness
            of a Church that is wrapped up in its own world:
            when a Church becomes like this,
            it grows sick.
            It is true that going out onto the street
            implies the risk of accidents happening,
            as they would to any ordinary man or woman.
            But if the Church stays wrapped up in itself,
            it will age.
            And if I had to choose between
            a wounded Church that goes out onto the streets
            and a sick withdrawn Church,
            I would definitely choose the first one.  
                  (Vatican Insider, 2/24/12)

Out in the streets.
That’s where our new Pope seems most comfortable.
And that’s where Jesus seems right at home, too.

In this Sunday’s familiar and dramatic gospel story,
we find Jesus not sitting within the temple,
but outside of it—in the surrounding area.
It is there among the common people that he’s teaching,
first by his words, and later—so powerfully—by his actions.
It is there in the streets that Jesus
encounters the adulterous woman and the murderous crowd—
both desperately in need of healing and mercy.

Jesus didn’t wait for the lost to find him;
he went out to seek and find them.

So far during this Year of Faith,
we’ve undertaken a number of initiatives here in our parishes
and—praise God—I believe we’re seeing them bear fruit.
We distributed a thousand Year of Faith booklets in November,
half of them going to fallen away Catholics.
We’ve strongly promoted the Sacrament of Penance;
not only have we increased the availability of confession,
but we’ve also seen more people taking advantage of it—
some of them, after many, many years.
We’ve got better than 50 people—some weeks, as many as 75—
participating in the ten-part Catholicism series.
Fr. Stitt’s virtual tour of the Vatican
brought in about 150 folks 10 days ago,
and I hope many will be taking part in today’s actual pilgrimage
to St. Patrick’s Church in Hogansburg.
And—as some of you have noted—
Mass attendance appears to be up;
we even seem to have more young people
in our churches on Sundays.

But the most encouraging thing I’ve noticed
is not something I can mark on a calendar or a tally sheet;
it’s a shift in attitude I’ve observed in so many of you.
More and more often I hear you telling me stories
about how you’ve reached out to someone
to invite them back to the practice of the faith,
or even to check out the Catholic Church for the first time.
I’m seeing a new confidence, born of renewed conviction.
You’re rediscovering the supreme good
of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord,
and you just can’t keep it to yourselves.
Our Catholic faith—as our new Pope says—
“is not a possession, but a mission”;
it necessarily takes us out into the streets.

And so this Sunday we’re announcing
our next “big thing” for the Year of Faith:
on Divine Mercy Sunday—the Sunday after Easter—
we will be beginning the 40 Hours Eucharistic Devotion.
40 Hours was once very common
here in Malone and across the North Country,
but now—as far as we know—hasn’t taken place
anywhere in the Diocese of Ogdensburg for several decades.
We think it’s high time to dust off this venerable tradition.
Basically, from early morning until midnight,
the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed for adoration
and various liturgies and devotions will be scheduled
for a total duration of—you guessed it—40 hours.
(More specific details can be found in this weekend’s bulletin insert.)
This is about coming together to spend time with Jesus:
not before a pretty statue or painting of him,
nor contemplating noble ideas about him
in our minds and hearts,
but sitting attentively before his real presence in the Eucharist—
just like those crowds did, gathered around Jesus in Jerusalem.
In the weeks ahead we’ll be asking for volunteers
to sign up and commit to an hour or two of adoration
during the course of these two and a half days.

But we’d miss the whole point if we stopped there.
And—to be honest—it’s the “grand finale”
to which I’m most looking forward.
On Tuesday, April 9, after an evening Mass,
we’ll be taking Jesus out into the streets:
we’ll have a Eucharistic procession,
carrying the Blessed Sacrament into and through our community.
With candles and incense, prayers and songs,
we’ll be making it clear that the Savior we worship
didn’t come to stay locked up inside our pretty churches,
but still desires to go out and touch a hurting world.

Can you imagine the impression it’ll make
on the people of this village—
not to mention the truckers driving down Main Street—
to see hundreds of Catholics
making such a visible, public statement about their faith?
And can you imagine the momentum it will generate
as we continue through this Year of Faith—and beyond—
to keep introducing our friends and neighbors to Christ,
to keep helping the lost find their way back home?
Do start making plans now—as much as you are able—
to take part in the upcoming 40 Hours.

We recall that, in ages past, God led his people
through the mighty waters of the sea
and then through the desert wasteland,
accompanying them all along their long journey to freedom.
And we know that Jesus, likewise, stayed very close
to the sick, the sinner, and the poor,
announcing to them the Good News of salvation.

It is the very same Lord who walks with us today
and stays near us still.

Let us, then with our Holy Father, Pope Francis,
strain forward to what lies ahead:
the pursuit of life’s true goal,
our upward calling in Christ.
Let’s not hesitate to take this faith
out into the streets.

*Original: "periphery"

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