Sunday, May 4, 2014

Get It

   Third Sunday of Easter   A 
Two or three times a week,
Fr. Tom and I are able to have breakfast together. 
(For some reason, it always seems more likely to happen
when I’m making pancakes than when I making oatmeal…)
When we have breakfast together,
we almost always look through the funnies in the newspaper.
The best ones get cut out a put up on our fridge.
Every once in awhile, we come across one that’s not funny.
You can read all of the words, and the sentences make sense,
and you recognize what’s going on in the pictures,
but it just doesn’t click.
You don’t get the joke.
This is particularly frustrating
when there’s a comic I find funny, but Fr Tom doesn’t get.
Of course, if you have to explain it,
then it definitely isn’t going to be funny!
You’ve got all the pieces,
but you can’t see where they’re going.
What’s missing is the big picture, the pattern,
how all the parts fit together.  (cf. R. Barron)

Likewise, yesterday morning we had our First Communion retreat
for all those boys and girls who will be receiving the sacrament today.
And as I’ve done with the First Communion class
wherever I’ve been assigned for eight years now,
I baked bread with them.
Picture it: 32 sets of 7- or 8-year-old hands
covered with sticky dough!
As we started, the kids could only see raw ingredients:
flour, water, yeast.
They had a hard time making the connection:
how these things could become a loaf of fresh bread.
Again, what was missing was the big picture, the pattern,
how all the parts fit together.

Isn’t that what we see happening
in the gospel story we’ve just heard?
Two disciples are walking away from Jerusalem
on that first Easter day.
All their lives, they’d read the scriptures, listened to their elders,
and known the promise of a Savior, a Messiah.
They’d witnessed Jesus’ miracles
and heard his preaching in the countryside.
They’d seen him welcomed and popular a week before on Palm Sunday.
They’d now also seen him betrayed and rejected,
convicted and crucified.
On this, the third day since,
they’ve even heard talk that he’s been raised from the dead.
But they’re leaving town disappointed and discouraged.
Why?  Because they don’t get it!  It hasn’t clicked for them!
They’ve got all the pieces, but can’t make them connect.
What’s missing is the big picture, the pattern,
how all the parts fit together.

Isn’t that often the story of our lives of faith, too?
We’ve read the Bible—or at least heard many of its stories.
We’ve come to Mass and received the sacraments.
We’ve gone to catechism classes and passed (most of us, anyway).
We try to follow the rules—as best we know them and as best we can.
But it takes something more than completing such a checklist.
All those pieces have to fit together.
We need to see the big picture.
and the big picture is a person—the big picture is Jesus:
Jesus, truly risen from the dead;
Jesus, just as he appeared to those two disciples heading to Emmaus;
Jesus, not far away in heaven, but walking hidden right at our side;
Jesus, in the breaking of the bread—
present here, “Body, Blood, soul, and divinity” in the Eucharist
Jesus, who is real for us,
and really a part—the central part—of our lives.

More than a year ago,
our Bishop set out to get a look at the “big picture.”
He called together a committee.
He met with priests and lay people across the Diocese of Ogdensburg.
He prayed.
And he listened.
He wanted to make sure we’re on the right track.
He wanted to find better ways to help people “get it.”
And just before Easter,
based upon all this hard work,
which he’s hoping will help make things click
for Catholics in the North Country—
ways that will help more people get to know Jesus for themselves
and so see the big picture.
They all fit together pretty well,
if you stop to give them some thought.

The first priority: Vocations.
You don’t need me to tell you
that we don’t have as many priests as we used to.
The same is true with our religious sisters.
It’s actually true these days with married couples, too.
We’re loosing a sense that every single one of us is called by God,
and not just a select few.
We all have something to contribute,
we all an essential role to play.
And so Bishop has set two goals:
(1) to set up an effective vocation awareness plan
for use in our parishes;
(2) to hold a diocesan vocations summit,
gathering the faithful—especially our young people—
to think, talk, and pray about their calling.

A second priority: Building up our parishes.
We may not have as many priests as we used to,
but we also don’t have as many people in the pews, either.
You can’t expect to have one without the other.
Who is missing?  And why aren’t they here?
Instead of doing things the way we “always” have,
how can we best provide for people’s spiritual needs today?
With that in mind, Bishop has set two more goals:
(1) to establish a new planning committee for the diocese,
to set us on the right course for the future;
(2) to take up a diocesan-wide census,
during which a Catholic parishioner will visit every single house
in our 12,000 square mile diocese.
We need to know who’s out there! 
And we can’t just sit here and hope they’ll come to us on their own.

A third priority: Handing on the faith to our youth,
especially in the context of family life.
Vocations come from strong parishes;
parishes are built up from strong families.
If our families aren’t faith-filled,
then how can we expect the rest of this to function as it should?
And so Bishop set two final goals:
(1) to establish strong youth ministry
in key locations across the diocese;
(2) to provide family catechesis for all 7 sacraments.
With faith as with anything else in life,
we don’t stop learning when we’re kids.
And how can parents give their children
what they don’t have for themselves?

Bishop LaValley has spelled all of this out in more detail
in a Pastoral Letter to the people of the diocese.
He has sent a copy for each of your families.
If you didn’t get one on the way in to church this morning,
then be sure to get one on the way out.
But please: only one per household 
so that there’s enough to go around.
Take the time to read it carefully.
Even take some time to pray about it.
These priorities and goals will be guiding the life and work
of every parish in the diocese for some years to come.
They come, of course, at a great time for us here in Malone
as St. André’s Parish is about to be born.

Unlike the bread I baked with the kids yesterday morning,
there’s no clear, simple recipe for “cooking up” the Church.
And what’s at stake is much more
than a good laugh at the comics page.
Our goal isn’t to be funny over breakfast;
it’s to bring people to know Jesus Christ in his Church—
in particular, to help them discover the Lord present here
in the Holy Eucharist, in the breaking of the bread—
and so to get to heaven!
But while that goal is very serious,
it’s one which ought to fill us with the most contagious joy.
If you’ve really met Jesus, risen from the dead;
if you can really see what his plan is and where it’s going;
if the Catholic faith has clicked for you;
if you get it and it’s changing your life—
how could that not make you happy?!?
And how could you ever keep it to yourself?!?
It’s this “joy of the gospel,” as Pope Francis keeps reminding us,
which has the power to change the world.
It’s the same joy which sent Peter and the other Apostles out
in the Church’s earliest days.
It’s the joy which should fill every home, every parish,
and every heart in the Diocese of Ogdensburg.
It’s the joy Jesus wants to share with you and me
today and every day.

We’ve got all the necessary pieces
to accomplish the mission Christ has left us
as Catholics here in the North Country.

Let's ask the Lord to bless our efforts
to give life to thee priorities and goals.
Let’s ask the Lord to make our faith click.

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