The Mission of the Church
One of my evangelical colleagues tells me he considers it a sign of a successful homily when he detects some “squirming” in the pews.
Was there some “squirming” in the pews at Mass last Sunday?
I did some myself as I meditated on the words of Jesus (Luke 13:22-30) preparing my sermon for last Sunday’s Mass, and I noticed a bit of restlessness as I gave it to the good people at Sacred Heart Parish in Suffern.
The folks in the gospel passage for our Liturgy of the Word asked Jesus a very significant question: “Will only a few people be saved?”
In other words, is it easy to get to heaven? Is salvation assured? Can I relax and take eternal life for granted?
Today we seem to give a thundering “yes” to those questions. For instance:
We go to funerals and hear that the deceased is certainly already in heaven;
Rarely do we hear about hell or purgatory. (My dad always claimed he’d be thrilled if he woke up in purgatory!);
A good priest-friend of mine teased his parishioners, after six months as their pastor, “I’ve asked for a transfer. I want to be in a parish with sinners. I’ve been here half-a-year and not one person has come to confession! You all must be saints!”
The surveys show us that more and more people feel they “don’t need religion or the Church.” I guess they feel they can be saved all alone, or don’t even need such a thing as “salvation.”
Here comes the “squirming”: Jesus tells us “Many will attempt to enter, but will not get through… ;” He speaks of the door to heaven being locked, with a lot of folks still outside claiming they have an “E-Z Pass” to get in.
I’m sweating a little . . .
Here’s what we know:
God our good Father wants us all to spend eternity with Him in heaven (The theologians call this the “universal salvific will of the Lord.”);
He invites us to eternal life;
He tells us how to get there, and sends His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to bring us with Him to heaven, ‘cause we can’t get there on our own;
But, God respects our freedom to turn down his invitation, and many sadly do;
Thus, there is such a thing as hell (and purgatory).
The Church is the community of those longing for – – not presuming – – heaven. The Church has as her mission to unite her members with Jesus and make the journey of life in, with, and through Him back to God, from whom we came.
Soon-to-be St. Mother Theresa once caught off guard a governor of a state by asking, “Governor, what do you do?” It took him awhile, but he finally replied, “Well, I help people live better.”
Not to be outdone, he asked her, “And, Mother, what do you do?”
To which she responded, “I help people die better so they can live forever.”
That’s the mission of the Church.
St. John Vianney was on his way to his new parish, the village of Ars, when he got hopelessly lost on the dusty paths of southeastern France. He finally ran into a young boy and asked, “Do you know how to get to Ars?”
“Sure!” the little fella answered. “I live there!”
“Well, I’ll tell you what,” replied the man who would become the Curé, the pastor of Ars. “You show me how to get to Ars, and I’ll show you how to get to heaven.”
The mission of the Church . . .
And we fail that mission if we ignore the words of Jesus and believe instead that getting there is a snap, take heaven for granted, and presume we can get there easy, all my ourselves.