Click here for the FULL printable version: Thirty Third Sunday; Yr C 11-17-19; BSC
By: Fr. Brett Brannen
I think I could write a small book entitled: Experiences at the Airport, by a Catholic Priest. Many people have walked up to me and interacted with me at airports through the years and I have had some interesting things happen. Fairly regularly, someone asks: “Are you a Catholic priest?” And then, “Can you hear my confession?” Or “Will you please pray for…?” I am always most happy to do so.
In the last year, I met a man at an airport in a certain city (which I will not name) and our interaction was unforgettable. He was the Shoe-Shine Man and his name was Thomas. He called to me as I walked towards my gate, “Father, do you have a minute?” and I stopped to meet him. He made a joke that we were in the same business; saving souls. And then, when he perceived that I was not in a hurry and I was willing to listen, he began to speak very rapidly about how he was a Catholic but that “the Church” had hurt him badly. He mentioned several divorces and remarriages, a brother who was in a same-sex relationship, not being able to receive Holy Communion, etc, and basically vented about “every” Catholic moral teaching that is difficult to live.
I did not interrupt him. I could see that he wanted simply to be listened to and to vent in some anger. He was obviously wounded (vulnus), and thus vulnerable… and he was saying many things that were not true with respect Catholic teaching. But the things he said were his perception and, as we know, perception is reality to the perceiver.
He continued to talk; to rant, and I did not stop him. I noticed that he was staring at my face, looking for my reaction. He was expecting opposition; that I would immediately begin to defend Catholic teaching. He went on to say that he no longer attended mass, or practiced any religion, that he was against organized religion, that he was spiritual but not religious, that he did not really pray and…he blamed it all on the Catholic Church.
When he finally finished, he took a deep breath, looked at me and said, “I’m sorry to dump on you Father. I don’t even know you. But thanks for listening.”
Finally he was quiet; looking at me. I said to him, “Thomas, please don’t give up on Jesus. He loves you. Nobody loves you like He does. He misses you and your family in the Church. He can fix whatever is broken in us and He can untwist whatever is twisted. He can give you great happiness.”
Thomas replied, “Well Father, I have not given up on Jesus. I believe in Jesus. But I have given up on “the Church.”
And then he said, “But I’ll still always be a Catholic!”
I prayed over him and asked God to bless he and his family. And then I went on to my gate.
I did not argue with Thomas about his giving up on Jesus, because no good would have come from it at that time. But the truth was, by his own admission, he had not prayed or tried to talk to Jesus in a long time. He not only did not go to mass, but he was not living a spiritual life of any kind; even though he said he was spiritual but not religious. The truth is that Thomas had given up on both Jesus and the Church, because you can’t have one without the other. They are one. You can’t have Jesus without His Church and you can’t have the Church without Jesus. And that is the way God set things up.
In my experience, people like Thomas will often say that they still believe, but the personal relationship with Christ is simply not present. When they leave “the Church,” they also leave a friendship with Christ (if it ever existed in the first place.)
Jesus says today that he who perseveres to the end shall be saved. This means to continue steadfastly to believe and to practice our faith. To persevere in our faith means not only to persevere in believing that Jesus is Lord, Risen from the dead, the Way, the Truth and the Life…but also to practice that belief. To have a life of daily prayer, to come to Mass, to receive the sacraments, to grow in virtue and to serve others. They will know we are Christians by our love.
You can’t have Jesus without the church and you can’t have the church without Jesus. I think this statement is very defensible.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
(#779) “The Church is both visible and spiritual, a hierarchical society and the Mystical Body of Christ. She is one, yet formed of two components, human and divine.”
(#781) “God has willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness.”
As her inquisitors asked St. Joan of Arc, during the trial leading to her being burned at the stake, she replied: “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.”
You can’t have Jesus without the church and you can’t have the church without Jesus.
Since Jesus is the head of the Church and we (sinners) are the body, together we are a living organism. If you remove the head, or if your remove the body, you have a corpse…and dead bodies float downstream!
There are some sad and disappointing statistics in our country today regarding the practice of Christianity and the direction in which we are moving. I am speaking of this today because our U.S. bishops were talking about it at their annual meeting in Washington DC last week. The Pew Research Center recently released a new study that looks at the changing religious landscape in the U.S. over the last decade. More and more people are abandoning their place in the pews and the number of religiously unaffiliated (whom we often called the NONES, the N-O-N-E-S, continues to grow. We call them NONES because that is the box they check when asked their religious affiliation.
Now 65% of American adults still identify themselves as Christian. Not all are Catholic Christians but they believe in Christ. While 65% of adults sounds pretty good, it has dropped 12 percentage points since 2009. In 2009, it was over 75%.
The study also shows that 1 in every 5 U.S. adults are Catholic Christians; that’s 20% of the population. Once again, that number has dropped 23% in the last ten years.
So when we look only at U.S. adults, 26% are NONES, religiously unaffiliated.
But when we look at the youth; the millennials (those born between 1981-1996), it is worse. 40% identify as NONES; an increase of 13 percentage points in the last ten years. The bottom line is that people in the U.S., both young and older, historically a very religious country, founded “One Nation Under God”, are leaving Christianity in droves!
There used to be a time here in the U.S. when young people would leave the active practice of their Catholic faith after graduating from BSS, and then BC or SVA. They go off to college at the age of emancipation and they wander a bit from the Church and the practice of their Faith. And then, it would come time for them to get married and they would return to the Church for the Sacrament of marriage, statistically in their early 20’s. And then they began to have children, and husband and wife would look at one another and say, “We need Jesus!” and they would come back to Mass. I think there are likely many people in this Church today who followed that pattern.
Today, people are not returning to the Church to get married. First of all, because they don’t get married until on average the age of 27 for women and 29 for men respectively. People are rarely marrying right out of college anymore. And more and more people are not marrying at all. They are simply living together, having children and often have no intention to ever get married. As if the Sacrament of Marriage does not matter.
The current U.S. Culture is like a pagan river running fifty miles an hour downstream and to swim against this current requires great effort, discipline and strength. It requires a huge amount of faith! I call it a “pagan river” because pagan means not Christian or non-main world religions: Christians, Jews, Muslims.
So much of what we see on television, in the news, facebook, internet is reinforcing messages that are not Christian teaching. That marriage does not matter, gender is fluid; you choose what you want to be, there is no moral code which applies to us all.
Dead wood floats downstream. Our US culture no longer nods its head to Christianity. This is true in Europe as well. True, the world goes through cycles and cultures change. We can see historically that there are areas which were once vibrant Christian cultures, such as North Africa, and that Christian culture does not exist there today. That culture produced saints and giants of Christianity like St. Augustine! The same thing is happening in Europe. Historically the bastion of Christianity in general and Catholic Christianity in particular, Christian statistics in Europe are even sadder than our own.
Is Jesus Christ still the Way, the Truth and the Life? Absolutely! Is Jesus still the answer to which every human heart is the question? Of course He is. But when young people grow up in a world “produced” by Christian cultures, a world that is fraught with violence, hatred, war and injustice, can you not see why they would question if Jesus is truly the answer?
In other words, living Christianity well is what spreads Christianity! And truth be told, many of our ancestors, and some of our leaders, have not done so.
As Bp. Barron says, we can point to many factors that have contributed to the rise of the NONES…an ideology of self-invention, moral relativism, immanentism (a denial of the transcendent) and the ever present preoccupation with the passing values of the world; money, pleasure, honor and power. That has always been here. Bp. Barron mentions a dumbing down of the faith, a lack of real missionary consciousness in our parishes and finally, of course, the shocking moral corruption of some of our church leaders. It is easy to see why the NONES are rising.
As St. John Paul II said again and again: “Do not be afraid”. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. Christianity is the answer. Jesus will make all things new. Persevere in your Faith.”
Do not be afraid. Jesus gives us hope when it makes no sense to have hope. When the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket, the Christian keeps his eyes on Christ and perseveres in living his or her life as a follower of Jesus.
Did you know that this past year, and this statistic breaks my heart; for the first time in the history of the U.S., suicide has superseded car accidents as the highest cause of death of millennials. As fewer and fewer young people believe in Jesus and practice Christianity by prayer and coming to Mass and trying to grow in Christian virtue, more and more are taking their own lives when life becomes difficult. Jesus gives us Hope when it makes no sense to have hope.
And that is why I said to Thomas the Shoe Shine man in the airport: “Thomas, please don’t give up on Jesus. He loves you. Nobody loves you like He does. He misses you and your family in the Church. He can fix whatever is broken in us and He can untwist whatever is twisted. He can give you great happiness.”
As you know, I have the privilege of doing a lot of traveling to give retreats to seminarians and priests around the country. Which is why I meet a lot of people in airports. But I also see pockets of great faith in Jesus Christ and in His Catholic Church.
Pockets of great faith in the U.S. today; movements like FOCUS, NET, Steubenville Youth Conferences (some of our youth have been going to those the past few summers.) Seminarians, priests are very strong.
Because the Catholic Church has been here in the U.S. so long, since the founding of our country, we sometimes forget just how much good the Church has done and how much good she is doing. Because we have always had a “Christian Culture” until now, we can sometimes forget the benefits, (bene facere- to do the good); the good that is done because of Christ in our lives.
And because the bad has been so bad, crimes committed by a small number of very sick individuals under guise of the church, the bad news is what is always in the news.
But there is great good news and great good continues to be done in the name of Jesus by the Catholic Church; and by “Catholic Church” I mean you. The People of God who believe in Jesus and love Him, and serve Him in others. The benefits of Faith are enormous for society!
Two days ago, I was called to Memorial Hospital by the staff chaplain. She told me that there was a young woman from Honduras with a very sick baby girl in the Ped ICU. It was cold outside. The woman was in a short sleeve shirt with no coat, no money, no food, nothing. She was completely destitute. The chaplain texted me, gave me this information and then said, “Father, this young woman says that she is Catholic. Is there anything the Catholic Church can do?”
So I went over with Deacon (soon to be) Bob Fritts and we visited her. She did not speak any English. I spoke to her in Spanish. (How? Because the Catholic Church sent me to study Spanish when I was in the seminary precisely so that I could minister to immigrant people). And we were able to evaluate her needs. Mr. Fritts then took her down to the Savannah Catholic Social Apostolate, which this parish supports generously, because of your generosity), and she came back with a full stomach, a heavy coat, a bag full of clothes, and a bag full of food like military M.R.E.’s, meals ready to eat.
The chaplain asked me with confidence, “Is there anything the Catholic Church can do?” Because we have done this before many times.
When a young person says to me, “Father, I’m against organized religion. I’m spiritual but not religious. I don’t believe in the Catholic Church.” Well, that poor child of God from Honduras would not have been assisted unless there was organized religion and unless there was a Catholic Church and unless there were good people like you who believe in Jesus and practice your Catholic Faith and come together to worship Him!
And if there were not the Catholic diocese of Savannah, with a bishop, there would not be a Catholic Social Apostolate, which helps thousands of poor people every year.
Did you know that 17,000 Catholic parishes in the U.S. alone? 17,000! We, BSC is only one of 17,000 Catholic parishes and every one of them is doing just that. (what our parish did this week; caring for the poor, preaching the Gospel, forgiving people’s sins, teaching and forming our children).
5,000 Catholic elementary schools in the U.S. BSS is one of 5,000!
2,000 Catholic high schools in the U.S. BC and SVA are just two of the 2,000.
279 Catholics colleges and universities in the U.S.
727 Catholic hospitals; St. Joseph’s Hospital is just one of 727. (21 million sick people cared for in our Catholic hospitals last year!) I would suggest to the NONES, are you sure you want to be against organized religion?
37,000 Catholic priests and 44,000 sisters in the U.S. alone.
The Catholic Church is benevolent and beneficent; she wills good to people and she does good for people in the name of Jesus.
And these are just the U.S. statistics. The Catholic Church is doing this same good work all over the world. (You can Google the international statistics and read about it.)
I am not trying to be boastful by giving you this information, but I am proud to be a Catholic. And I want us all to see the complete picture. We are living in a culture which thinks that the world would be better off if the Catholic Church did not exist. People are leaving the Catholic Church and Christianity in droves, as if Jesus does not matter.
Jesus plus anything is a lot better than it was before. And Jesus can do anything, with anyone, anytime. That is what omnipotence means.
Bp. Barron reminds us that today, we can reach people with the Good News of Jesus better than ever before…with the internet; social media. We have a powerful tool at our disposal. Jesus Christ is God. He can snap His fingers any second and bring every NONE back to Him and to His Church. Jesus can blink his left eye and save the world.
But Jesus asks us who do believe…who believe in Jesus and in His Catholic Church, to be more faithful than ever before. There are fewer and fewer of us so we must be better and better Christians.
- If you are saying your prayers four nights a week, bump it up to seven nights.
- If you are attending Mass 3 out of 4 Sundays, bump it up. Heck, we want you at mass every day; 8:00 a.m.
- If you have not been to confession, come.
- If you are not coming to our Adoration chapel, the code is 1920.
They asked Bp. Barron what he recommended in the face of the rise of the NONES, the increase in people abandoning Christ and His Church. He said, “I think every parish in the U.S. should have, for the next ten years, round the clock Eucharistic Adoration, during which good people pray for the return of the unaffiliated.”
The statistics about the NONES are daunting and frightening. I like the axiom: “There are three things to consider: Lies, damn lies and statistics.” Satan is the father of lies. Jesus always has been and always will be…the Way, the Truth and the Life!
Jesus Christ does tremendous good through His Catholic Church, and He is calling us to remain in it and to work; and to persist in the good we are doing.
“He that perseveres to the end shall be saved.”
I close with the words I said to Thomas, the Shoe Shine man at the airport. “Don’t give up on Jesus. No one loves you like He does. And don’t give up on the Catholic Church. You can’t have one without the other.”
Will you join me in praying for Thomas the Shoe Shine man, and for all the NONES, to return?
Praised be Jesus Christ. Now and forever.