Smaller, Purer, More Devout? (Part 2)

One of the great temptations of every clergyman is to focus all of our efforts on getting the most bodies into the pews. Driven by this temptation leads one to measure his effectiveness by these numbers.

Trust me, we struggle with this everytime we open those double-doors to process down that aisle at the beginning of Mass, as we fight off that sinking feeling, seeing open spaces in parts of the church.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “God has not called me to be successful, he has called me to be faithful.” These are words I need to carry with me always as I accept the call to lead our people away from the powerful evangelizing efforts of the world, and into the devout life with our Lord.

A perfect example of this occurred this past weekend. It was one of those weekends when I just let go and let the Holy Spirit run amuck within me as I (HE) gave the sermon. Oh, yes, I called out the ills of our culture. This time I even called the beast by name as I spoke the words (wait for it … ) “abortion and contraception.”

To make a long story short, I was driving home the point that we, as Catholics, welcome the truth and dig deep to find it. While the world, referring to us as followers in blind obedience, withholds such truths as the right to view an ultrasound prior to making a final decision to abort.

While greeting people after that Mass, I’ll not forget two reactions. A very wonderful and devout man (actually a transplant from a local liberal parish) came up to me and grabbed my hand and pulled it tight to his chest (somewhat uncharacteristic for him) and said that was one of the finest homilies he had ever heard. Less than a minute later, a mother and her three teenage daughters made a point to dart by me to avoid greeting me, with heads lowered and scowls of anger evident. Frankly, I’m not sure they will ever be back again. Of course, my sinking heart trumped any encouragement I received from the affirming man.

These are incredibly difficult times … so much is at stake, beginning with the slaughter of 50 million innocents world-wide every year, through to the epidemic of secularism hardening the hearts of our loved ones.

Possibly at no other time in history were the words of our Lord more true when he said: Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Matt 10:34-36).

I know a former evangelical pastor who is very disturbed by the way I, my bishop, the pope, and some priests like Fr. Corapi take on the culture. His motive, within that whole “mega-church mentality,” is to fill those pews –“We can’t help them if they’re not around,” he might say. However, this “mile-wide-inch-deep” approach has it’s members leaving in droves as they reach a point where they are no longer fed or “challenged.”

In fact, Willow Creek, the mother ship of the mega-church movement, recently admitted (repented) that they had made a mistake, as they realized they were filled with programs, but were not helping people to live their faith in any serious way.

We must take our lead from such figures as the father in the story of the Prodigal Son. He let his son go in order that he may come to his senses on his own. This is also the story of all those dealing with a loved one caught in the slavery of addiction. The solution for helping is never to diminish expectations and, thereby, enable the destructive behavior, but to let them go and fall on their own, if necessary, in order that they may come to their senses on their own. The proposal is strength, not compromise.

We too, as a Catholic Church, slipped into this failed experiment over the past 40 years. In our attempts to take the pastoral (enabling) approach, we lowered the bar and diminished our standards to offend the least amount of people.

And so, in our attempts to fill our pews we have become a vacuous, no-demand, no-standards, no-requirements, no-guilt, do-good enterprise of sloppy sentimentality. Ironically, this accomplished the opposite as it drove many away because they saw only mush in our churches — we stand for little, if anything, anymore. The second largest group of baptized U.S. Christians are non-practicing Catholics … mush is not working.

The remainder of that scripture passage I quoted above is, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:37-39).

This is our Lord Jesus Christ proposing strength, with no concern for numbers. In fact, throughout salvation history, God has always preferred a small, faithful band of followers, rather than an armada of lukewarm, half-hearted on-lookers. Christ says in essence: “Either you’re in or you’re out – CHOOSE!”

As difficult as it will be to see even more leave as we propose strength once again, I believe — as our Holy Father is modeling so well — that the standard must be as high as Christ wants it to be — no less! We must raise the bar and encourage our loved ones to reach for the stars … “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect!” (Matt 5:48).

Please pray for those who are doing the MOST loving thing — no longer enabling by compromising with the world, but a proposal of strength to join in changing the world.

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7 Responses to Smaller, Purer, More Devout? (Part 2)

  1. Good bless you Father!

    Well done! I am going have to start a St. Bellarmine “Take Courage” Award for our priest and bishops who attack the evils in this world.

    It is so good to see courageous priest.

    God bless.

    John Michael

  2. Bradford Walker says:

    Praise the Lord for leaders like you, Bishop Morlino and Pope Benedict!! I could not agree more that true Christian faith is all about truth; the objective truth of the Blessed Trinity as found in it’s entirety in the Catholic Church. If only all Christians allowed themselves to realize this!

    Have no fear Father. Preach and teach the truth. Sometimes love hurts.

    God Bless you and His Church.

    Bradford Walker

  3. Thorzzz Daddy says:

    AMEN Father! FTLT. If only one of the three daughters makes it to heaven because of you truth and courage, will it not be worth it? Of course! How right, on the mark, and prophetic was Humane Vitae? What a mess we are in. If we have no Priests to lead with the strength of Truth that is Jesus Christ, surly we are all dead. Again, AMEN Father!

  4. Elizabeth Leone says:

    It’s priests like you, Father, who are going to change our culture and make a difference, making up for the Catholic apathy in recent years. God bless you for your unfailing heroism.

  5. Richard McKellar says:

    I whole heartedly agree with you Father. I have often struggled with various issues from time to time and have heard many good sermons on our faith that should be something we believe and practice 24 hours seven days a week.

    I really believe there is a great hunger for the Holy Spirit and the authentic Word of God in our culture today. What I have found in my own life is that I need genuine hope, deliverence, forgiveness and healing in my life. It is good to be challenged and convicted in every area of our lives. Over the years I have found that there is lacking an understanding of what and why people are stuggling with accepting certain church doctrines and practices.

    There is a mighty harvest waiting to be had for the church. What we need is an interior conversion which can only occur if we learn the why’s and hows of our faith undergirded with effective and fervent prayer. We need also to know the rich history of the church and the saints who have had an encounter with the One and only true and living God Who we not only encounter at mass but who is with us always. This is where we struggle the most with a strong Cathoilc identity. People do not know and often do not have the capacity in their current condition to receive the meat of the gospel when they need milk to start them moving toward their mother the church.

    We are called not only to “go to church” but we are called “to be the church”, members of Christ’s body who need to discover Jesus interiorly and not only exteriorly. We need as a church and individually to see every person as a potential and actual child of the living God by meeting them where they are at in their spiritual development and showing them the corporate and spiritual works of mercy. That is our goal and assignment to evenaglize the world. I believe in this day and age it is the greatest challenge for our priests as well as layity in confronting the world with the gospel.

    Our country is in the mess it is in because there is a spiritual famine and destitution going on that has to turn around. We need to learn how to pray more fervently and learn how to overcome the world around us. We need to learn how to daily experience and share the love, mercy and truth which is always and iminantly available to us through prayer and fellowship based on prayer.

    The Holy Spirit will convert us when we not only go to church and receive the sacraments, but when we ourselves start being the church 24 hours a day seven days a week. This is my greatest struggle in living my faith and people need to know that it is the hardest and yet most rewarding life to “be the church” to those in our ranks who are struggling. People need to see our vulnerabilities and struggles along with our victories over them.
    I was converted back to the Catholic church shortly after one of my drinking buddies was converted and delivered. That gave me the hope, courage and strength to come back.

    Our layity also must step up to the call of God so when they are properly catechized they may share in the labors and reward of being the church to others. Our priests cannot do it all be themselves. We need the devout layity who know and practice the truth to ease the burden of our priests more in their administrative capacities so they can have more time to serve the Word of God and the sacraments in their spiritual work.

    I do not pray enough for our priests who in this age probably have the toughest assignment in preparing us to face the world with the gospel. I hope to pray more for our priests to grow more in this area of my life.

    God bless you Father Rick

  6. Susie says:

    Bravo! I just posted Fr. Hemrick’s article on my blog and led others to hopefully come by here, Fr. Rick and read this excellent post and your many other ones. Thank You!

  7. Owen says:

    A sadly common problem for people like me, ordained protestant ministers (in my case of about 20 years) who convert to the Catholic Church: we attend local parishes unable to find the Church we feel in love with in the books we read, including the early Church Fathers. One person warned me this could happen. They were a former Catholic. I rather ignored the idea considering the source. However, on that particular point they were correct.

    I find myself thinking this a lot these days: Thanks for all the fun everyone but I want my Catholic to be Catholic.

    {So happy my blogging buddy Bekah referred me here}.

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