At a rather sparsely attended Ascension Vigil Mass, our parish priest asked us to remain standing after the petitions. He then asked those over eighty years of age to sit down. Several parishioners sat. He proceeded to do the same for those over seventy and then sixty. After asking those over fifty to sit, only two people remained standing. This is the future of your parish, he said. The message to us is clear. Our Lord commands in today’s gospel to, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) Obviously, our efforts to do so have been lacking.
The gospel message should be easy to proclaim in this age of mass media, and it is. But the message often falls on deaf ears. Today, we are so immersed in secular self-absorption that God’s message is drowned out. Most people do not want to hear it for it flies counter to their own personal inclinations. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center showed the number of Americans identifying themselves as Catholic declined from 23.9% to 20.8% between 2007 and 2014.
The point our pastor was making should not be taken lightly. Fact is, our pews are mostly empty, and certainly devoid of young people. We have failed to share and propagate our Catholic Faith in our once thriving community. As in many small towns, family-owned businesses have failed to compete with the big box stores, and very few remain. A few years ago, we could buy most anything within walking distance on Main Street. Now people must drive thirty miles to shop for basic needs. The most precious staple in the world, Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, is still readily available here, and yet, very few people take advantage. If we do not do something soon, He too may leave our town.
Desperate times require desperate measures. We Catholics too often keep the light of Christ under the bushel basket. We are afraid to boldly proclaim the truth of the Catholic Church for fear of offending our Protestant brothers and sisters. Sharing the faith can be done with charity and humility, and with confidence.
Last week, our pastor asked me to take down the “Happy Mother’s Day” sign from the parish marquee, and replace it with something of my own choosing. The letters for our sign are quite large and very limiting as to what will fit. I wanted to promote the Holy Eucharist, the one gift we have to offer that no one else in our community has. After trying several different wordings, I settled on, “JOHN 6: 51-58, HERE 4 U EVERY DAY”. The Bible passage comes from the Bread of Life Discourse.
51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” (RSV-CE)
I am hoping our Protestant friends (who often glaze over that passage) will look it up and think about it, especially verse 53. In addition to the sign, we are planning to do some street corner evangelizing next month during our town festival. Please pray for a positive result.