Sunday, October 2, 2016

Lord Increase Our Faith...To Be Better Disciples

(This is part 1 of three part series of homilies on discipleship that I will be delivering in my parish this month.)

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5)

It took a certain level of humility for the disciples to ask the Lord to increase their faith.  They realized they needed more faith to live up to the calling the Lord had given them. 

This is where we are this Sunday here at Immaculate.  Asking the Lord to increase our faith as we seek to deepen our relationship with him, as we seek to live up to our calling to be disciples, and as we seek to go and make disciples.

Over the past few weeks, you’ve been reading in the bulletin how we are in the middle of a Discipleship Campaign and that we unveiled a mission statement.  Why are we doing this?  Well quite frankly, just as St. John XXIII did over 50 years ago, we need to let some fresh air into this church, and allow for the Spirit to do great things in us.  We need a mission and we need a vision.

We already have a mission.  Jesus told us as the end of the gospel of Matthew: “Go and make disciples.”  I’ve been reading this wonderful book on how a parish in Baltimore was rebuilt, and their pastor had this to say: “Mission is why we exist. Every parish exists for the same reason…[to `go and make disciples.’] Disciples are students of Jesus Christ.  We’re in the disciple-making business.  That’s our why….vision is [our] what.  Vision is a picture of what could be and should be…Without a vision for our churches and the impact God wants to have through us, bad things can happen…people go off course…As a church, vision means looking to people we are not reaching but should be.  Vision is about solving problems and removing the lids that keep our churches from reaching new people.  To only reach the people you’re reaching now, just keep doing what you’re doing.”  But as your pastor, I’m not satisfied with that.  The Archbishop calls doing what we’re doing “spiritual navel gazing.”  “We need to be looking to a future in which we are bringing new people into a relationship with Christ by doing new things.”

Let me go back that point of removing the lids that keeps our church from reaching new people.  This is where the ministry of hospitality comes in.  Many of you who walked through the main entrance may have noticed a welcome table as you walked into church. I want our parish to excel in the virtue of hospitality.  We need to be a welcoming community.  The letter to the Hebrews tells us: “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.” (Hebrews 13:2)  So we need to welcome the stranger, reach out to the fellow parishioner we do not know, and embrace everyone around us. I’ve said this countless times: we do not come to Mass by ourselves.  We celebrate Mass as a community.

So it’s time for our parish and parishioners to open the doors of our hearts to everyone.  The purpose of this Discipleship Campaign is to remind us who we are as Christians and to empower you to follow the Lord’s command to “Go and make disciples.”  I’m challenging you to go out and to bring new people into this church. That’s start with investing yourself in the mission of the parish.

One last things about this vision, it is also “about identifying ways [our parishioners] should be increasingly transformed by Christ.”  And here is where all of us, including your pastor, need to change: we need to approach Mass every Sunday with the expectation that Christ will transform us and do something new in us.  That is what takes place in the Eucharist.  We need to be better at hospitality, we need to be better at outreach, we need to be better at leaving old ways of doing things behind, but in order to accomplish any of that, we need to get closer to Jesus Christ and allow him to transform us.  The Lord expects great things from us.

My friends, this is a new day for Immaculate.  We are committing ourselves to discipleship. We need to ask the Lord to increase our faith because this is a big endeavor we are undertaking.  We are committing ourselves to excelling as a parish in how we live out our Christianity.  Yes, Jesus does expect great things from us.  We need to be like the servants at the end of today’s gospel:  When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”

Now I leave with the following question for you to ponder this coming week:  “As a parishioner of Immaculate Conception, am I doing what I am obliged to do?”