A Pentecost Perspective on the State of the American Church
Have You Been Shocked by What is Important? Here with some perspective on that question and much more is the Pentecost Sunday homily by Deacon Jim Sinacore of St. John Vianney Parish, Northlake, Illinois.
Have you ever desired to do something that you thought was important but then got derailed after you were shocked to learn that there was something else even more important for you to do?
Well, let me tell you how this happened to me. Before I was ordained, I thought I would devote my diaconal work to the outreach of Protestants. After all, Protestants are Christians but they only have a fraction of the faith that Christ gave to the world.
As Catholics, we have the fullness of what our Blessed Lord left His people. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could convincingly lead Protestants to that fullness of faith?
Imagine the satisfaction that one would have if he were to lead a Protestant to the Catholic Church and receive our Lord, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. And so, this was going to be my apostolate – my work in the church on behalf of the Lord.
Or so it seemed until I began to see more of what was going on and more importantly, what was not going on among Catholics.
Today, we are celebrating Pentecost, that time at the beginning of the Church in which there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And what was the purpose of this? Why did God do this?
Well, the Church was begun in Jerusalem by Jesus Christ. But our Lord wanted the Church to go into the World. Obviously, if Man was left to his own devices, this would never happen. Just as God had to save Man by divine initiation, God would also bring the church into the world by way of divine initiation.
On the first Pentecost, The Holy Spirit imbued the Church in Jerusalem with His Power so that poor mortals would be given the divine strength and direction they needed to bring the church into the world. In a word, people were given an apostolate: Work to do on behalf of the Lord.
Now, the Church is going to be on earth until the return of Christ. The Church has to be on earth until the return of Christ. Because without the Church we will lose order … morality … and hope.
Without the Church, our lives will be directed solely by earthly government, and I am sure you can see from [recent and past] events how government can lead us down all the wrong paths.
And we have to understand that the Church is not stagnant. It is a dynamic, living entity. The faith, which is more precious than gold, has to be actively witnessed during our lifetimes and has to be passed on to our children … to our children’s children … and to others as well.
The Church is an island of [holiness and hope] in an otherwise sea of sin and deprivation. We are the link between the believers of today and those of tomorrow. And the work we do outside these four walls is just as important as what we do here.
When we leave Mass, energized by scripture and the Most Holy Eucharist, we are dismissed. In the current translation of the Mass, there are four options for the dismissal.
The one that I normally use is “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”
I use this form of the dismissal because it clearly gives us our marching orders. In one sentence we are reminded that we have a mission to accomplish, and we are told to get to work.
And the people respond with “Thanks be to God.”
Thanks be to God for what? For giving us what we need to be involved in the apostolate, our work on behalf of the Lord. And we can be confident that we have what it takes to complete our mission because if we receive Communion worthily, we have the blood of Christ flowing through our veins.
We have to realize that having what we need does not mean that we will exercise the energy to make use of what we have received. In other words, we may have the Blood of Christ flowing through our veins but we have to put that power to use as we engage the world around us.
The Church is in crisis.
In a sense, we can say that the Church has always been in crisis because she has been coping with the effects of sin from the very beginning.
If nothing else, just consider the behavior of Judas Iscariot. Jesus ordained him [a bishop at the Last Supper]. Judas was a high priest, more glorious than any other high priest who had ever existed among the Israelites. He was given the power to literally bring God into the midst of His people by way of the Eucharistic celebration.
How did Judas respond to this? He went out and arranged to have our Lord arrested by the Roman authorities in order to have Him killed. Obviously, what Judas did was completely devoid of what our Lord wanted of him. Judas had all that he needed to exercise his apostolate but he did not make claim to the power that was within him.
This revealed a crisis that occurred at the very beginning of the Church. And unfortunately, crises of one form or another have never completely gone away.
If we jump forward 2000 years, we see the critical situation that the Church faces today. Unfortunately, there are many Catholics in this country who don’t know their right hand from their left.
For example, a few years ago the Late Bishop Joseph Galante, who was the ordinary of the diocese of Camden New Jersey at the time, commissioned a survey of the Catholics under his care. He was stunned when he learned that nearly 60 percent of the Catholics who were polled agreed with the statement that Jesus sinned during His earthly ministry.
Did you hear what I just said?
Nearly 60 percent of the Catholics who were polled agreed with the statement that Jesus sinned during His earthly ministry. I don’t know if everyone can appreciate this finding but it is absolutely alarming. Where would these people ever get such an idea? And how come there were so many of them?
This is not rocket science. If Jesus sinned then He is not God. If He is not God, then He did not leave us with the means to receive His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. That would mean that what Father does for us at Mass is void of substance. And if that’s the case, we might as well go home right now.
To add insult to injury, a Gallop poll from a few years ago revealed that 82 percent of Catholics in the United States believe that contraception is morally acceptable.
Have people’s minds everywhere been infected by the sophomoric thinking of the hippies and flower children of the sexual revolution of the 1960s? It is through our sexual faculties that God allows us to cooperate with His bringing forth new human life. And because of that, we have a morality that governs our actions.
Why is it that there are so many Catholics who do not realize this?
I guess the findings that I just reported should come as no surprise when we realize that less than 25 percent of Catholics attend weekly Mass.
The Second Vatican Council has clearly taught that the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life. If that’s the case, then why are so many Catholics absent from Mass?
Some years ago, the Pew Research Forum reported that for each person who came into the Catholic Church four left.
Today, for each person who comes into the Church seven leave.
In 2005, 10 percent of the American population was comprised of former Catholics.
Today, it’s 13 percent.
That’s over 43 million people, which is greater than the entire population of the state of California. If these people only knew what they possessed in the Catholic Church, they would never walk away from it.
And if you think this is bad, in May of 2015, Ireland, the land that St. Patrick brought to the faith, became the world’s first country to legalize so-called gay marriage by popular vote — after voters backed a change to their constitution, allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Believe me, you don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to see that people are literally walking away from the precious gift that God has given man to bring him to heaven.
Now I don’t know about you but what I have just reported tells me that many people in the Church have an extremely poor Catholic identity. And that’s putting it lightly.
As Catholics, we are to be a light to the nations. We are the salt of the earth. As Catholics, we are not members of a mere, man-made social organization. Those of us who are in the state of grace have the living God within us.
This is no metaphor or some rhetoric that is meant to make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. It is a spiritual reality. And if we lose sight of this, if we do not exercise our Catholicism in the world, the ways of the world will triumph.
It is that simple.
The destructive and divisive agenda that pervades this world is energized by none other than the evil one. And believe you me, he is helped by many foot soldiers who yet live on this earth. I know that we have all encountered them in one way or another.
My dear friends, I believe one of the reasons we are seeing a wasting away of Catholic identity is because those of us who are active in the faith do not necessarily realize that we are charged with an apostolate, work that helps spread and strengthen the faith.
We have to make a visible effort. We have to show the people in our sphere of life that we believe in Christ and in His Church. Our dedication to God must be obvious to those who see the way we live our lives.
There needs to be evidence to convict us of our faith. We need to respond more conscientiously to the marching orders that we receive at the end of Mass when we hear: “Go, and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”
As we leave here today let’s be like the people at the first Pentecost, energized by the Holy Spirit, motivated to bring our faith into the world around us.
I know that we all Love God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here today. But my friends, we all have to make an extra effort to bring forth the gifts of the Holy Spirit with which we were sealed at our confirmation.
Let’s all be committed to living our lives with the purpose of showing those around us that we love God and all that He has given us. This is our apostolate, the work we need to do on behalf of the Lord.