We often hear the Gospel referencing seeds, if we want to see a sign that our gospel proclamation is bearing good fruit, then we want to make sure we're sowing good seeds to produce that good fruit. Meaning, are we throwing bad seed, being seen as hypocrites by those who encounter us, saying one thing but doing another? Or are we sowing good seeds so that our actions match our words? To me this is one of the biggest questions for the church today, and I love that Pope Francis addresses this in Evangelii Gaudium. This message needs to be boldly asked of the people in the pews or on those watching Mass live streamed… what are you doing as an example to the spread good seeds of offering your time, talent and treasure in the vineyard?
I find compelling the metaphor of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples when he says, “you'll be blessed if you do this.” I would love to hear preaching expanding on this in our churches. What I mean is that if both we as individuals and collectively wash the feet, metaphorically, of others and serve with our individual gifts we will be blessed and therefore the church will be blessed, it makes so much sense.
People need direction. I now live in the country near sheep farms and if we want to use the sheep analogy to keep it simple, sheep need to be directed by the barking of a border collie or tapped on the butt to move in a specific direction. Sheep understand simple and basic commands that the shepherd and dog gives. That is what people in the pews are waiting for, not being told to evangelize in some ambiguous language but to be given practical directions they can put into practice in their daily, weekly or monthly lives and schedules. Imagine sheep being given confusing language or ambiguous direction… anarchy in the fields!
I love how Pope Francis states, it's not dogma that we need to preach, it's the Gospel message that needs to be “concentrated on the most essential appealing compelling reasons.” Or like Saint Peter says, “always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in you and do it with gentleness and love.” Also, to the point of giving compelling reasons, I love how Bishop Robert Barron’s research has shown that young people don’t want "Catholic lite" or dumbed down Catholicism.
I agree with Pope Francis about the need for balance and having a proper “sense of proportion” be maintained in preaching. For example, if a priest speaks about “Temperance ten times but only mentions charity or Justice two or three times.” We see quite often in parishes today this imbalance. In the drive to become missionary, there is almost none or very little focus on charity. Think about the comparison of person hours and money put into Alpha versus being like the good Samaritan. Don’t get me wrong, I love Alpha, it's there where I had my conversion of heart. However, if you had a balance sheet with one column of person hours and money put into “making disciples” and another column for “Works of Mercy”, that would be an interesting spread sheet. I don’t believe individuals or church groups intentionally ignore corporal works of Mercy, it's their enthusiasm to convert that blinds them of the other Gospel message of helping the less fortunate… they only need to be reminded.
The gospel invites us to respond to the God who loves and saves us and to invite others to be saved. The elephant in the room that never gets discussed is… what are we saving them from? I like how Pope Francis makes this point by stating that it needs to be “communicated forcefully and attractively or the church risks becoming a house of cards.” As lay people we need to be responsible for our own actions and encourage others, especially our priests, so they can, as Pope Francis says, preach “forcefully and attractively!”
Blog photo credit: Brooklyn Museum, Jesus Sits by the Seashore and Preaches (Jésus s'assied au bord de la mer et prêche) by James Tissot