A Cycle – 5th Sunday of Easter 20
Jn. 14: 1-12
I have in my files the Religious Section of the Cleveland Plain Dealer from Sunday December 24, 2000. I use it annually to illustrate our failure as believers to understand our basic call to follow Jesus and the importance of the community in our quest to become holy men and women of God. The headline of that week’s edition was “Searching for God; generation X finding God in places other than church.” Well generation X is now 20 years older and they have been joined by the Millennium’s. The impact of these two different generations has had an impact on church attendance. Their searching for God in other places has had a dramatic impact on the church. Latest statistics show a significant decline in attendance for all the major denominations.
The Pew Research Center survey of 2018 – 2019 shows only 65% of Americans consider themselves Christian, down 12% from one decade ago. Church attendance is significantly down with 54% of those surveyed stating they occasionally attend any kind of church service, included in attending is weddings and funerals. Over the last decade in my own diocese, regular weekly attendance at mass is down slightly more than 10%. One third of those who took the time to register as parishioners attend mass on a regular basis.
As we listen to today’s readings it is easy to see the growth of the early church because of the witness of the disciples. Their witness was direct and obviously filled with emotion and that was all it took to have individuals desire tor more in their lives. Their witness was effective because it was “power evangelism” coupled by their own stories of how their hears were set on fire. There is no doubt we have lost the individual zeal of the early church. Today, we do not consider the impact our lack of enthusiasm for Christ is a turn off for others we have on others. We do not think our actions can cause others to reject faith as an option for all they seek.
The truth is our witnesses or lack of witness can attract or repel others. The philosopher Nietzsche speaking of why he would not consider being a Christian said, and I paraphrase his statement, “…the glad message of the bible is not visible on our faces.” We are a poor witness because it seems we do not reflect the “joy of the Lord” during our liturgies or during our interaction with others.
Two thousand years have passed since the disciples spilled out of that upper room and began to tell the story of Jesus Christ. Two thousand years have passed since Thomas said to Christ, “we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way.” It would seem we have lost more than our way in our individual quests for holiness. We have developed an attitude that our faith is lived apart from the community and that growing in faith is growing in knowledge about our faith.
The witness we portray to those we contact daily must be written on our faces if others are to come to develop a thirst to have what Christ offers. The truth is that 66% of registered parishioners who stay home each week do have a hunger for a connection with God. That article in 2000 found that to be true. Many of us have fallen into a routine method of living our faith. We attend mass, we serve, we tithe, we attend programs to grow spiritually and we still wonder if we are doing enough to please God. With all of that going on in our lives we still have not developed a certainty in the promises of God.
Jesus asks Philip an important question in today’s gospel. That question should haunt us. Jesus asks, “have you been with me all this time and you still do not know me?” Then He adds, “If you see me, you see the Father.” Are we seeking to see Jesus? That my brothers and sisters is the key to us growing spiritually, seeking Jesus. This is not an intellectual pursuit; it should be a pursuit of the heart. We must do everything to know Jesus. Know Jesus, not study about Jesus, not learn about Jesus but to know Jesus. That single concept is the catalyst to understanding why we gather each week. Our celebration as a community acknowledges the great gift of Jesus Christ and we grow stronger in our willingness to allow our faith to surface and touch others.
The difference in a community worshipping and giving thanks and one that attends mass can make a difference in attracting others. But this is not to be the only time we give witness to our belief in Jesus Christ. Most of our time is spent outside the church building. In the building we grow together and are freed to worship in spirit and in truth. Outside the building we are not to suppress our faith, but we are to live our faith. This is where we can help the lost find hope, those in darkness find light and those who doubt find faith. This witness is our mission not the mission of “the church.” Our searching for meaning in our lives, our individual approach to faith being between God and me, our focus on learning all things about our faith lies at the heart of the decline in those attending our churches.
Ask yourself a question today as you pray. Who are you? If your answer is to give a name, an occupation, accomplishments, or any other descriptive words then you have that same lack of understanding that Thomas and Phillip had. You are a son and daughter of the living God. You are chosen by God; His delight and you were worth the death of His son. You are forgiven and reconciled to God through the saving work of Jesus Christ. You are beloved and cherished by God and He has sent the Holy Spirit into you to change your hearts so you can walk in the certainty of your destiny. You are his witness so go out and let your light shine.