Sunday, December 1, 2013

Children in a House of Joy - the House of the Lord

“Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.”

This is how we responded to the Psalm just moments ago. In fact, much of our Scripture this weekend speaks of rejoicing and eagerness in faith. It’s almost a “giddiness” that accompanies the faithful who proclaim, “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.”

Have you ever come here with that attitude? Sure, we rejoice here at Mass; but have we ever been excited and joyful to be coming here? Is this house of the Lord a place where we know others look and say, “I want to be in there!” Or, are we merely fulfilling an obligation by being here – putting in our one hour and then getting on with our lives?

I don’t want us to feel guilty – and just by asking these questions, I know that we might begin to appear as yet another place where people lament the fact that there are not enough people coming to church. However, I ask these questions – of myself as well – to spur a conversation, and hopefully a conversion. This should be a house of joy, precisely because it is the house of the Lord!

We begin Advent this weekend, and here we will present a homily series that we are calling “Like a Child.” We wish to reflect on how we can be ever more child-like in our faith and our expectation of the coming of Jesus at Christmas and in glory.

Knowing how children are – especially during this time of the year – how can we bring that same excitement and giddiness to our spiritual lives and be even more open to the joy that Christ brings through the Gospel?

I have three nieces. Two of them are in preschool. They love to talk about what they do in school, and those of you with young kids of that age can probably relate. It’s a joy, usually, for them to get to school and share learning with one another, and then to excitedly come home and tell mom and dad all about it. This is because children are naturally open to new experiences and love to share them. But somehow, somewhere along the line, we lose that excitement (anyone with junior high school-aged kids can tell us about getting them to talk about their days!).

Here, we come and hear the Word of God – a word of life – a word of joy! Does this Word inspire us? Does it fill us with joy and drive us to share it? Or is this simply another obligation fulfilled each week, like clocking in at work? If so, we are not doing our job as evangelists – and we are all called to be so!

This past week, Pope Francis released his first major document – an “apostolic exhortation” entitled, “The Joy of the Gospel.” It’s a great read, and I encourage all of you to read it. In it, the Holy Father outlines his vision for sharing the Gospel with everyone; and he also identifies certain problems that we as a Church might create for others in experiencing the full joy of the Gospel. He writes:

We must recognize that if part of our baptized people lacks a sense of belonging to the Church, this is also due to certain structures and the occasionally unwelcoming atmosphere of some of our parishes and communities, or to a bureaucratic way of dealing with problems, be they simple or complex, in the lives of our people. In many places an administrative approach prevails over a pastoral approach, as does a concentration on administering the sacraments apart from other forms of
evangelization.

This criticism is aimed first at me – your pastor. This place is not a business. My uncle Austin, who was a bishop here in Baltimore, used to say, “I didn’t sign up for GM.” This Church is not a business – it is the People of God, the Body of Christ, and we need each and every member: Head to toe.

Sure, there are the practical realities that each parish and pastor must consider – we have people to pay, bills to cover, and buildings to maintain. However, none of that matters to a child. My nieces don't care how much work and administration goes into their preschool experience - and they shouldn't. This place should not be a place that celebrates the work and administration of "church;" it should be a place to celebrate the Gospel and our child-like joy that comes from it - and we are all children of one Father.

With Advent, a new liturgical year begins. Maybe this can be a new beginning for us as a parish community – a time to be transformed by a child-like spirit of hope and joy – a time to commit ourselves to the mission of evangelization. In response to Pope Francis’ call, we can become an “evangelizing community,” full of joy that comes from the Gospel, nourished by the Eucharist, and excited to share the message of Jesus with our neighbors wherever we find them.

This is our time to “to awake from sleep” and to “be prepared” for the coming of Christ. Today, may we go forth from this house of joy to proclaim the nearness of Jesus, and may those who hear that message come joyfully to the house of the Lord, to fill our community with new life.

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