3rd Sunday of Advent
3rd Sunday / Advent / A
December 10-11, 2016
St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames, Iowa
Fr. Jon Seda
About three months ago, I watched a video clip of a young man who was raised Catholic. He said something which really struck me. He said, "My parents left the Church without leaving the pews." Well, perhaps he is being a little hard on his mom and dad. But his point was that while they maintained a religious practice, their faith did not seem to shape his parents' lives to any real degree, at least in his view.
In today's Gospel, John the Baptist is in prison and sends his disciples to Jesus with a simple question: "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" Notice Jesus' response. His response was not one of titles, or theology, or doctrine. Instead, he says, go tell John what you see me do. And by seeing what I do, you will know who I am.
Two years ago, there was study by the Pew Research Center about religion in the United States, and it has some stark news. In the previous seven years, the percentage of Americans who say they are Christian has dropped from 78% to 71%. All denominations experienced some decline, with Catholics dropping from 24% to 21%. Of those raised Catholic, 41% no longer identify with Catholicism.
Why is this happening? Some will attribute this to the overdose of noise and distractions in our society, and that is true enough. Some point to the lack of time that everyone seems to be complaining about, and that is true enough. Many point to our increasingly secular culture, and that certainly has a role to play in this shift.
But more difficult, I think, is to see that part of this is simply due to us. Perhaps we have lost being a compelling and radical witness to Jesus Christ. Too many of us have left the Church without leaving the pews. We may have crucifixes on our walls in our homes, but often our lives are not much different from the secular culture. We may say, 'Merry Christmas' instead of 'Happy Holidays' but often our values are not much different from the secular culture. We may go to Mass every Sunday, but we can be as petty and polarized as the secular culture. All of our theology and creeds and our great intellectual tradition does not mean much to the world unless our lives are distinctive and compelling.
So where do we go from here? I few years ago, Pope Benedict XVI addressed this in a wonderful way. Pope Benedict said that evangelization in today's secular culture is not achieved primarily through intellectual debates. Instead, the new evangelization is more effective through beauty, a beauty which is capable of warming hearts. He points out two particularly aspects of beauty. First is the beauty of our Christian art, architecture, our music and poetry and churches. And more importantly, he looks to the beauty of the lives of the saints. And not just those we read about in books, but saints in our lives.
I think that is the way forward for our Church in these difficult days, the way of beauty. When people see beauty in our art, and especially in our lives, then we become compelling and attractive.
When John the Baptist asked Jesus, "Who are you?" the answer was not given in words. No titles, no theology, no doctrines. Instead his answer was simply to see what he does, and then we will know who he is.
The same is true of his body on earth today, his Church. When people see lives that are distinctive and beautiful, then they will know who we are. And our actions will speak louder than our words.