Homily 9/8/02 4:30pm Fr. Edward Fride Christ the King Parish Ann Arbor, MI
...And in the immensity of His love He has died for us, filled us with His Spirit, placed us in the heart of His Church where we can receive the greatest gift of all, the gift of Jesus Christ Himself at this altar every Sunday, every day. He gave these things to us and we deserve none of it. He gave these gifts to us simply because He loves us. But what he asks us to do with these gifts is to share them, first and foremost with our families, our brothers and sisters, our parents, our children. And in a gentle, charitable, loving, compassionate way, to share with them the gift of new life that we’ve been given; with those we work with, with those we study with, with those we meet on the street as He gives us opportunity.
Pope John Paul II from the beginning of his pontificate to the present day has continued to proclaim constantly that the responsibility of the Christian faithful is to be the evangelists of the Good News that Jesus has called them to be. Hopefully long since dead is the idea among the Catholic faithful that the responsibility of the laity is to just warm the pew while the priests and the nuns and the professionally religious go about the building of the Kingdom. This was an ancient myth that the Vatican Council tried hard to dismantle. And the Decree on the Apostolate to the Laity and subsequent proclamations of the Church as to the responsibility of everyone to evangelize, hopefully that message has got out. The hard part is having the courage to do it when all of a sudden you’re face-to-face with somebody who may not know Jesus.
Do we love? If we love people… a love that is only expressed when it’s safe and when there’s a guarantee that it’s going to be returned is not much of a love. It’s more of a personal attachment. If I only love the people I know are going to love me back then that’s not really love, that’s just kind of enlightened selfishness. To love people regardless of their response is what the Gospel calls us to. It’s the kind of love that parents have for their children. They love their children long before the kids are capable of making any reasonable return. It usually happens around twenty-three or so. Suppose the parents stop loving them at six months because there was nothing they were getting back? The population would have significantly decreased. Parents understand that kind of love, but that’s the love that Jesus invites us to have with those in our life.
Ninety- nine percent of the time we don’t share the Good News with someone because we’re afraid they’re going to reject us, think we’re stupid, embarrass us, or whatever, because we dared to say something to them like, “Jesus loves you.” And yet by that act we may put them on a path that will save their lives. Is that not worth a little rejection?
Or people that we love, who’ve adopted lifestyles that are destroying them; do we just say, “Well that’s their choice,” and watch them crash? Or do we, out of love, suggest that there might be a better way. Not with the virulent hammer of self- righteousness, but just a gentle suggestion. When people experience that we really care for them, they’re much more willing to listen to what we say. Because a person who is honestly convinced that this person wills only the best for them, is frequently just a little more open to hear what that best is. The scripture calls each of us to be Watchmen; calls each of us to gently proclaim this wondrous gift we’ve been given, and promises that Jesus Himself will be there with us. Constantly in the Scriptures, the disciples are encouraged, “ Do not fear what to say in that hour for I, Myself, will speak in you. I will give you the words, the Spirit will give you the words.”
And if we trust Him, and if we do those other simple things in our life that bring us close to Him, like prayer, like coming here to receive Him, like spending time adoring Him, like reading His Word, He will be more and more part of us, and we will have the words we need to speak, sometimes just simple words.
I remember the first time when I was working with Campus Crusade in Minneapolis. Campus Crusade has a kind of simple approach…here’s the ‘four spiritual laws’; read the ‘four spiritual laws.’ At the end of this little tiny four spiritual law book, you invite the person, “Would you like to give your heart to Jesus?” They were training me to work with International students, and so at one point you go into the Student Union, and you look for a student to share the ‘four spiritual laws’ with, and you go up to them and you say, “Would you like to hear something about Jesus?” And if they say “no,” then you simply say, “Well have a good day”… etcetera, and if they say “yes,” then you share this little booklet with them. And so the staff member and I, we shared the little booklet with this guy, and who had said, “yes” he was willing to listen. And at the end, the sixty-four thousand dollar question is, “Would you like to give your life to Jesus?” And if he says no, you can ask why. And then there are a variety of different responses you can make depending on what he says. And so when I asked him the question, then I’m running through the hundred-and-one different permutations on what do I say when he says no for this reason, or no for that reason, or no for that reason; and he simply said, “Yes.” And I was so surprised I said, “Oh, you’re kidding!”
At which point the staff member with me gently stepped in and said, “Well let’s pray this little prayer here then.” You know, because I’m still like… WOW! But, he was open, it was a simple thing, and the angels rejoiced because one more person that Jesus loves, that Jesus died for, was going to let Jesus touch his heart, and bring him to glory. That is the only gift that we have to offer Jesus. To be used by Him as vessels to proclaim the Good News. Everything else He has given to us simply because He loves us. But the one thing that we can do that loves Him in return is to let Him use us to proclaim that Good News, to not be silent about the gift that we’ve been given, and especially to be willing to let Him use us even when we don’t expect it.
We are constantly surrounded by people who are living lives of fear and despair. And the answer to every issue is always more of Jesus Himself. But if we’re going to share the Good News, the Good News must work for us. Which means that we take our responsibility seriously, that every day we take steps to fall more deeply in love with Jesus ourselves. To grow in our knowledge of His Truth, to deepen our openness to the power of His Spirit, to explore more deeply the riches, the gift of life in His Church, because if it’s not working for us it’s really hard to share. You can’t give what you don’t have. Our first responsibility is to make sure that we ourselves are drawing closer to Jesus every day. And as that happens, we will receive the grace we need not only for ourselves, but the grace to give to others the gift that we’ve been given.
As we approach elections, there’ll be lots of opportunity for us in a variety of different ways to bring our Gospel reality to bear in conversations and situations with those who probably have a different perspective, especially in Ann Arbor. We’ve been given the gift to share, and as long as we do it with gentleness and with compassion, things will happen. To speak the truth gently in love is to invoke that wonderful Scripture that the Word comes down and does not return to the Father void, but accomplishes the purpose for which It’s sent. That’s a gift we can give to Jesus and we can give especially to those who we share with.
Let us plead with Him, as this New Year begins, that as we heard these Scriptures that call us “Watchmen” and challenge us to proclaim that Good News, that we would take that seriously. First by choosing more of Jesus ourselves, and then second by letting Him use us in whatever mysterious way He wants, to let others know of the gift that’s available to them. The gift of a new life, the gift of the love and the joy and the peace that only the Spirit’s fruits can bring in our hearts. Gifts that the Savior longs to give. And so with gratitude to Him, Who loves us so much, let us stand and profess what we believe.