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Scripture Reflections

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Feb. 11

Sirach 15:15-20
1 Corinthians 2:6-10
Matthew 5:17-37

This homily is offered
courtesy of a priest of the Diocese of Ogdensburg

In biblical times, leprosy was a dreaded disease. Ostracized from the community, lepers had to live at the fringe. Lepers sought a cure and would do whatever to be cured. Both the first reading and gospel contain stories about such cures. Jesus exhorted the leper not to tell anyone. Why? In his mission, Jesus did not want to emphasize his ability to cure. Rather, he wanted people to accept and internalize his message as a way of life. Jesus wanted people to see, feel and perceive the value of his message for their lives. He wanted them, as St. Paul says, “to eat, drink or whatever, do everything for the glory of God.” Jesus wanted them to value the message as a way of life, not merely to get a cure.

Making Christianity, specifically Catholicism, a way of life continues to be the goal of the Church’s evangelization efforts that all of us share in, not just the clergy, religious, and lay ministers. All of us must evangelize because, as Church, we are responsible for each other. We are not merely a gang of individuals under a common roof.

Frankly, we are not doing a good job at reaching out to those who no longer actively participate in the life of the Church – our friends, our children, our relatives and even our parents. They are among the lost as defined by Jesus.

We might not like that term, but Jesus referred to them as lost. Remember the three parables in the gospel of Luke. The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, the prodigal son, all speak about the lost. In all three cases, when the lost came back or were found, there is great rejoicing.

The Catholic evangelist, Matthew Kelly, estimates that only 7% of Catholics are highly engaged in their faith. Just think of what would happen if that number were 14%! How much more we could do! Maybe about 20% of Catholics attend Mass weekly. What would it look like if that number were 40%. About 40% attend Mass a few times a year. Thus, the fallen away or ex-Catholics outnumber the active Catholics.

If you have been baptized, then you must evangelize.

How will this happen? Well, a simple answer: Lent. That’s right, Lent. Traditionally, during the Lenten season, we take on penitential practices. Everyone should take on a sacrifice of some kind for Lent: give up a particular type of food, devote five uninterrupted minutes a day to prayer, read the four gospels, pray the rosary daily, attend daily Mass, fast on occasion, nourish your spiritual life with spiritual reading and/or participating in a Lenten adult education series. Maybe giving up Facebook for Lent would be an appropriate sacrifice for some. All are time-honored practices and bring about time honored results for us.

However, in the realm of evangelization, in undertaking these practices for your own benefit, offer them for those who are lost, who don’t know where to turn, who are blinded in such a way that faith and church are no longer valued. The bottom line – do something.

People claim they don’t like the idea of trying to evangelize someone else. Lots of excuses abound for not evangelizing. Well, here is something a bit different, but something very doable: If you are a Facebook user, once a week, starting on Ash Wednesday, post on your Facebook a statement like: “My Catholic faith is important to me because…”, “The Church is important to me because…”, “My Catholic faith nourishes my life because….” If you use X (formerly Twitter), tweet something similar every week. If you are on LinkedIn, do you list among your many qualities “Happy to be a practicing Catholic?”

Don’t wimp out on this activity.

Some may falsely say: “I’m too humble to do something like that.” Well, it’s good to be humble, but does that mean that we should hide our faith? What’s wrong with expressing our faith?

There are seven Wednesdays in Lent. This gives each one reader who uses contemporary media seven opportunities to evangelize, seven opportunities to reach out to others some of whom may be among the lost, the lost who need to hear once again about the value of faith, the value of religion, the value of the sacraments, the value of principles that give coherence to our lives.

The other nice thing about this exercise is that maybe your pastor can check up on you to see what you are doing.

So, we stand at the threshold of Lent. This year, use Lent to build up your faith life and spirituality and to reinvigorate the faith life of others.

Evangelize face to face. Evangelize with the new media. Seven Wednesdays, seven opportunities to evangelize or give witness to who knows how many people.

Just as there was great rejoicing when the prodigal son returned, may we, too, rejoice in reaching out to others. In the words of St. Paul: “do everything for the glory of God.”

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