Here’s the question for today: Are people searching for God? Let me ask you: Are the people with whom you work or go to school searching for Him? My general feeling is that most aren’t. That’s because we rarely hear about God or faith in conversations or popular culture. Religion is taboo. An Angus Reid survey in 2017 showed that Canadians view the word ‘religion’ to be more negative than positive, and secularism, atheism and agnosticism are all growing.
However, while it’s true that 54% of people don’t wish to have a closer relationship with God, 46%, basically half the people we meet, actually said they do! In 2015, another survey said that 30% of Canadians are inclined to embrace religion while 26% are inclined to reject it, and 44% are somewhat in between—this is not as bad as I thought it was. And just less than half of that ‘in between’ group “are open to greater involvement with religious groups if they can find it to be worthwhile.” So, statistics say people are more open to God than we may think, which is great. Now, what does theology say? The opening of the Gospel tells us that some Greeks who went to Jerusalem to worship said to St. Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (Jn 12:21). This is important because the Greeks weren’t Jewish and didn’t believe in God, but now some are searching for Jesus.
This event is one of the climaxes in St. John’s Gospel (Fr. Raymond Brown, SS, The Gospel of John, Anchor Bible Commentary, 469-70): Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus said, “I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice” (Jn 10:16). Now we see Jesus bringing all the sheep home and they’re looking for Him.
Theology tells us that everyone’s searching for Him, because “the desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God” (CCC 27). Theology tells us that all people have a homing beacon inside themselves and so, whether they know it or not, they’re searching for Him.
I learned something fascinating in philosophy: Everything we do is for the sake of happiness. Whenever we do something, it’s because we think it’ll make us happy. Why do we do fun things? Because they make us happy. Why do we serve others? Because it makes us happy. Why do we sacrifice our own happiness for other people’s happiness? Because it gives us a deeper long-term happiness! Why do people do stupid things, such as waste money? Because it makes them happy… for a moment. Why do people in the mafia do evil things? Because they think their actions will make them happy. This is why the Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “Happiness is the one thing you can choose for itself; everything else is chosen for the sake of happiness” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, 7).
So, here’s the deal: Statistics say half of people want to be closer to God, philosophy tells us that everything people do is for the sake of happiness, and, according to theology, “only in God will [man] find the… happiness he never stops searching for” (CCC 27), but we Catholics don’t do much to help these people.
Question: What do we do to help people who are searching?
It’s been pointed out that most Catholic parishes do very little to help people who are searching, and I think the criticism is well-deserved. Our parish celebrates Mass, Confessions, baptisms, and weddings; we run a school and PREP mainly for our kids (We welcome non-Catholic families, but we’re not doing it for them; we’re doing it for our kids); we have the Knights, CWL, the Novena, parish retreats, etc. These activities are necessary and wonderful. But what do we have for people who are searching? Not as much. We do have Alpha and Faith Studies, we welcome people on Sunday Mass, but there’s a huge disproportion between what we do for ourselves and what we do for people looking for Jesus.
Why? 1) It’s very deeply ingrained in our Catholic mentality that Catholic churches only exist for Catholics. It sounds logical, until we realize that Jesus is calling all sheep to His flock, and people are actually searching. We need to rid ourselves of this mentality. 2) You’re probably like me: I always believed that most people aren’t searching for God, so why would I bother them? Now this myth is debunked. 3) Many Catholics aren’t convinced that Jesus is worth sharing. If we haven’t encountered the good news of Jesus, we won’t share Him.
Now, in our parish, we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on encountering Jesus and growing in our relationship with Him, so there’s a lot of fire here. And now it’s time to share what we’ve received. (Presently, this is our third homily completely on evangelization.)
Our example for how to share what we’ve received is from a clue in the Gospel: The Greek people who were searching for Jesus went to one of the two apostles with a Greek name: Philip! There were twelve apostles, all of them Jewish men, but two of them had Greek names: Philip and Andrew. Pope Benedict says this meant that “Philip act[ed]… as an intermediary between the… Greeks… and Jesus” because “he probably spoke Greek and could serve as an interpreter.”
We learn two things here: 1) People go to people who speak their language, that means, you. People go more to you than to me. 2) God is asking you to be intermediaries between Him and people who are searching. It’s your opportunity to love them.
When I was 13, I didn’t know I was searching for God, but I was because I wanted to be happy. And my aunt one day gently asked, “Do you want to be confirmed?” “Sure, why not?” I said. That gentle invitation opened a world to me, and put me on the path of knowing Jesus.
This is Steve, Bailey, and Cookie. They were recommended to clean our church and offices about a year and a half ago, and they do an amazing job. And, one day, as they were getting to know our staff, Catherine simply asked them if they wanted to come to Mass. They accepted, and now they never miss; and Cookie’s now at our school. There was no pressure from Catherine, because pressure is wrong. It was just a kind invitation from a regular person to regular people.
This is Anky. Her son Ashton started kindergarten in our school this past September. After her second school Mass in October, she started talking to Ivy, another mother at the school, outside the church. I’m not sure exactly how it came up, but Ivy asked, “Why don’t you come to the Sunday Mass?” and “If you’re interested to get more information about RCIA, why don’t you talk to Fr. Justin?” Anky just finished her first round of Faith Studies.
Simon, Janis, and Lucas have a neat story: At the beginning of 2017, they decided that they wanted to start going to church! And they just happened to find St. Anthony’s. When they got here, they met Barb at the Welcome Booth, and Barb was kind enough to sit down with them and explain where to find the readings. Then, for the next few Masses, Barb would always sit with them. Simon and Janis did Alpha last year and have finished two rounds of Faith Studies.
Steve, Baily, and Cookie; Anky and Ashton; Simon, Janis and Lucas are all part of our family. And there are other stories that I could have shared!
My brothers and sisters, Jesus is asking us to be more like St. Philip. The first step has to do with us. We need to be virtuous, otherwise no one will come to us if we’re jerks or weird! We need to be filled with the joy of Christ! When people see us, what do they see: Catholic and thriving, or Catholic and miserable? Do they see Catholic and thriving, or Catholic and surviving? Furthermore, we need to be open about our faith, otherwise people won’t know whom to ask.
In addition, we need to be seekers ourselves. There are only four episodes in the Gospels where St. Philip is explicitly involved, and one of them is the Last Supper, when he says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied” (Jn 14:8). This tells us that he was always seeking more of God! You see, people who are searching ask other people who are searching, because they can relate to us and there’s an attitude of humility.
That’s why we all need to grow in our faith, and another reason why I encourage everyone to take Alpha, so that we encounter Jesus again, we know our chosen tool, and we’re familiar with the Kerygma, which we talked about last week. The Kerygma says we’re made for a relationship with God, we broke it, Jesus came to save us, and invites us to accept His offer.
That leads to the second step: Invite people to learn more. Remember, 46% of people want to be closer to God. As we get to know people, where they’re at and what they need, we’ll probably discover that they’re open to learning more. The best environment we have is Alpha, which starts in three weeks. It’s a place to get to know people, to ask questions, and to learn about the fundamentals of Christianity in a non-threatening environment. Ultimately, it’s a place where we can encounter Jesus in a real way.
Is there anyone in our lives who’s searching or has asked questions about the meaning of life, God, faith? Would inviting them help? Ask God if you should offer an invitation.
I often think about what would have happened if Catherine hadn’t invited Steve, Bailey and Cookie; if Ivy hadn’t stayed around after Mass and been friendly to Anky; if Barb hadn’t been hospitable to Simon, Janis and Lucas. They would have missed out and so would we.
Could you imagine how many people would be loved if all 1080 of us were like this: open and confident about who we are, ready to talk to people and invite them, ready to go out of our way to help them? Wow!
We started with statistics and let’s end with one. We all know how the Catholic Church is portrayed in movies, TV, and social media. In 2015, Canadians were asked how positive they felt toward the following religions: Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Atheism, Evangelical Christianity, Sikhism, Mormonism, Islam. Where do you think Catholicism was in people’s rankings? First. That’s right: Canadians are most positive about Catholicism, more than any other religion. People are more open to God, and the Church, than we think. They are looking for Jesus, and we can help them find Him.