When we announced God’s vision for our parish on July 15, 2018, one of the ideas that I saw resonate with you is our desire to see everyone happy. Why did the whole world take notice of the Thai soccer team trapped in a cave? Because we want them to be happy! Why do the vast majority of us support giving 10% of our money to people in need? Because we care about people. This is why we proclaim Jesus whenever we can; this is why we evangelize. It’s about helping people we love, find the Father Who created them.
I heard a story about a small church, a story that made me say, “I want our church to be like that!” When this community dedicated their new building, they flew in a famous mega church pastor. Once he arrived, they took him inside, and one of the parish leaders said, “Come over here, I want to show you something.” He brought the pastor over to a corner of the church and peeled back the carpet. Written there in the concrete by all the parish leaders were “the names of their family and friends who are far from God. When the wet cement dried they covered it over with carpet. Now every month the core believers stand over the inscribed names of their loved ones and pray fervently for their salvation” (Bill Hybels, Courageous Leadership, 187-188). Dear brothers and sisters, dear guests, whom do you love that you’d want to write their names in concrete and pray for them?
St. Paul in the Second Reading today has an even more profound love. To give the context, this first letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians was written around 50-51 A.D. and is considered to be the oldest document of the New Testament. St. Paul, on his second missionary journey from Jerusalem, founded a Christian community in Thessalonica (modern day Greece) after being there only for a few weeks. However, there was an uprising against him so he had to escape by night to another city and the new Christian converts were left on their own. A few months later while in Corinth, concerned as to how they were doing, St. Paul inquired about their situation, and, when he found they were persevering as Christians, he wrote them a letter praising them for their faith, hope and love (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, 371). Today we just heard a snippet of this: “Brothers and sisters: May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thess 3:12-13).
There are two things we want to focus on: 1) St. Paul’s love for the Thessalonians; he prays that they grow in love for each other and for all people. St. John Chrysostom, commenting on this letter, says the following: “This is a proof of superabundant love, that he not only prays for them by himself but even inserts his prayer in his epistles. Paul’s prayers demonstrate a fervent soul unable to restrain his love… Do you see the unrestrained madness of love that is shown by these words?” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT. Vol IX: Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, 77). That speaks to us: Does our love abound for all people?
2) He prays that the Thessalonians will be holy and blameless in time for Jesus’ coming. For us Catholics, we’re starting a new liturgical year. The Church’s calendar always starts with Advent, which is four Sundays before Christmas, and the opening prayer which we just heard captures the themes we’re going to hear for the next four Sundays:“Grant your faithful… the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that… they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.” The main themes are that Christ is coming to save us, and we’re going to meet Him. And we wish we could go to meet Him with our family and friends.
About a year ago, I heard the term “invitational churches.” The definition of an invitational church is this: “When people within a church proactively, intentionally, and contagiously invite people into the presence of God—maybe through Sunday worship, small groups, Alpha, or into their home—and into a church that demonstrates hospitality, community and belonging.” This is inspiring and challenging at the same time!
These churches enthusiastically invite, not because they’re trying to force, but because they’re excited about faith in Jesus. (No one should ever feel pressured; we’re talking about inviting to something good.) Being an invitational church is a virtue and part of Christian life, thus God is calling us to be an invitational church, to make it part of our identity.
This is what we’re going to do to live it out:
1. We’ve been working on hospitality since September (e.g. Name Tag Sunday every month, reaching out to strangers, expanding the Hospitality Team, a Hospitality Training Summit, remembering that it’s everyone’s responsibility, that we even welcome people who don’t follow the Church’s teachings, hospitality survey, shaking hands, etc.).
2. Today we’re talking about prayer/intercession for loved ones, and right after this we’ll have a testimony about the power of prayer.
3. Dec. 9: We’ll talk about how to invite our loved ones in a loving manner, and hear a testimony about the power of invitation.
4. Dec. 15: We’re having a Hospitality Summit for our 70+ person Hospitality Team, since they’re key in our desire to love others.
5. Dec. 16: We’re going to talk about how to receive loved ones when they come.
6. Christmas: We’re going to preach about the longing for a beautiful Christmas, which is part of our longing for true happiness, and then talk about the Kerygma in the four Christmas Mass Gospels. I’ll mention my mom’s coming back to Confession after 17 years, and Fr. Pierre will be available during and after all five Christmas Masses to hear Confessions (which is an amazing gift), because some people might feel the call of God to confess just right then and there. We’re going to invite people to Confession, then to an upcoming free Pancake Breakfast, and then to Faith Studies. We’ll also have a testimony about someone who came back during Christmas and whose life was changed by Jesus, and helped by our community and Faith Studies.
8. Jan. 29: Our 14th round of Faith Studies will start and it’ll be the best one ever! So this is how we’re trying to do God the Father’s will.
The first step to loving people more and becoming an invitational church is prayer. Let’s imitate the actions of that church we described at the beginning: Let’s write down the names of the people we love who, as far as we know, don’t know God or maybe are far from Him. In your pews, you have cards with spaces for ten names. These are people we could invite to Christmas Mass. Once you’ve finished writing, either memorize the names or take out your phones and take a picture of the list to remember, and then we’ll collect them during the offertory. We’re placing them underneath the altar because in the book of Revelation, there’s a vision of the souls of martyrs underneath the altar (6:9), so it’s a beautiful sign of how we bring them before Jesus’ sacrifice.
Jesus, our high priest, is always praying to the Father for us and is already praying for the people we have in mind. He loves them so much. When I shared this plan with some people in the parish, they were so excited about the possibility that some people they love could come back.
Now we’re going to hear the testimony of Beverly Pickup for whom prayers were being said, for a long time, how she came back, and the importance of prayer and invitation.
Thank you, Fr. Justin.
Throughout the early part of my life my faith was always something chosen for me. I grew up in a loving, Catholic home where we regularly attended Sunday Mass and received the Sacraments. I found myself following the motions of being a Catholic, but never had a personal relationship with Jesus and was never a disciple. Throughout high school and into university, I was increasingly attracted to the glamours of the world. Playing varsity Frisbee, drinking, partying and hanging out with the wrong crowd were the only priorities in my life.
Although I was far from being alive in my faith, my mother and grandmother were steady, consistent witnesses to a joyful life lived for the Lord. My grandmother is our family’s prayer warrior. She would regularly attend daily Mass, praying for our family, but primarily for our faith. Many nights my mother would be up at all hours worried about me and my faith but would cling to Jesus, praying the Rosary. She remained patient and encouraging, but to my younger self was just seen as being pushy and annoying which led to the beginning of a distant relationship. Even as our relationship hit rocky grounds, she never stopped inviting me to events in hopes that I would encounter Jesus. But I spent years saying, well really, yelling “no” to invitation after invitation coupled with many hostile words. My mom knew that my faith was worth fighting for even if I wasn’t going to do it myself, so she remained hopeful, never stopped loving me and prayed that the Lord’s plan be revealed to me . After years of invitations and prayers, I finally said; “yes” to the invitation to take a Discovery Faith Study.
Although I had previously heard some of what the faith study went over, I was completely blown away by how simple and real our Catholic faith is. For the first time I felt this burning desire to rediscover my faith. Since placing Jesus at the center of my life, He brings me joy and His love gives me freedom to be myself and releases me from the need and the feeling of having to earn my self-worth. What I’ve been given is so amazing. I’ve received a renewed relationship with my mother and am in my 5th year as a full-time campus missionary with CCO.
I’m so thankful that my mom never gave up on praying for me and inviting me. Fr. Justin once told me how rare it is for all the children in a family to be still practicing their faith as adults. Completely through the power of countless hours of my mother’s and grandmother’s prayers and invitations, I can share that my two older sisters and I, along with our husbands and combined five children, all attend St. Anthony’s each week. My mother knew something which I didn’t discover until years later; that if my life was going to change, it would only be through Jesus. So, I invite each of you to decide today that you will take up Fr. Justin’s challenge and really begin praying for your list of people daily. The power of prayer is real and my sisters and I are living proof of it.