There’s a popular YouTube channel about exercise and one of the videos is entitled, “Can you touch your fingers behind your back? (Big Problem!)” An athlete should be able to put one hand behind their head and one behind their back and then touch their fingers—this flexibility will help them exercise properly. Just as there are physical diagnostics for the body, so there are spiritual measures for how healthy we are.
[Watch Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]
Today, the measure at which we’re looking is evangelization. A spiritually healthy follower of Jesus is happy to share Him, looks for ways to evangelize, and wants the whole world to become His followers. The goals for 2021 of one of my friends are to become a saint, and invite 50 friends to know Christ—that’s spiritually healthy. Today is the Feast of Epiphany, meaning ‘appearing,’ when Jesus reveals Himself to the nations. Looking at the Readings today, we’re going to examine three diagnostics of spiritual health, and then propose solutions.
If you’re the kind of person who gets discouraged, spiritual diagnostics aren’t designed to discourage, but to show us where God wants us to grow. I’ve entitled this homily: Evangelization Helps Us Begin Again.
1) In the First Reading God says to the city of Jerusalem, “Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you! … Nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you” (Is 60:1,3-4). In the year 586 B.C. the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, and now years later, God gives them a hope that ‘the glory of the Lord has risen upon you’ and ‘nations shall come to your light.’ The point is that God will redeem Jerusalem and people will see God in them!
When people look at us, what do they see: Catholic and surviving? Catholic and thriving? Or Catholic and miserable? We have the greatest gift in the world, Jesus, but sometimes our problems obscure His light. Think about this: Jesus had a captivating personality. When people met Him, they were intrigued. When people met St. Mother Teresa, they knew they were in the presence of someone holy. My brother and I often use this truth as a diagnostic of our priesthood. If we’re living our priesthood well, people will want to talk to us, listen to what Jesus has given us, young men will think about being priests themselves.
My proposal to you is that, if people aren’t drawn to Christ in you, ask yourself what’s blocking Him? Maybe the Holy Spirit wants you to spend this upcoming year healing yourself, perhaps through counselling. Maybe you need to work on your marriage before helping your children because the First Reading says, “Your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms” (Is 60:4). When our children resist us, it could be because we’re not living the Gospel as parents.
Please take care of yourself! The Catechism talks about legitimate love of self (2264), and St. Teresa of Avila writes, “Take care, then, of the body for the love of God, because at many times the body must serve the soul”. I’ve seen many of you come back from weekend retreats and you’re full of God’s love. Think about that this year, for your own sake, and for those around you.
2) The Psalm we prayed today has this phrase: “May he [that is, God] have dominion from sea to sea” (72:8). In Latin, this is translated as, “Et dominabitur a mari usque ad mare.” You’ll see this on your Canadian passport because “From sea to sea” is Canada’s national motto. My point is that, when Canada was founded, most people were Christian, and, while they weren’t perfect, they lived their faith more overtly than we do today. When we’re spiritually healthy, we’re open about and confident in our faith. Jesus is the centre of our lives. Our identity as sons and daughters of God is our deepest being and we can’t hide it. When we pray this psalm and ask God to have dominion over the whole earth, it’s because we believe Jesus is God and is the answer to the human heart. Do you see Jesus as the cure to life’s problems?
Some parents say this, “I’m Catholic, but I don’t force it on my kids. When they grow up, they can choose what they believe.” Could you imagine Mary and Joseph saying to Jesus, “Jesus, we believe in God. But when you grow up, you can choose if you want to follow the covenant.” Jesus would say, “Mom, Dad!? Are you okay?” Catholics don’t believe in what they believe because it makes our lives easier; it does make them better, but not necessarily easier. We believe because we consider it’s true. It’s not a question of forcing, and obviously children have freedom to choose. It’s a question of hope and effort: When we believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, then we hope and try with all our heart to make Jesus the centre of our children’s lives. I’ve heard atheists who say the same thing, “I believe this because I think it’s true, and I only want my children to follow what’s true.” They’re being consistent.
Speaking of hope and effort, are we enthusiastic about Alpha, this great opportunity to evangelize? Are we looking to invite people, praying for them? If we’re not that enthusiastic about evangelization, then let’s begin again, perhaps spending this year looking for answers to our questions, with more reading, trying to understand our faith logically. For example, go to catholic.com or magiscenter.com for lots of answers.
3) In the Second Reading, St. Paul writes, “Brothers and sisters: Surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you” (Eph 3:2). What’s this ‘commission of God’s grace that was given to me’? It’s his responsibility to evangelize the Gentiles, the non-Jews. Another word for ‘commission’ is ‘stewardship,’ referring to a steward who managed the household of a master. And, as we may remember from Jesus’ words, servants have to give accounts of their stewardship to the master.
Let me remind you that we have a solemn duty to evangelize, because that’s the nature of love. When we receive love, it’s only right to give it. The Bible teaches that “God is love”(1 Jn 4:16) and so, if we’ve received God, shouldn’t we help people find their creator and Father?
Here are six reasons why we forget our commission, and some solutions:
1. We follow current Catholic culture, which is mediocre at best. The solution is: Follow the saints, who show us true Christian living. Bl. Carlo Acutis is perhaps the first saint to have played video games, have social media accounts, and his website is still up.
2. We’re distracted: Our lives are too busy, and the new year is a perfect time to discern God’s goals for us. As we said two days ago, pay attention to what God is saying in your hearts, and focus on that.
3. We’ve fallen into spiritual narcissism: It feels good to receive God’s love, and it’s easy, for example, for me to think only about taking care of you. So I must intentionally try to get all of us to think outside our comfort zone and reach out to those who don’t know and love Jesus. In the same way, you need to get out of yourselves and help others.
4. We evangelize with actions, not with words—that’s the most important part but not enough. Do you know any parents who say, “I teach my children about right and wrong only by my actions. By watching me, they’ve figured out never to lie, always to work hard, never to spend too much time on devices”? Jesus used words, and so must we. Have devout conversations, as we’ve discussed before, and pay attention to the highs and lows of what’s going on in their lives.
5. “I don’t know how to evangelize.” You might be making excuses if this is a repeated reason why you don’t grow. Try going to uevangelize.org, which has amazing practical tools on how to talk about faith with others.
6. “Father Justin, I’m shy.” That is a problem you must overcome!
No one should be discouraged, because we have a better idea now how to grow! Look how much we grew in 2020!
Let’s end with a story that’s encouraging, but challenges not to settle. St. John Bosco once had a dream of St. Dominic Savio, in which he saw a place like heaven, with crystal water, golden trees, and everyone full of immense joy. At one point, St. John asked St. Dominic about the boys in his school whom he loved so much and was trying to evangelize! In this dream, he saw many of his boys happy, and St. Dominic told him that he had done much good: “All those there are… those who have been educated by you and your sons, or who… have been sent on the way to God and their salvation made really possible. Count them if you can! But they would be many, many more still, if only you had greater faith and confidence in God.” That’s encouraging and challenging. And St. John’s response is ours: “I heaved a great sigh on hearing this admonition and determined to set no limit on my trust in God for the future” (Forty Dreams of St. John Bosco, 64-65).
Evangelization helps us to begin again.