I want to tell you about a deep desire, a dream, I have: I wish you had a fuller life, a life that had Jesus’ joy and strength. If I were to go to your homes, I would see peace, not people arguing before online Mass starts, but people smiling, reading, helping each other.
I wish all of you had a group of Christian friends who could encourage, challenge, and pray with you, meeting weekly online or in a park. I wish that everyone who walked up our church steps would be greeted by someone who would love them, talk to them, and direct them to where to go next if they had more questions. I wish that everywhere we went, we’d be so happy and care about people so much that we’d share Jesus with them, and tell them that our church has something to offer them.
[Watch Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]
This dream of mine coincides with suggestions that many of you have made about growing our church, and most come back to the idea of community.
If we look at the Gospel, we see the early Church living both elements: the fullness of life in community!
1) “The two disciples told the eleven and their companions what had happened on the road to Emmaus, and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them” (Lk 24:35-36). Notice that Jesus appears when the disciples are sharing their experience of Him on the road to Emmaus. They were so excited that they tell the other disciples, and that’s when Jesus enters.
One scripture scholar says, “Luke is telling us something by connecting the actions of sharing one’s faith experience with the manifestation of the Risen Lord… When we share our stories of faith it helps build the faith of others” (Daniel Mueggenborg, Come Follow Me, Year B, 87).
Whenever we have a testimony at Mass, registration for Alpha and Faith Studies doubles! I’ve started to realize that much of our parish growth has happened in small groups: Faith Studies and Alpha in particular, or when people go to Confession, are prayed over, or when people talk about their experience with Jesus in the chapel. I think small groups and accompaniment have been the secret sauce in our parish’s growth.
2) Jesus says, “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled… Thus it is written, that the Christ is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day” (Lk 24:44-45). Jesus is saying that everything in the Old Testament referred to Him, and specifically to His suffering and Resurrection.
Everything in our lives also has to be referred back to Christ’s ‘paschal mystery,’ which is a technical term we should all know referring to the events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, that is to say, the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus’ Passion, death, and Resurrection.
When we’re suffering, one of the greatest gifts our spiritual friends can give us is to refer our lives back to Jesus’ death and Resurrection, because that’s God’s plan.
This is a screen shot of Westside Church in downtown Vancouver where my friend, Matt Menzel, is the Lead Pastor:
Here we see a few community groups that anyone can join. If you click on any of the groups, there’s a description of who they are. One group’s description says, “We… encourage the group to hang out together or check-in with each other throughout the week. And most of all… we encourage everyone to disciple one another, serve and pray for one another, point one another to Jesus.” There are forty-five of these groups in their church. Why can’t we do the same here? We are going to aim for this!
3) Jesus says, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations… You are witnesses of these things” (Lk 24:47-48). Jesus has given us a mission to evangelize, to bring Him to everyone, because He wants everyone to come home to the Father. But our parish doesn’t have much for non-Catholics. Coming to Mass is too foreign for most people, and Faith Studies is too intense for someone who has no background in Christianity. We have Alpha, which is a welcoming and winsome forum designed to help people understand the essence of the faith, but we need more.
I mentioned two weeks ago our focus on the family, and now I want to explain just a bit more about the three initiatives we’re starting. They all have to do with having a fuller life in community.
1) The Consecration to Jesus through St. Joseph is starting on Saturday, May 8, 2021, Mother’s Day weekend. It’s six-weeks long, requires reading two pages a day with reflection questions, and then we’ll meet every Thursday online with a guest speaker. The gift of this book is that it emphasizes the spiritual and the human. It’s common that Catholics are strong in faith, but weak in their humanity. They have, for instance, anger problems, communication difficulties, wounds from their family, or lack of confidence! But this book fosters self-awareness, making us aware of where Jesus is trying to heal us.
My hope is that all disciples will sign up for this. If we experience at least a little growth and healing, then we can build better families. If one person in a family grows at least 10%, that automatically means a better family; if one spouse improves, that makes for a better marriage. You can sign up at the link on our website.
2) If we do this consecration well, we’ll see a huge opportunity for creating a community for our youth. In this past year, I’ve seen the good and the bad. The good is that I’ve seen tremendous spiritual growth in our youth; growth in maturity, openness, as leaders, and taking responsibility. In March, I had my best class visit ever, which showed how parents were passing on the love of Jesus to their children! The bad is that our young people are tempted in ways that many of us weren’t, and that it’s harder now to be a disciple of Jesus.
National Evangelization Teams (NET) Ministries wants to send a team here for a year, and this is our opportunity to provide community for our youth! It’s so simple! All I’m asking is that, in June, 2021 our parents take one minute to fill out a form on our website where they commit to supporting this ministry with their time and money. It doesn’t work when we just expect our Catholic schools to do all the spiritual work. What works is when parents share their faith with their children, talk about it at home, and lead by example in terms of practices like Confession. I’m not asking for a lot of money. The money is only a sign that you’re invested in what this NET team will do.
3) If the consecration goes well, and there’s more grace in our lives, we’ll be able to help people outside our community. Our greatest tool right now is Alpha! The tool that we’ll be adding is The Marriage Course, starting in the fall. Here’s a one-minute video explaining it:
Many people are interested in discussing faith, so Alpha is a great place for them. But some aren’t. So we can say to them, “We’re running this marriage course at our church. It’s based on Christian principles, but it’s designed for all couples, with or without a church background.” If people got a taste of the wisdom of Jesus, they would be open to hearing more. And if they aren’t, we’ll still be helping them.
A healthy church always invites others, because it has something to offer. We’re starting Alpha on Apr. 28, 29, and May 1, 2021. This is for the people we love. Invite them!
The early Christians had so little in terms of material goods, but they had more than we: They had Jesus, and had the most loving community ever.
Focus right now on inviting people to Alpha, and joining the Consecration program. That’s how we will grow in community and experience a fuller life.