Sunday, September 16, 2007

Join the team

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 16, 2007, Ministry Sunday:

My folks are here this weekend. They came up for the wine tasting on Friday and the parish picnic today – and hopefully, because they wanted to spend some time with their son. But, since Dad arrived, we’ve had a running dispute in the house – will we be watching the Patriot’s game or the Red Sox game tonight? Dad is a die-hard football fan; and as you know I am a huge baseball fan. Of course, I keep saying, “I thought football doesn’t start until Thanksgiving?” And Dad keeps saying, “Baseball has too many games.”

As I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that there are really two kinds of people who love football. The first is the person who pulls up in front of the TV with a big bowl of potato chips or ice cream; the person who wouldn't know an onside kick from a Hail Mary pass, the person who regularly asks, “Did they score another basket?”; but knows nevertheless how to cheer for their team and is excited when they win.

The second kind of person who loves football is the one who starts playing the game at age 6. This person works hard every day playing the game, catching passes, staying in shape. Plays hard through their high school and college years spending every hour they can to be the best player they can be in the hopes of making it to the pros. This is the person who loves football enough to devote a life to it.

It also occurred to me that there are two kinds of people who baseball.The first is the person like me; the person who turns on the TV, grabs some potato chips or a hot dog (this is baseball after all), and watches every game, goes to some if he can; the person who reads up on his team, and enjoys the rivalry with that “other” team; the person who cheers for his boys and yells at the umps when they make a bad call.

The second kind of person who loves baseball is the one who spends years playing the game; tossing a baseball from an early age; the person who spends all of his money on equipment, camps, practicing; the person who spends hours every day playing and practicing with team members; the person who devotes his life to the game.

In both of these examples, they all love their games. Both love football and baseball. The difference between them is that the first group are armchair fans. The second are champions.
Now, it seems to me that there are also two kinds of people who love the Church. The first person belongs to a Parish and comes to Mass every Christmas and Easter. They drop a little something in the collection basket when it goes by. They bring their children to be baptized and receive first communion and bring their parents for a Catholic funeral when the time comes.

The second person who loves Church never misses a Sunday or Holy Day Mass and often comes to daily Mass. This person gives a good chunk of their income and makes real sacrifices to support the Church. This person takes Communion to a nursing home or serves on the Parish Council or volunteers as a catechist or sings in the choir or helps at the homeless shelter. This person comes to parish spiritual events, social events and is the one who steps forward when a volunteer is needed for some special cause.

In these examples, both love the Catholic Church. If we want to use the sports terminology, we might call one an armchair Catholic and the other a champion of faith.

Before we go any farther, I want to be clear that I don't mean any disrespect to the person I'm calling and “armchair Catholic.” We thank God for everyone who comes whenever they come, for everyone who finds it in their heart to donate anything at all to the church, for all who makes sure their babies are baptized. We thank God for them.

But for me, and I think for everyone here today, that isn't enough. Our Catholic faith is far too important for us to be just armchair fans. I, for one, need God at the center of my life. I need the peace that the Church gives me. I need the strength and the courage that the Church offers me. I need the friends and the support that I find in the Church. And I need to hear the promise of the kingdom waiting for me after death. St. Paul said today that “the grace of our Lord has been abundant.” I can't live as an armchair Catholic. I need far more of the Lord’s abundant grace in my life.

That is the whole point of our Ministry Fair this weekend. We rejoice in the abundant grace that the Lord has poured out on this Church and this community through the good works we do; and to make sure that none of us remain on the couch, but rather get into the game.

I think of a paraphrase of the famous quote of President Kennedy, “Ask not what Jesus can do for you; as what you can do for Jesus.” What ministry is Jesus calling you to? Where can you engage more deeply in the life of our parish? It isn’t about the Church taking from you – your time, talent and treasure; it is about the Church; about Jesus needing you. A professor back in the seminary said, “The Church doesn’t have a mission; the Mission has a Church.” He reminded us that the only reason for the existence of the Church is so that we can accomplish the mission that Jesus left us – of spreading the Gospel, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, visiting the sick and the lonely, of bringing forth the Kingdom of God in our midst. We come to Mass so we can be strengthened for Mission. Jesus needs you; the Church needs you; we, St. Francis Xavier parish, need you.

If you’re like me, you might sit in front of the TV with your potato chips and watch Big Papi knock another one out of the park and secretly dream of doing the same, with your teammates waiting to cheer you at home plate. I have dreams of being a World Series champion. But in reality, I can live without that dream. I'm too old, and I'm not ready to do what it takes to be a baseball champion. An armchair fan is oaky for me.

But, I am not satisfied to be an armchair Catholic. My faith is just too important. I have a dream which I won't give up: one day standing before the Lord and hearing the words I most long to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” That is worth more than anything in the world.

So, please take a moment after Mass today to visit the Church Hall and see all of the great works our champions of faith engage in; and please consider joining one of our special teams.

May God give you peace.

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