In the Gospel today (Luke 13;22-30) Jesus is having a crack at religious people who say they love God, who go through all the correct rituals, say their prayers, go to Mass etc, but rarely put that love into practice. I remember a man in one church I worked in who was always at Mass and often banked the collection for us. He seemed a nice enough person, until I discovered that that he was terribly rude to the cashiers at the bank! Luckily most people who go to Mass in Britain are not like that, at least I hope not. We know that whenever we do anything kind or good to help someone, we are meeting and serving Jesus in that person, and so when we die we hope and pray that the Jesus we have met in such people, will be there to draw us through the narrow gate into the love of God that is heaven.
Our 2nd Reading (Hebrews 12:5-7.11-13) reminds us that loving others requires us to suffer for others. It’s not enough for a Christian just to be kind! Sin is not just doing wrong; sin is also failing to do things that we should be doing to bring God’s love into the world. Most of us should look a bit more often at those sins of omission that we commit daily, for it amazes me how rarely people mention these when they make their Confession!
These daily challenges, we are told today, are part of our training for heaven – making us slimmer spiritually to help us through that narrow gate!
The answer to the question from the the Bishops Booklet on the Pope’s Visit that I am looking at today, lies in what I have just been saying. They ask : What is the Catholic contribution to British society? It is, of course, a question many non-Catholics ask because much of what we Catholics do – quiet acts of love – rarely get noticed. Most of us here today probably have little idea what those around us get up to in their daily lives. The priest has a bit more of an idea, but I’m glad to say that I’m constantly surprised to discover, as I get to know members of the parish, how many different things you do get up to as you put the teaching from the Gospel into practice.
Nor must we forget, as the Bishops say, that “10% of the total population of England and Wales, who define themselves as Catholics, work in every type of job – as teachers, nurses, police, soldiers, civil servants, journalists, doctors, MPs, road sweepers or bankers” Yes, striving to do a good job in your particular employment, and thus serving the community, is just as much a part of your offering to God, as are the kind acts you do voluntarily.
So when people ask what does the Catholic Church do for Britain, they are often looking in the wrong place, for they don’t realise that the Church is not principally the institution, but the people! Us! You and me! Of course the Church does have its charitable and caring organisations. The Bishops mention the Caritas Social Action Network which is “the umbrella organisation for groups and charities with a Catholic ethos providing social care in our country.” I was astonished to discover from the Booklet that the total expenditure of all these groups in 2008-9 was £110 million! “Fostering, adoption, social work with children and families, child protection, school counselling and family centres etc..” There are also 2300 schools in which about 30% of the children are not Catholic, and CAFOD for overseas development.
All this is underpinned by the work of prayer and encouragement provided by 3000 Catholic parishes with 4400 active priests, 500 female religious and another 1069 religious priests! It is, of course, our regular meeting with Jesus at Mass, in word and in sacrament, that constantly urges each of us on to use our life in one way or the other in the service of God and of the world he has created. But although we could all do more, let’s not be afraid to point out to people the good things that the Church does do, and that we can justly be proud of.
But not too proud! Remember Jesus’ story of the Pharisee who spent all his time telling God, and presumably other people, about all the good things he did (Luke 18:10), whilst the tax-collector simply asked for God’s mercy. It is surely better to be more like the tax-collector, honest about our failings, rather than end up being too proud of the good things we do. So when people suggest that the Catholic Church is simply a bad organisation, we must be prepared to admit to our failings and to the failings of the Church as an organisation (that I am going to look at in My Homily next week) but we must also in all humility point to the many good things we do, that I have mentioned today.