Produce good fruit as evidence…
Our gospel today calls us to “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance” and not to “…presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’” John the Baptist is speaking to Jews, but the same spiritual principle applies today. People, even ‘good Catholics’, can presume that they are fine the way they are, that as long as they go to Mass regularly they are secure in the Lord. Mass is certainly crucial, but the repentance that John is speaking about goes further. It means taking the gift that we have been given during the Mass, namely, Christ the Lord, and sharing Him with the world.
As Paul VI wrote in his encyclical, Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Proclaiming the Gospel), “The Church exists in order to evangelize." “Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity.” (14) If this is so, then our gift of faith as Catholics needs to be shared in various ways, beginning with the example of our lives. Paul VI writes,
“Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one."
For this kind of witness, we simply need to be ourselves in the world, caring for those around us in thought, word, and deed.
I’ve seen this witness lived at St. Stephen's in a variety of ways, through the sharing of food (Food Bank, Terrific Tuesdays, Men’s Shelter Meals, Thanksgiving Dinner, Orion Youth Center, etc.), the sharing of housing (Direct Aid, St. Stephens Housing, and parishioners opening their own homes), and the sharing of goods (Direct Aid, Giving Tree, Knights of Columbus, and Pregnancy Aid). We have loving support offered through Grief Support, MOMS, Prison Ministry, St. Stephens Ministers, Nursing Home Services, Project Rachel, Visitation Guild and Gabriel Project. So many ways are offered here at St. Stephen’s by which one can serve others. I’ve probably missed some who do service without anyone knowing. Thank you for your gift of self. These ministries stand as evidence of our faith, what Christ has done within us.
These works of mercy are just part of what we can do to share our faith. We have liturgical ministries, faith formation, facilities, parish life, administration, and so much more. How is God calling you to ‘produce good fruit’? Beyond the parish, evangelization begins at home. How is your family preparing for Christmas? Are you praying daily? What a beautiful time to gather for the Rosary, or even a decade to start. It only takes a few minutes. Understanding Mary better will lead us more deeply into the mystery of Christ. Your children will grasp it easily. Mary loves children!
Beyond the home, there is the workplace and the marketplace, the ‘public square’. Here a great witness is needed to Christian values. Does your work contribute to the well-being of others? Does it help promote order or build it up? Does your business practice ethical guidelines, not simply to avoid litigation, but to promote goodness in creation? There are ways of doing things that reflect trust in God and the possibility of a just society. God desires this and we are His instruments. May this Advent season bring light into our world, beginning with ourselves.
- ► 2011 (50)