HOMILY – SEPTEMBER 4
How long has it been since you engaged someone in conversation about your faith? Not nagged them, not badgered them, not shamed them, but ENGAGED them. Usually we think of ENGAGEMENT as something pleasant, like ENGAGED to be married, or ENGAGED in the game on TV, or ENGAGED in her work. It doesn’t have the feeling of drudgery about it, but rather of preference and delight – even if it IS work.
Christ often invites us to be ENGAGED in bringing the gospel to others. But even if we’ve been baptized, how often do we take his invitation seriously? We have been entrusted with the one message that can bring people to LIFE, not just life here, but life FOREVER. No salesperson can claim that privilege, whether they’re selling patent medicine, used cars, or life insurance. We don’t have to claim responsibility for this message, as though we had invented it, because we didn’t! It’s been REVEALED to us, and the message is God’s. We’re just the messengers.
When I was a mail carrier a half a century ago, I took great pride in delivering those messages. There were magazines, there were bills, there were letters of appointment and letters of DIS-appointment. I was a very important cog in the wheels of communication for the people on my route, both businesses and homes. I wasn’t the SOURCE of the mail, and I didn’t have to do anything about it once it was delivered. GETTING IT THERE – THAT was my job. But there wasn’t a check or a letter from an attorney or a birthday card or a big envelope saying “You may have already won!!!” that could compare with the message which it is my privilege to deliver to you and to everyone who crosses my path.
I’m not going to read the Gospel to all of them. I’m not going to preach my homily to all of them. Like the Lord encourages us in today’s Gospel, we have to calculate just how and when and where to do what with whom. You might be building a tower or a brewery somewhere downtown in our growing city. You might have faced an opponent, on an actual field of battle or on the 50-yard line. You might already be thinking about Thanksgiving dinner and what to serve THIS year. No matter what the situation, if you’re going to be successful at it, you have to CALCULATE. The same tactics won’t work in every situation.
And it’s like that with exposing people to the Good News, the Gospel we are pledged and promised to bring to them. I’ve had plenty of people either sigh and roll their eyes or quickly turn away when I go to the doctor’s office and sit down near them in the waiting room. After I check to make sure I haven’t spilled my lunch all over my black clothes, I relax, kind of knowing that their reaction is an instinctive, “Oh no, here’s comes a sermon!” or “Oh no, now I have to behave!” It’s a reaction similar to what a police officer gets when the cruiser is in traffic behind another car: “Oh no, he’s watching me!” You get used to it. But I also know that minding my own business, or perhaps helping in some small way if someone’s having trouble getting out of a chair or figuring out how to work the coffee maker – these might be the most effective way at the moment of fulfilling my baptismal promise of witnessing to the Lord Jesus.
Jesus does not expect us to be bulls in the china shop, nor politicians on the stump. The first thing we should always do is be on our best behavior, thinking of others and their needs and ready to be at their service if the occasion presents. The second thing we have to do is to get and stay PREPARED TO ENGAGE others in a conversation about faith and Christ and the Church and the sacraments, IF they express an interest. We do that by becoming as fluent about our Catholic faith as we are in speaking English–perhaps even more so. Our list of life’s accomplishments might be long or short, impressive or minimal. The only really important question we should picture the Lord asking us at our judgment is not, “What did you build, why did you do that, how many times did you commit those sins,” etc., but rather, “Who’d you bring with you?” And we’re not going to be very good fishers of men if we haven’t calculated to use the right bait.