There were times in the history of the Catholic Church when people hid their identity as Catholics. It usually was out of fear of persecution, but not always. Are you hiding your identity as a Catholic?
In this particular time and in our present living conditions, most of us are not afraid of being persecuted for our religious beliefs. Many of us hide because we don’t want to have to live up to the expectations of what it means to be a Catholic.
To identify oneself in faith carries some pretty hefty expectations. We are expected to act and live in a certain way; otherwise people will know that we’re hypocritical. It often becomes easier to hide our identity than it does to actually try to live it out.
And you may think that this doesn’t apply to you, but it does to most of us. How many times have we found ourselves in conversations that are destructive to someone who isn’t present? How often are we involved in gossip? How often are we using the power of our information to destroy the character of another person? We may even believe that this is a minor default of character, but Jesus taught that it ranked up there with all the other major sins. And yet nowadays, we easily excuse ourselves.
How many times have we found ourselves looking down or hiding our faces when our community of faith needs volunteers and helpers? We use the excuse that we’ve done it in the past and it’s someone else’s responsibility to do it now. Somewhere inside of ourselves, we know that we have a responsibility to live out our faith and to be of service to our community and to other people. Why is it that we believe that attendance at Mass once a week and trying not to do anything bad is enough to call ourselves Catholic or Christian?
The readings for the fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time remind us that we are to be light for the world and salt for the earth. The words that are used in the English translation say that is a “must” and not an option. The prophet Isaiah adds some very specific calls to action that mark the path of one who believes in God. We are to share our bread with the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked and do not turn your back on them. It couldn’t be any clearer than that, but we easily pretend that we don’t see those in need or that they are not our responsibility. Even worse, we judge them as not deserving of love and care.
According to Jesus, there is no room for being lukewarm in the call to be a disciple. We either are a disciple or we are not. Where do you find yourself at this point in life? Are you settling for mediocrity? Are you allowing your image of the world or your judgment of people to stand in the way of being who Jesus asks you to be? The kingdom of God is at hand.
So many of us are talking these days about evangelization. We can go through all kinds of workshops and trainings, but if we are not willing to live a radical life committed to Jesus, then people will not be drawn to the Gospel and come to know Jesus. What kind of life must you and I live so that others might see our good works and give glory to God? That has to be more than just not doing bad things.
Father Donald Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.