Homily for Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 3, 2015
The great missionary St. Francis Xavier baptized over ten thousand people during his years in the Philippines, India, and Japan, but he wrote a letter back to his friends in his native Spain, telling them, “There are so many people who would be Christian, but there is no one to show them how!”
I think that could be said of today’s world as well. There are many people who would make excellent Christians, but they’ve never been invited to have a relationship with God. In today’s first reading we hear about how the community of believers grew by leaps and bounds in the early Church – but this only happened because people were willing to go forth and invite others to become disciples.
Sharing your faith is called evangelization. Evangelization is the duty of every single person in the church, not just priests and nuns. Most of the people I deal with on a daily basis are already churchgoers. But those people in your work, in your family, in your school – who rarely see a priest or nun – need to know about Jesus – and so it’s up to you to bring Him to them!
A few years ago I was starting a youth program at my old church, and on our first night we had a great turnout of kids. Afterward, one high school freshman named Jonathan came up to me and said, “Excuse me, but is this a Catholic youth group?”
I thought it was an odd question, since I was clearly a Catholic priest and we had just spent the last hour talking about the Sacraments, but I responded, “Yes, it is…is that what you’re looking for?”
He shrugged. “I guess so,” he replied. There was a really long pause so I asked him, “And are you a Catholic?”
He replied, “No, I don’t have any faith, but I just kinda figured that I need God in my life, so I want to become one.”
I was rather taken aback, but I am happy to report that he was baptized that Easter, and now he’s a senior in high school and he still attends Mass every week. But people like Jonathan are rare – people don’t usually go knocking on the Church door saying, “Hey, I saw how beautiful your church is and I’d like to become a Catholic!” No, people only begin coming to church in two ways: by witnessing the radical love of Christians, and by our invitation.
First, it should go without saying that our lives are the most important way we teach others about Jesus. One of the things that convinced people to join the early Christians – even though they could be martyred for their faith – is that they saw the Christian community living a life that was radically different from the culture around them. The culture around them was debaucherous, while Christians lived purely. The culture around them was filled with back-biting, gossip, selfishness; while Christians lived simply with humility and love. Considering that we now live in a post-Christian society much like that of the ancient Roman empire, we need to live counter-culturally as well. What does that mean? It means not watching those TV shows and movies that insult our faith. It means speaking up to defend traditional marriage or the pro-life cause. It means spending our time differently and making sure that Sunday is a day for God. It means not engaging in gossip with others, or complaining. It means remaining faithful to our marriage vows despite challenges. In a word, unless we live a radical life for God, we will just become indistinguishable from the pagan culture around us.
But in addition to living a life that is obviously influenced by our relationship with Christ, we also must speak about it. I can’t tell you how many times some of our older parishioners reminisce about the days that this church was packed and Masses were overflowing. Well, let me ask you then: how many people have you invited to church? Do you expect people just to fill the pews without an invitation? Let’s be real – if we really love Jesus, if He has changed our life, and if we really believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven, then we have a duty to tell others about it!
If someone discovered the cure for cancer but then never told anybody and kept it all to himself, we would all consider him to be selfish! Even if he was a shy person or was afraid of how others would react, he should still overcome all that because of the importance of the discovery! In the same way, what we do in this church every Sunday impacts the eternal destiny of souls. There are people going to hell because no one has taught them about Jesus! We will be guilty if we stand by idly when others need to hear the good news that Jesus saved them!
Of course, we can only bring Jesus to others if we have Jesus in our hearts. The Lord says so in the Gospel: only if we are united to Christ like branches on a vine can we bear any fruit for Him. So, let me ask you – do you believe in Him? Do you love Him? Do you seek to be united to Him in the Sacraments and in His Word? If so, then why do we not go out and bring Him to others? I think sometimes we don’t realize that people actually can and do go to Hell! If we were convinced of that fact, we would strive with all of our strength to bring as many people to Christ as we can, since only He can save us and forgive us of our sins!
My challenge for you is very simple. This week, have a conversation with one person (someone who’s not a fellow churchgoer!) about Jesus, and if possible, invite them to join you here next Sunday. Because there are many millions of people outside of these four walls who are thirsting to know about Jesus.