Sunday, January 25, 2015

Like St Francis de Sales or Jonah

Yesterday was the feast day of our patron, St Francis de Sales. After his ordination in 1593, Francis lived just over the mountains from Switzerland -- Calvinist territory. He decided to lead an expedition to convert the Calvinists back to Catholicism. 

For three years, Francis and his cousin traveled through the countryside.  They had doors slammed in their faces and rocks thrown at them. In the bitter winters, Francis' feet froze so badly they bled as he tramped through the snow. He slept in haylofts if he could.  Once he slept in a tree to avoid wolves and tied himself to a branch to keep from falling out.  He was so frozen the next morning he had to be cut down. After three years, his cousin left him alone and he had not made one convert.

Francis' unusual patience kept him working. No one would listen to him, no one would even open their door. So Francis found a way to get under the door. He wrote out his sermons, copied them by hand, and slipped them under the doors.  In a few more years, Francis had converted 40,000 people back to Catholicism.

In today's Gospel, Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John.  He says:  "Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."   Immediately they respond to his call by leaving their nets and following him.   These first followers of Jesus aren't called into just a private relationship with Jesus.  Instead, they are part of the twelve who become  the first leaders of his church. 

Now, you might ask why were Simon, Andrew, and James willing to give their lives to proclaim Jesus' message and to build his Church?   And why did St Francis de Sales work so diligently to convert people back to Jesus' church, the Catholic Church?  Certainly, it is possible to follow Jesus and to get to heaven without going to church.  But, is that the best way, the path that Jesus himself gave us?  Jesus said to  Simon Peter:  "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."  Jesus formed a community of believers, a church, and he taught the first leaders of the church.  He formed a church, a mystical body on earth, as the guardian of the truth and the best and easiest way for us to get to heaven.  And he gave this church seven unique means of distributing graces, seven sacraments.  Through these seven sacraments, all of us are able to gain graces to help us on our journey. 

We have all had someone tell us that they're spiritual but not religious.  That is, they have a personal relationship with Jesus.  They don't need any church to get in the way and to tell them what to do.  Do we need a church?  Why are we gathered here today and not just meditating on our own?


In his homily for the January 1st Mass celebrating the solemnity of Mary, Pope Francis said: “The Church is like a mother who tenderly holds Jesus and gives him to everyone with joy and generosity…Without the Church, Jesus Christ ends up as an idea, a moral teaching, a feeling.”

Without the Church and her guidance, our relationship with Christ “would be at the mercy of our imagination, our interpretations, our moods,” he continued.

“Our faith is not an abstract doctrine or philosophy, but a vital and full relationship with a person: Jesus Christ” who lives among us and can be encountered inside the Church through her sacraments, Pope Francis explained.

Jesus told us that our spiritual life is like a vine in which he is the trunk and we are the branches.  We are interconnected with others in the Church, through our beliefs, our worship, and our desire to know and understand the truth.

The first reading is from the book of the prophet Jonah.  Jonah was a reluctant prophet.  God told him to go to Nineveh and tell the people about their wicked ways.  So, Jonah reacted like we might react, he boarded a ship headed in the opposite direction.  Then, there was a terrible storm and the ship threatened to break apart.  The sailors threw Jonah overboard in the hope of calming the storm.  Wouldn't you know, Jonah was swallowed by a whale who carried him to Nineveh and spit him out on the beach.  Finally, Jonah did as God commanded and warned the people that their city would be destroyed in forty days.  The people responded to Jonah's warning by fasting and putting on sackcloth.  Then, our merciful God spared the city. 

Today, our culture in America is much like it was in the time of the prophet Jonah and the time of St Francis de Sales.  Like each of these men, we have an opportunity to evangelize our culture and to proclaim the truth to a fallen world.  At the end of each mass, like the prophet Jonah, we are sent out into our world.  Hopefully, we won't need to be thrown overboard in a storm or to be swallowed by a whale to understand our important role in building His kingdom.  I pray that each one of us will be inspired by St Francis de Sales and will tell everyone we meet about our loving and merciful God and about his Mystical body on earth, his Church.