By Fr. David Hottinger, PES - Pastor
From the bulletin for the Twenty-Fifth Week in Ordinary Time (September 24, 2023)
The Bubble Bursts (Forth)
I often tell people that I live in a Catholic bubble. Religious life will do that. In my case, that home life is embedded within a very Catholic parish, which is nestled within a relatively Catholic part of town (if we consider UST and the Seminary to the west and Nativity to the south). And when I leave the zip code, it’s more often than not to visit the home of a parishioner, or attend some Church event, or pay a visit to our sisters’ convent (a pretty Catholic environment, as you might imagine).
And so a guy like me might almost get the impression that the Gospel has already been proclaimed to every creature (see Mk 16:15).
Of course, one only has to open the newspaper, or turn on the radio, or strike up a conversation with your next-door neighbor, to find out that this is not the case. Not even that! You just have to read the lawn signs, or drive past University and Vandalia, to be reminded that not everyone is saying his or her daily Rosary.
We Catholics really are called to live in a “bubble.” Only it’s not a “bubble” but a communion; a kingdom, truly distinct from the polity of the city of men, with its own cult of worship, hierarchy of governance, customs, language, feasts and laws. Yet though that Kingdom is not of this world, it is meant to take root in the world, and grow up here like a mustard-seed. That is to say: it is meant to spread its roots and branches within the surrounding environment, assimilating what is good, converting what is noxious, and providing a safe haven to those “birds of the air” who take refuge in her shade (Mk 4:32).
As members of the laity, you all are part of this Kingdom’s advance. You, as branches on the Vine, or fibers from the Root of Jesse, are called to extend into the unconverted earth that surrounds us and gradually transform it into Life. And so naturally, your experience of the “bubble” is likely not as pronounced as mine. At work, in your family and friend networks, at Trader Joe’s and Target, you encounter and confront that other kingdom, very much of this world, that is often hostile to Christ’s but perhaps even more often entirely indifferent to and ignorant of that organism that is alive in Christ known as the Church.
On the last day, we will be judged according to how profitably we “trade” with the spiritual capital entrusted to us, which are the gifts and graces God bestows on each for the purpose of building up the Kingdom. And the “profit” Our Lord demands is not money or territory, but eternal souls (starting with our own) that have been washed, sanctified, and enriched by the Blood of the Lamb, and fit into that spiritual structure that is the Church itself. We will be judged by how we have responded to the commands to “go and make disciples of all the nations” (Mt 28:19); by how generously we have ministered to Christ through those naked, thirsty, imprisoned ones around us who are crying out for deliverance (Mt. 25:36).
Judgment, however, need not be our chief motivation. How ugly the world is without Jesus Christ! What a beautiful thing it is when a soul comes to repent and believe, and give joy to all the angels of heaven (cf. Lk 15:7)! “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity” (Ps 133:1), united by belief in the truth and love of the good and worship of the true God! Yes: we want the Kingdom to grow; we pray for our neighbors and indeed “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth.” (1 Tim 2:4); we long for the day that “the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord like water covers the earth” (Hab 2:14) and God is “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).
For that to happen in our parish territory, the bubble has to burst. We need to go forth from the faith-filled oasis that is our parish life and encounter our neighbors living in the “salt and empty waste” (Jer 17:6) around us. Without losing the treasure we have received, or watering down the message of eternal life, we are called to share it with the poor who live without Life. Therefore, in addition to (and not necessarily after) our efforts to 1) grow our communion with the Lord and one another and to 2) renovate our parish buildings, we must start to intentionally go out to them with an evangelical purpose and effectively attract them to our parish in a way that profits them for salvation. How shall we do this? I invite you to join me in starting to beg the Holy Spirit to show us the Way…