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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Homily 3-3-2013 The Woman at the Well and the New Evangelization

When our former Holy Father, Benedict XVI, the first to resign the papacy in over 600 years, took up the ministry of guiding the ship of Christ's Church, he opened with a very powerful message in his first encyclical, titled Deus Caritas Est, or God is Love. He said that “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. I want today to consider this first “big statement” with our Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI's last “big statement” as Holy Father, the Synod on the New Evangelization which united some 200 bishops for over a week to discuss what this means. First, let's be clear on what the New Evangelization means: Pope JPII coined the phrase in describing how to take the perennial, the constant vocation of Christians to spread the Good News, and update it for our modern context by giving it a “new ardor, new methods, and new expression.” Particularly, Pope John Paul II had directed us to preach the Gospel to those peoples who think they have already heard the Gospel because their culture has a Christian heritage. This is where we see our connection with Pope Benedict XVI's words in Deus Caritas Est: a Christian is not truly a Christian until there is an encounter with the Lord, a relationship of love with Jesus, of both knowing personally and being known by God.
I've been reading a book [Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry A. Weddell], with the limited free time that Lent offers me, about U.S. Catholicism. Some recent surveys are very telling about the health of the Catholic Church among Americans: over 10% of adults in the U.S. are former Catholics, and only 2.5% have come into the Church, so we are losing that battle. These former Catholics very often leave early: sometime during their teenage or college years they abandon their practice of the faith, and eventually switch religions or (more increasingly popular) opt for no formalized religion at all. From the age group of 18-25, only about 10% of Catholics say they go to Mass every week. And the reason so much of this happens falls down to this basic statistic: only 48% of self-identified Catholics say that they believe in a personal God.
Well, if Christianity is stressing a relationship of love with Jesus, and the majority of Catholics do not even know if they can relate to God personally, no wonder some would stop coming to Church. God doesn't have any grandchildren: they must be his children, directly in relationship with him. The faith of parents doesn't mean faith for children: a Christianized culture or home-life is not enough.
We need to be pro-active in our work for the new evangelization. Archbishop Gomez of LA said, “Jesus Christ did not come to suffer and to die so that he could make cultural Catholics.” No, he came because he is dying of thirst for your love, for my love, for our neighbor's love.
This is where our Gospel today can help us: the story of the Woman at the Well is like a summary of the work of evangelization, and I propose that we use this story in our own efforts of evangelization. We first meet Jesus, dying of thirst to be with us. He initiates the conversation, whether He speaks to us in the silence of our hearts or through other persons. (For the Christian, in fact, every day of prayer is like this encounter between Jesus thirsting for us, and our thirsting for Him.) And we so often are hesitant, afraid, and confused by His words, because God sees deep into the well of our souls, where we so often avoid. Perhaps we are too focused on our daily tasks or immediate needs, as the Samaritan woman was for water. But Jesus slowly reveals Himself to us, shows that He knows us more than we know ourselves, and despite our sins, still loves us. And this intimate encounter of love transforms us, it fills us so deeply that we go out and preach to others: we have to share it.
So let us share it.  We first must go through this process ourselves: we have to make the stories in the Gospel to be our own stories - to meet Jesus and encounter Him.  This is first and foremost in our daily prayer and in the sacraments of the Church.  Then, we bring the experience of that encounter to others - inviting them to meet Jesus in their prayer and in the life of the Church - as these RCIA Elect and Candidates have experienced.  If we know of non-practicing Catholics, invite them to Confession, coach them through it, and go with them to the sacrament.  “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction."  May this be so for our lives, for our families, for our neighbors.

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