Our Parishes had 37 young people who received the Sacrament of Confirmation this past May. We welcomed another 12 into the Church at the Easter Vigil. We baptized over 50 kids last year. How many of these kids, individuals, and families are regularly at Mass and involved in the life of the Church and Parishes? I can count them on my hands – on my two hands!
In 2014, for every one person who became Catholic in the United States, six-and-a-half left. Half of those young people, aged 18 to 35, who were raised Catholic, are no longer Catholic. And we see it as “normal” when our religious education families, parents of baptized babies, and recently confirmed teens are not here.
Brothers and sisters, this is exactly the opposite of what Christ has asked us to do! If a person goes through religious instruction – in the home, school, or religious education program – and does not see the need to be engaged in their faith, then that person has not encountered Jesus; and, that parish has not done its job of evangelizing – of doing what Jesus calls us all to do: “Make disciples of all nations.”
Now, before you run away from what might seem like another “why-aren’t-people-coming-to-church” homilies, let me put this into the context of what we’ve just heard. Our readings this weekend speak to us of “agrarian” or “horticultural” themes. Isaiah speaks of making the earth “fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows,” and Jesus takes that seed and places it in the hands of a “sower [who] went out to sow.” The Responsorial Psalm tells us that “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.” And Paul, writing to the Romans, says that we who believe “have the first fruits of the Spirit.”
The message is clear: God wants fruit – fruit should be a normal product of our faith and our parishes. And to be clear, this fruit is not simply your body in these pews. Fruit is something that feeds others; it is something that gives joy; fruit invites others to come to the tree and find out what it has to offer.
When we speak of fruit in the Church, we are speaking of the life-giving relationship with Jesus. This is not something that simply “makes me feel good,” but rather it is something that carries the life-giving Word of God to others. Botanically, “fruit” is any seed-bearing structure of a plant. In light of our readings today, this fruit is that which carries the Word of God to others.
When a tree does not bear fruit, its life is ending. When a parish does not bear fruit – same thing. As we continue to assess our Pastorate community and our mission to make disciples and live the Gospel, we need to take the difficult step of evaluating our fruit. What can we do to produce more and better fruit? How can we cultivate our community so that our fruit is bold and attractive to others? What is the fruit that we are looking for?
The fruit that we must bear is the result of the gift that God sheds on us – the “seed” sown in our ready hearts. That fruit is unity in faith – yes, even loving and sharing with “the other parish!” It is peace, love, and joy that is visible to others. It is compassion; it is gentleness. It is a desire to go out, beyond our boundaries, to share the life we have been given.
As we go forward as a united community of faith, we will need to cultivate our fruit. This may also mean some difficult pruning. However, this is done with an eye to even more and better fruit. All of us are called; none is excluded. Remember, the sower didn’t discriminate as to which soil he sowed. No one has an excuse; no one is exempt from this task of bearing fruit and making new disciples.
Complaining doesn’t make a fruitful harvest. Faithful work does. We have work to do, but the harvest is the best we can imagine.