Let me have a show of hands: How many of you here don’t want to do God’s work?
Might I assume, then, that if you didn’t raise your hands, then you do want to do God’s work?
Okay! Well, you are in great company: St. Mother Teresa, St. Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., my grandmother, Pope Francis, Moses, and the People of Israel, whom we meet in the readings today. All of them really wanted to do God’s work. There are even more of them: the kids who were confirmed three years ago, the parents of most of the babies baptized at our churches each year, folks who right now are either at the movies, or the ballgame, or mowing the lawn, or still in bed. I am sure that they, too, all want to do God’s work, right?
But, why aren’t they here, then?
Perhaps wanting to do holy things is not enough. Maybe, “good intentions” are not the entire story.
The people who see Jesus’ astonishing works and hear His words responded to Him with enthusiasm for God: “What must we do to accomplish the works of God?” they ask. It’s a very holy and pious request that they make; that want to do the right thing – not just the “right” thing, but the “works of God.” Clearly, their intentions are to heed Christ’s call to holiness and mission in the world. They are on board.
The Israelites before them were also on board. They had followed Moses out of slavery in Egypt when God led them to freedom; they had seen the mighty work of God at the Red Sea. However, now, as things begin to settle in and life becomes more difficult, their enthusiasm wanes. In fact, despite the great things that God has done for them, they complain, “grumbling” against the Lord, and even showing ingratitude for His goodness to them.
Still, God continues in His goodness, and He provides food from heaven to sustain them. The nourishment that God provided in the wilderness is remembered when Jesus fed the 5,000 in that remote place, and the people again respond with enthusiasm. They want to work with God, and to accomplish His works. Who wouldn’t?
However, all of us – if we are honest – have waxed and waned in that enthusiasm. Sometimes, we have spiritual experiences after which we are certain we will join a monastery and pray for the rest of our lives, or we will give to God everything we have, or we will become the next Dorothy Day or Mother Teresa; and then we also have those days when the gravity around our bed on Sunday morning seems insurmountable and we just lay there. Sometimes we can eagerly quote the Catechism, and then we are happy with “good enough” Christianity – with mediocrity.
We’ve seen many people wander away, drift away, or angrily leave, and we have accepted this as just the way things are – perhaps reassuring ourselves that “they’ll come back someday.” On top of that, we often do the bare minimum when it comes to living the faith (which usually amounts simply to showing up at church once a week). This acceptance of and practice of mediocre Catholicism and Christianity is very damaging to our church. Worse than rendering our faith “laughable,” it makes us ignorable. And that is a death knell for us here.
How do we overcome this acceptance of the ordinary, mediocre, worldly practice (or lack thereof) of our faith? How do we show the world that Jesus is alive and active in us – in His Church – and that He wants to have an impact of everyone’s lives? We certainly don’t do it when we accept going to Mass when we feel like it or when it’s convenient; we don’t do it when we allow our young people to stray from the practice of their faith, hoping they might come back someday; and we certainly don’t do it when our leaders look the other way when their own brothers hurt innocent people and behave like criminals and thugs instead of ministers of the Gospel.
Brothers and sisters, I am just as hurt and betrayed by the actions of our Church and Her ministers – the sad details of which we continue to hear and bemoan. I am angry and frustrated, as I try to serve our people as an example of holiness and a shepherd of the weak and lost. However, I remain a shepherd – just as I remain a sheep, of the Good Shepherd – and I know that we are better than this; I know that the Church is better than this; I know that Jesus is better than this. But we don’t “fix” this situation with carefully worded statements and pastoral letters. We overcome all this by seeking first and foremost to imitate Jesus and to be positive, credible witnesses to His power in our own lives.
I want to know what to do to accomplish the works of God. Don’t you? Jesus shows us the way – and He even gives us Himself to nourish and strengthen us for that task. Pray for me. Pray for one another. Strive after saintliness, not mediocrity. And, Jesus, who feeds us will guide us to a new age of holiness.