Back in the 1980's, Mother Teresa of Calcutta began to open convents in Washington, D.C. She began with a contemplative house of prayer in Anacostia, and then a place for homeless women facing difficult pregnancies, and finally a hospice for homeless men and women with HIV/AIDS.
It was during the planning for the last of these projects that I first had sustained contact with Mother Teresa. She was visiting a facility that housed Catholic Charities in Washington. Together with the Executive Director of Catholic Charities, Jack Morrison, and a number of other Archdiocesan officials, I found myself giving her a tour of the building.
"Too big," Mother Teresa muttered when she saw the building, and most of us thought she would move on. But she didn't. She paused only for a moment and exchanged a few words with the Sisters accompanying her. The wheels were turning! The idea came to her to use the building not only for a hospice but also to house the Tertians, that is, Sisters in a year of preparation before final vows. She had made her decision.
Then Mother Teresa began to negotiate for the property. There were no appraisals. No discussions (with her) about zoning or deferred maintenance. All she did was put a few Miraculous Medals in the mortar between the building's bricks. We knew it was over. The building was hers to use for as long as she wanted. Suddenly Catholic Charities was homeless, but now a home was created for homeless persons who were desperately poor and desperately ill. It was a great investment.
Mother Teresa loved the poor and the homeless. All around the world she provided homes for those who have none. But she worked just as hard to bring the spiritually homeless back to the Church. She often spoke of the deeper hungers of the human spirit for God's love. She often spoke of those who have homes but who are exposed to elements so corrosive to the human spirit - especially greed and self-centeredness.
She knew that the numbers of the spiritually homeless are huge. And she was right. So many, right here in our midst, have plenty of everything. But they go week after week spiritually under-nourished and lacking a home where they can worship God and grow in their relationship with Him and others. As our culture leaves less and less room for religious worship, as well as the virtues and values that flow from religion, spiritual malnourishment and homelessness may grow to epidemic proportions.
So what are we going to do about it? One option is to wring our hands and say, "That's terrible. Someone should do something about that!" A better option, and the one Mother Teresa would urge on us, is to do something about it ourselves.
And that brings me to the central point of this column. We can do something about ourselves.
At the Golden Jubilee Mass at Harbor Yard Arena, I challenged the 8,000 participants and, indeed, each member of the diocese, to bring at least one person back to the Church before Christmas. I now renew that challenge: bring someone home for Christmas! Convince at least one person who is no longer practicing the faith to return to the Lord and to the Church - not just for Midnight Mass, but to the active practice of the Catholic faith.
That's a big challenge. And to help you accept it, I'd like to offer you a few simple pointers on how (through God's grace) you and I might get the job done:
- First, we have to be resolved to practice the faith ourselves. If you're reading this and realize that you don't go to Mass each Sunday or that your life of daily prayer has slipped, or that it's been a while since you've been to Confession, don't consider yourself disqualified from the challenge to bring someone home for Christmas. Jesus sent His disciples out two-by-two. I am sure he would be pleased to see them returning to Him, two-by-two. So listen to the Lord's voice. Say "Yes" to His invitation. Then ask someone else to return with you to the Lord and to the Church.
- Second, who might that "someone" be? Mother Teresa went all over the world reaching out to the physically and spiritually impoverished. But she challenges you and me to do the same thing right here at home. Every one of us knows someone who no longer practices the faith. So for many of you the "someone" you bring home to the Church for Christmas might be a spouse, a son or daughter, a friend or a co-worker.
- Third, you may be wondering how in the world to do this. The answers are simple. Prayer comes first. If Jesus prayed before He fulfilled His mission, shouldn't we? So each one of us should bring this challenge to pray and ask the Lord and the Holy Spirit to know what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. Next comes courage. Pope John Paul II continually repeats the words of Jesus, "Be not afraid." It does take courage to bear witness to the faith. But the Holy Spirit gave each of us the gift of courage in Confirmation. Now is the time to use that gift. Next comes love. We are inviting people home to share in the Lord's redeeming love revealed in the Word of God and made real in the Sacraments of the Church. The invitation itself has to be thoughtful and loving. Nagging, cajoling, tricking are out of the question. It all boils down to this: If we really love someone, we'll try to introduce that person to Jesus, who is the key to eternal salvation and the real meaning of life on earth.
- Fourth, what are we asking them to do? We're asking them to start going to Mass each Sunday. And we're asking them to consider returning to the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation. Every parish has weekly Confessions; some offer Confessions every day, or by knocking on the door of the rectory. Almost every parish has Penance Services during Advent. If your "someone" sees everyone else going to Confession, he or she might not find it such a daunting thing to do. Then we should help our "someone" to get involved in parish life - not just to observe the Church's mission, but to be a part of it.
Finally, if you need a few more tools, they are readily available. Just log on to our diocesan website, www.bridgeportdiocese. com. You'll find some important resources to help you in responding to the ultimate Jubilee challenge: "Bring someone home for Christmas."
And just to remind you, there are only about 60 days left for evangelization until Christmas!
This column is credited to Fairfield County Catholic monthly magazine.
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